Capturing the soul of football grounds
There is a common thread in so many of our favourite photographs about football over the years. The two tea ladies walking round the White Hart Lane pitch absorbed in their own gossip as Tottenham play Manchester United a few feet in front of them, Vinnie Jones conducting on-field surgery on Paul Gascoigne without the benefit of anaesthetic, the sea of red and blue scarves held aloft at the match marking the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster: these are not action shots. With apologies to Gazza, there is not a ball in sight.
The master of the nonfootballing football picture celebrates an intriguing anniversary this month. It is 30 years ago that Stuart Roy Clarke set out on his post-Hillsborough, round-Britain trip to record the game. He went to the smallest village kickabouts and the grandest stadiums, he went to Scottish non-League matches and English championship deciders. At every point he found a shot that resonated.
Collected in his wonderful book
are some of the best pictures of the game you will see: a man and a dog watching a village scuffle in the Lake District, the lads gathered on the terrace at Roker Park, a boy at a bus stop waiting to get home after the match, soaked to the skin. Plus a turnstile, a shuttered-up tea bar, the locked gates of a closed ground, the fringes and edges of football architecture brought joyously to life.
These are not so much pictures as photographic short stories. The story they tell is of togetherness, of place, of identity. These are peculiarly British yarns, of a game located at the heart of its community. Clarke’s work is less photography, more social history.
He has continued over the years to shoot around the game. Unlike most modern snappers, he does not use digital or a motordrive. He uses an old school analogue camera and film (kids, ask your grandparents). At each location he will generally take only one shot. Yet the results are uniformly stunning. Grand, poetic and, above all, nostalgic, they reveal so much about their subject.
He has just released the third edition of his book a volume of beautiful football pictures, with words supplied by John Williams, the academic and Hillsborough campaigner. It is a fine combination. This volume is
Without a crowd, a stadium becomes just a building, empty of point and purpose