Colin McPherson

Photographer and Visual Artist

Posts tagged ‘Hillsborough’

Tears for cheers

UK - Stenhousemuir - East Stirlingshire Versus Edinburgh City Football Match

One of the unexpected spin-offs of my recent exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh has been the opportunity to look more closely at the subject of emotional responses not only to the photography on show, but to those associated with the game of football itself.

During my recent ‘In Conversation With…’ event at the gallery, myself and writer Kevin Williamson contemplated the different emotions that football engenders, both from the perspective of the fan and, in this case, the gallery visitor. I described the intense feeling of melancholy which comes over me around 4.30pm on a Saturday, irrespective of whether I am watching a game, covering a match with my camera, or merely listening to the scores and commentary on the radio (or more likely following it all on social media these days). That intense, but temporary, low comes not as a consequence of how a particular match is going (is my team winning, losing or drawing?) but rather from the realisation that a weekly ritual is almost at an end. Building towards a Saturday afternoon involves a series of internal triggers and mechanisms, few of which I recognise nor understand. Until recently, I had been blind – or better to describe it as unaware – that this melancholy was a part of a routine, an internal clock which winds round and tightens in expectation. As stated, the release comes not from the result of a game, but from a realisation that the growing anticipation begins, in fact, shortly after the final whistle one Saturday and reaches its next crescendo around 3pm seven days later.

Saturday afternoon at Whitehill Welfare. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013 all rights reserved.

Saturday afternoon at Whitehill Welfare. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013 all rights reserved.

So much for all that. I have always been very sceptical about people who show their emotions as a result of the score in a particular match. Not for me grown men crying at some minor infraction such as a relegation or a cup final defeat. These are mere synthetic reactions, controllable, indeed preventable. When faced with the obvious truism that football is not a matter of life or death (and we’ll excuse Bill Shankly his assertion that it is more important than that), how do we arrange and prioritise our emotions in relation to what we would term ‘real’ tragedies which have engulfed football? Thinking specifically of the reactions to the Hillsborough disaster verdicts recently, these emotions are completely genuine and understandable. We can comprehend where they come from and empathise with the grief and heartache of the victims’ families, denied justice and truth for so long. It took me a long time living on Merseyside to ‘get’ the depth and scale of Hillsborough. The sense of grievance and loss was often camouflaged by other emotions around that particular football club and its supporters. The question now becomes what is a ‘good’ emotion, and conversely what is a ‘bad’ emotion when laid bare by football? Maybe it is less a question of categorising our emotions, but rather understanding that each-and-every-one of us has a trigger and that at some point we will show our feelings, whether it is anger, joy, relief or celebration? Our history, investment (in the emotional rather than the financial sense) and the footballing community in which we involve ourselves with are the building blocks of our emotions.

Hillsborough memorial service, Anfield. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014 all rights reserved.

Hillsborough memorial service, Anfield. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014 all rights reserved.

And so it came to pass last Saturday. Having spent over 40 years watching and photographing football, being involved intensely as a supporter but more so as a detached observer of other peoples’ emotions, I was overwhelmed by what was happening as my team, Edinburgh City, won a match and achieved promotion. Big deal, you might say. But part of the premise behind the When Saturday Comes exhibition was that followers of smaller and lesser clubs invest just as much emotion into their teams as the fans of soccer’s giants. If a club has 10,000 more fans than mine, it doesn’t mean that their experiences and emotions are some many thousand times more important than mine. The size of the club doesn’t matter. The scale of the emotion is equally weighted. On Saturday, for the first time, I momentarily crossed an emotional Rubicon between being a working photographer and a fan. Would I have done the same at Hillsborough in 1989? Would I have put my camera down as a response to what was happening in the surrounding chaos? I can’t answer that, and I don’t wish to trivialise it by speculation.

Me crossing the line with Edinburgh City magaer Gary Jardine. Photograph © Michael Schofield, 2016 all rights reserved.

Me with City manager Gary Jardine. Photograph © Michael Schofield, 2016 all rights reserved.

What I do know is that in one, glorious, spontaneous moment on Saturday 14th May at around 4.50pm, I lost control of my emotions and celebrated as wildly and freely as any fan or any club anywhere in the world. And once I had wiped away my tears, I continued shooting.

A small gallery of emotions…

Nottingham Forest fans celebrating at Derby County. Photo © Colin McPherson, 2015, all rights reserved.

Nottingham Forest fans. Photo © Colin McPherson, 2015, all rights reserved.

'The Cowshed, Greenock Morton, 2015'. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

‘The Cowshed, Greenock Morton, 2015’. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Edinburgh City's Ian McFarland in tears after promotion. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved.

Edinburgh City’s Ian McFarland in tears. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved.

Swansea fans winning at Wembley. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013 all rights reserved.

Swansea fans winning at Wembley. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013 all rights reserved.

Hillsborough memorial service, Anfield. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014 all rights reserved. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014.

Hillsborough memorial service, Anfield. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014 all rights reserved.

Tranmere Rovers goal celebrations. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2011 all rights reserved.

