A look back at 2016, some of the faces and places I’ve encountered in a momentous year of choice, change and contradiction, through the lens of my camera.
With just a handful games left to play at their historic old Boleyn Ground, West Ham United fans gather for a London derby against Crystal Palace. Fine spring sunshine brings the crowds on to the streets early and the pubs and cafes are doing a brisk trade a good couple of hours before kick-off.
I catch the mood as I arrive at Upton Park station. There’s optimism in the air. The Iron, as they style themselves, are on the up, chasing a European place next season and contemplating the much-talked about move to their new stadium at nearby Stratford. Whilst it may be a wrench to leave their present surroundings, the demands on football clubs to become global brands is driving the project and most supporters seem content with the prospect, especially as season ticket prices on offer are low and the present scramble for tickets will be ended by the increased capacity at the new ground.
Sweeping down towards the stadium, past the famous Ken’s Cafe, stuffed with memorabilia and full English breakfasts as well as full English people, I arrive at the Boleyn Ground: its ersatz towers either side of the main entrance lending an air of a kitsch amusement park. The stadium is ringed by burger vans, indeed the quantity of mechanically-recovered meat being greedily consumed really puts the iron in irony: the modern-day football fan is the antithesis of an Olympian athlete, yet West Ham will soon reside in the Olympic Stadium. I surmise the only green shoots I’ll see on Green Street today will be the pitch. I’m not wrong.
Momentum builds inexorably towards kick-off time, with fans jostling around the clogged up narrow streets which act like arteries funnelling fans in the direction of the Bobby Moore stand, the Chicken Run and the less-traditional sounding Betway Stand. I look for sharp-suited East End geezers, skinheads with braces or maybe smartly-attired casuals, but all I encounter are people of all ages, sizes and genders in replica kits, the scourge of modern football. There’s a business-like air with fans going about their fortnightly routine behind smiling, contented faces. They pour out of the Boleyn Tavern, arriving in their seats just in time for the trademark cascade of bubbles and the singing of the accompanying theme tune as the players walk solemnly onto the pitch.
The game is feisty, short of real quality and with the odd surprise. Palace take the lead, the delayed reaction amongst the away fans suggesting this hadn’t been expected of a team yet to register a league win in 2016. Still, the Hammers find their poise and are winning by half-time. I don’t see either goal, preferring to study the stands for signs of life. I find plenty.
Half-time brings a parade of supporters from West Ham United overseas fan clubs, marching to rapturous applause and song. Americans, Israelis, Iraqis all in step together. Remarkable.
The second half is disjointed and increasingly bitter. West Ham are reduced to 10 men and then to hanging on as Palace sniff an unlikely win. They fall just short and it ends 2-2. No-one goes home happy. “It’s just like back to the old days,” complains one fan as he exists the stadium for what could, conceivably, be his last visit as sunshine gives way to a miserable drizzle. After 112 years at the Boleyn Ground, there are plenty of old days to remember. And much to look forward to. But it won’t be the same, even if at present the grass does appear greener on the other side.
To view a fuller selection of images from the day, please visit the WSC Photos website.
With the football season in full flow and gathering pace, I am delighted to announce the launch of a new creative venture in partnership with one of north west England’s finest and most historic non-League clubs.
With the help and cooperation of Marine FC, I have created a special souvenir postcard, depicting the club and its supporters during a match this season against Ilkeston at the Marine Travel Arena in Crosby. The first in a series called Football Landscapes of England, the postcard reflects what I love most about non-League football: intimacy and informality mixed with passion and commitment.
Chairman of the Marine Supporters Association, Dickie Felton, was instrumental in supporting the venture and getting it off the ground. He told me: “We are thrilled to work with such an acclaimed photographer as Colin on this project which captures the unique atmosphere of our club. The images on the postcard are wonderful and they will be a big hit with not just our fans but anyone who loves the beautiful game.”
From my base in the North West, I have covered matches at home and abroad for the monthly magazine When Saturday Comes for the last decade. And although there’s little that beats the thrill and excitement of internationals or Premier League football, non-League football is the game’s beating heart and the environment I am happiest photographing.
