Capturing heroes of the grassroots game, photographer Chris Hoare has produced 'The Men in Black'; a series of portrait images dedicated to the referees who run the rules across boggy pitches and uneven turf. We spoke to him to get a deeper understanding of this project and how it came together.

Let's start at the top, where or what inspired this project to come to life?

"The series sprung from years of playing Sunday League football more than anything, a few of the referees in the series had been in charge of a few of my games. I grew increasingly interested in their role, how they turn up and get shouted at for the best part of 90 minutes - they must love the game."

The referees all have such a unique character in what they’re wearing and their expressions - what were your impressions of them?

"This is partly what drew me to photographing them in a way, they all have their own quirks and I noticed this both when I was on the field with them and even more so when photographing them. A few of them definitely have distinctive styles, both in what they wear and how they conduct themselves on and off the field."

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What were they like to shoot?

"I think they enjoyed it for the most part. Referees in many ways get overlooked and they tend to just blend in or get shouted at. All of them were happy to be involved, this definitely made things easier."

What was the creative thinking behind the project?

"The artistry in football often gets overlooked, so that drove me to attempt to do this in an artistic way. I was adamant to make the images aesthetically appealing as a way of drawing attention to the referees and their position in the game."

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Did you stay and watch them referee a game at all?

"On a few days I stayed and caught a bit of the games. It’s hard not to when you have a love for the game, it would mostly just make me want to play football though. I definitely observed one or two of them during the games where they were refereeing my team at the time, especially when there was some disputable decisions that were made."

Can you talk us through the surroundings of the photographs?

"So all of these referees are were shot on a Saturday, where the referees work for ‘The Downs League’, which is one of Bristol’s biggest amateur leagues. All of the games take place on Durham Downs, which is a series of large fields on the northern edge of Bristol. The league has been running since 1905. I shot them on a few separates days and then narrowed down what I had, most of which tended to look fairly interesting – luckily."

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The grass roots level of the game hold countless stories and is a world of its own - did you get a sense of that?

"Absolutely, through the time I spent playing glass root football, I was lucky enough to encounter plenty of this stuff, including many comical moments - as anyone that has played at this level will be aware. In many ways I miss it for this reason, every weekend a new story happens. Up and down the country there must be thousands of stories that are passed through the clubs."

You shot this a short while ago now, would you be intrigued to go and do more on this side of the game?

"I would love to, as I mentioned I’m a big fan of the game, any opportunity where I could combine my love for football with photography then I would jump at it. I’m always looking for stories such as this one."

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You can see more work from Chris here.