Cap­tur­ing the soul of foot­ball grounds

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Fi­nal whis­tle Jim White The Homes of Foot­ball The Game,

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

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