A first edition limited run of just 250 postcards costing £2 each will go on sale at Marine’s FA Trophy match against Kidsgrove Athletic this coming Saturday, 14th November, kick-off 3pm. It will be available exclusively at the club shop and social club and the aim of this partnership is to promote Marine FC and my own football photography.
With almost comic timing, just as a mini-retrospective of my Scottish football photography is about to open, When Saturday Comes magazine commissioned me to cover a match back where it all began for me.
In less than a fortnight, my contribution to Document Scotland’s The Ties That Bind exhibition will launch at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. My project is entitled When Saturday Comes after the publication which has allowed me to cover matches from internationals to non-League over the past decade.
With all the photographs selected, printed, framed and ready to go on to the wall at the prestigious Edinburgh venue, last Saturday was back to business: a Scottish Championship match between Hibernian and visitors Alloa Athletic at the city’s Easter Road Stadium. I have been there many times before: as a photographer, as an away fan (I jumped ship for neighbouring Meadowbank Thistle in 1979) and, as a young lad, an ardent supporter of the Hibees.
Set against the backdrop of the forthcoming exhibition, walking down Easter Road seemed poignant and timely. I tried to recall as much as I could about what it was like back in November 1974, when, at my dad’s side, we made our way to see my favourites take on Morton in a top tier Scottish League match. So much has changed, but so much remains the same. The boyish enthusiasm of other young lads is the same as it ever was. Swaddled in green scarves, hurrying over the Crawford Bridge, the raw pre-match excitement is tangible. A whole week’s waiting is over. Seven days’ anticipation since that last game nearly at an end. Conversations snatched, the quickening pace towards the ground, then the shuddering halt and the seemingly endless queueing to get in.
Easter Road, the main artery which brings columns of fans to the game is eerily familiar. The difference is the colour and light spilling on to the pavement from assorted shops and stores. Back then, everything save the pubs would have closed down Saturday lunchtime. The smell of ale from Middleton’s reminds me that football was much more a man’s game in the 1970s. Denim flares, swearing and a hard-but-silent aggression permeated the air. Trouble lurked, not in fixtures against Morton, Clyde or Arbroath, but games against Hearts, Rangers and Celtic which would be off-limits to me for the time being.
I am reminded of how Edinburgh and Scotland continues to change. Mobile phones, kebabs, penthouse flats. If we could even imagine what these were in 1974, it was because they inhabited the realms of science fiction, Tomorrow’s World or the sort of exotic holidays few people ever ventured on. There’s a mix of peoples too. The Polish deli is busy, black and Asian faces punctuate the crowds, as supporters mix with locals at the corner of Edina Place. The past unfurls in front of me in a whiff of tobacco smoke, another habit changing with the times.
The stadium gleams, bathed in autumnal light, a temple of modernity and functional design. Gone is the corrugated, dark green main stand, a menacing hulk stalking the touchline. And swept away too is the vast open terracing, so large it once helped accommodate 65,000 people at a 1950s derby match. Today the crowd is a much more modest 7,774, including 79 boisterous away fans from Clackmannanshire, housed in splendid isolation at the old ‘Dunbar’ end. This is second tier football, a recognition that this club which eternally promises much and should deliver more, has but a couple of League Cup successes to its name since those heady days of my youth and Turnbull’s Tornadoes.
As with some many clubs I visit, the past is repackaged in a constant reminder of sweeter times. There’s a Famous Five stand, populated by unregulated and unruly kids, who spend most of the match running up and down and imploring the Hibs substitutes to sign autographs. Nostalgia is in plentiful supply, but fans of Hibernian FC still demand that things are done in a certain way: winning is not enough, it never was. Hibbies demand victory with panache and style.
Today they get the former spiced with a little of the latter. At times it’s like a training match as Hibs cocoon their opponents in their own half, and but for some profligacy, the winning three-goal margin would have matched the five-star performance of Pat Stanton and co. that day in ’74.