Tranmere Rovers goal celebrations. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2011 all rights reserved.

Northern Ireland fans, Dublin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2011 all rights reserved.

Northern Ireland fans, Dublin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2011 all rights reserved.

Edinburgh City players celebrating promotion. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved.

Edinburgh City celebrating promotion. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved.

 

 

 

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They’ll Never Walk Alone

Flowers in memory of the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster on display at Anfield. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014.

Flowers at Anfield today. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014.

Twenty-five-years ago today, I, like tens of thousands of people of all ages across these islands, was making my way to a football match, to watch and cheer my favourite team.

It had been a ritual I had performed year-in, year-out since my early teenage years and nothing on that spring day in 1989 made me think that my routine would ever change. That day, however, would change football forever. We weren’t to know that at the time, as we made our way through to Glasgow as part of the Meadowbak Thistle Brake Club.

Try as I might, I simply cannot recall anything about that particular away day to Partick Thistle. I have scoured the internet and discovered that my team, battling grimly to avoid relegation from the second tier of Scottish football, lost 2-1. I cannot even find the identity of my team’s goalscorer or team line up. And even though I search through my memories of my Meadowbank days, I can recall virtually nothing of what happened before or during that match.

People walking in front of a banner commemorating the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster at Anfield. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014.

People gathering outside Anfield today. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014.

The small details I can recall seemed to have been overlaid subsequently in response to the tragic events south of the border that afternoon at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield. Did we receive radio reports of deaths at an FA Cup semi-final as we clambered aboard our supporters’ bus at 4.45pm that day? Or had someone in the crowd relayed to us news of some incident as we settled down to watch the first half? In those days before we could conceive of the internet and social media, let alone mobile phones, news filtered around so slowly that it often made events seem distant and irrelevant to our lives.

In the aftermath of Hillsborough came a realisation that change had to happen. The cramped, dangerous, Victorian stadia were gradually replaced by modern temples to a national religion. Where once we all stood, now most sit. Even at the lower levels of the game, the grounds we visited in the 1989 (and I attended every one of Meadowbank’s fixtures that season) have either been vacated and/or replaced. It is with some irony, that my team no longer exist, victim of the new rapaciousness which infiltrated many spheres of football post-Hillsborough. But my loss is nothing compared to what happened at Hillsborough.

Scarves from various football clubs tied to the Shankly Gates outside Anfield. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014.

Scarves tied to the Shankly Gates today. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014.

Ten years ago, I moved to Merseyside. Renting a flat on the banks of the mighty Mersey, with the Liver building and its famous flightless birds in the distance, I became acquainted with a city I had previously known little about. The longer I have lived here, the more I have understood the place and its people and it’s almost all-consuming love and passion for the game of football.

In my capacity as a photojournalist and a citizen, I have met and befriended scores of people whose lives were touched intimately and directly by the tragedy which engulfed Liverpool Football Club on that April day in south Yorkshire. I have photographed the families of those who never returned from the match and heard eyewitness accounts from friends and acquaintances about what they saw that day. There’s sadness, there’s grief and there’s anger as well.

Women signing on the Kop during the Hillsborough memorial service. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014.

Women singing on the Kop during the service. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014.

Much is assumed about Liverpool and its people. Lazy, shorthand cliches about the Scouse character and about how people in this great city live their lives. But the characteristic most prominent when it came to securing the truth about the deaths of those 96 football fans is determination. During the long campaign to establish what happened at that football match on that day, there has been a constant search for answers, and a longing for truth and justice. That campaign is ongoing and not yet concluded.

“You should go. You’re a football fan,” Terry, a self-proclaimed ‘mad Red’ had told me last week. “It’s not just about Liverpool, it’s about all football fans, everywhere.” So today I went to the Hillsborough memorial for the first time. Wearing the same scarf I’d worn 25 years before I joined the throng of supporters from numerous clubs making their way to Anfield Stadium and took a seat on the famous Kop. I watched and listened to the men of faith, to the soft hymnal singing, the music, the prayers, to the dedications and thanks. I reflected on what this annual event means to an oft-maligned city and clapped as loud as anyone when Everton manager Roberto Martinez stated that they – the establishment, the authorities who’d betrayed Liverpool – had “picked on the wrong city.”

Red balloons being released during the Hillsborough memorial service. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014.

Red balloons being released. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014.

As we filed safely out of Anfield, I reflected on what this disaster was really about for me. At its core, it was the loss of 96 lives, taken away whilst doing something that I took for granted each week: supporting my team. But what divides us in football also unites us as fans, no matter what team we follow. This is not just about those lives lost. It’s not just about football either. It is about justice. ‘Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied’ read one of the banners attached to the gates outside Anfield today. If, in the end, the victims of the tragedy and their families get the justice they deserve, then we as football supporters can truly go to watch our teams week-in, week-out with hope in our hearts.

In the meantime, their fight goes on. And it’s our fight too.

Fans linking arms after the 25th anniversary memorial service at Anfield. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014.

Fans linking arms after the service. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014.

 

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