After football, there’s still life
FEVER PICTURE: He used to have his hands full with centre forwards, but now former footballer John Bird is tackling a different challenge. reports. Pictures by
OHN BIRD was once standing minding his own business when Charlie George sidled up and knocked out his front teeth. The blow caused one tooth, that didn’t fully dislodge, to come through his lip. The ball was nowhere near them at the time and neither was the ref who saw nothing of the incident. But the linesman had spotted the sly smack in the mouth and so had some in the packed crowd at the Arsenal versus Newcastle United match. The Arsenal centre forward was duly sent off.
John still doesn’t know quite why it happened. Although he does concede that his view of his role as a centre half was to go in hard against his opposite number straight from the kick-off “because they’d never send you off in the first five minutes”.
After many seasons of tumult on pitches at the top and the bottom of football’s pyramid, feted and lionised for his exploits, John has now switched to a more contemplative and reflective means of making a living.
So complete has been the change that in his stylish workplace there is no hint of football at all, no memorabilia or echoes of a glamorous sporting past. Instead it is stuffed with original portraits, landscapes, wildlife images, photographs and prints, plus picture frame samples and bubble wrap. There’s a poster on the wall urging browsers to “Spread the Cost of Contemporary Art”.
In the far corner is an easel where John stands painting when he’s not busy with customers in his two-floor gallery situated a short step off the handsome main square of Bawtry, near Doncaster. “I work in fits and starts, I don’t mind noise,” he says.
John shows his own work and that of 25 other artists and has an international reputation. Recipients of his paintings include Prince Edward, the Duchess of Wessex and the Governor of Hong Kong. Tate Britain invited him to London to take part in a collaborative project and exhibition where 30 artists selected a drawing out of the gallery’s JMW Turner archive to make their own interpretation of it to be exhibited alongside the original. The idea was to give an insight into the methods, inventions and creativity of a master draughtsman.
John started what was to become his second career at the height of his first one at Newcastle, playing in the First Division at St James’s Park and in Europe. He opened a gallery in the city selling Athena prints and converted the space upstairs into a showcase for new work by local
TOIL ON CANVAS: Main picture right right, John Bird in his art gallery in Bawtry, near Doncaster, and, above, playing for Preston North End; far left and top, two of his paintings.