Proceedings complete, we shuffle along Albion Road into blinding sunlight. Happy Hibbies heading home. I reach the corner of Easter Road and remember the sweet shop which once stood opposite. Much to my bemusement as a 10-year-old, it sold its wares by the ounce, not in packets. It was charming, old fashioned and slightly eccentric. Not that different from the football team it shares Easter Road with, really.
The match will feature in the November issue of When Saturday Comes magazine, which will hit the newsstands around 10th October 2015.
You’ve listened to the song. You’ve read the magazine. Now, see the exhibition.
When Saturday Comes, a collection of my photographs from around the grounds of Scottish football, opens later this month at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.
The selection to be shown was chosen by the gallery’s Curator of International Photography Anne Lyden and helps form an exhibition entitled The Ties That Bind which presents the work of the four members of Document Scotland, the collective I helped form in 2012.
The title of my collection comes from the name of the football magazine which commissioned me to take the photographs. Over the last decade, I have been fortunate to work as one of the main contributing photographers for When Saturday Comes. My involvement with the monthly publication actually started in the 1980s, long before I took up a camera in anger, when I wrote occasional features for them. As co-editor of a notorious football fanzine, my views on Scottish football found a wider audience with the magazine’s UK-wide circulation. Ten years ago, I covered fans’ team FC United of Manchester’s first-ever match for the Observer and the photos came to the attention of When Saturday Comes. Since then, I have been to matches on their behalf at home and abroad, covering everything from Champions’ League and internationals to the lowest rungs of organised competitive football. My heart is always in the lower and non-League game, and this is reflected in the content of When Saturday Comes, the exhibition.
One of the most interesting aspects of the curatorial process of putting together the When Saturday Comes series, was that Anne Lyden is not a football fan, therefore she approached the subject from a different perspective to me. Her choices were fascinating to see but very much reflected my main interest in the sport: the smaller clubs in Scotland, often sustained by a hardcore of dedicated administrators, volunteers and supporters, whose commitment to their teams is something I am familiar through involvement with my own club, Edinburgh City.
I hope you can find time to visit the exhibition: the contributions of my Document Scotland colleagues Jeremy Sutton Hibbert (Unsullied and Untarnished), Sophie Gerrard (Drawn to the Land) and Stephen McLaren (A Sweet Forgetting) form part of a unique and diverse view of life in Scotland today, and look at our nation and its identity through the common riding festivals in the Borders, the life and work of women farmers and the links between Scotland, Jamaica and slavery.
The show opens on Saturday 26th September, 2015 and there are artists’ talks that day by all four Document Scotland photographers. The show runs right through until 24th April next year and takes place in the Robert Mapplethorpe Gallery at the SNPG. Admission is free.
Document Scotland: The Ties That Bind is part of the IPS (Institute for Photography in Scotland) 2015 Season of Photography, a series of exhibitions and events taking place across Scotland from April to September 2015.
Colin McPherson and Document Scotland would like to acknowledge and thank Creative Scotland and the University of St. Andrews Library’s Special Collection for supporting the making of the work for The Ties That Bind.
In the week that saw the top tier of English soccer sell the remaining scrap of its soul in a £5bn television deal, my favourite magazine has launched a collection of contemporary and archive football photography which shows a different side of the game.
Showcasing the photography of its four regular contributors, the When Saturday Comes (WSC) ‘Images of Football Culture’ collection allows the viewer to browse images made over the last two decades, including my own work for the magazine.
My association with WSC started back in the 1980s when I would write the occasional article on Scottish football. The newly-formed magazine was one of the many publications which sprang into life during the fanzine boom of that period and was a response to the increasing commercialisation of the sport and a feeling of alienation amongst supporters across all nations and divisions. Back then, these often home-produced efforts would be glued together, photocopied and sold by supporters on matchdays at their teams’ grounds. Some survived, some rode the wave and disappeared. Others grew and flourished and continue to this day, the ethos and beliefs still there for all to see and read.
My association with fanzines and WSC waned until 10 years ago when I was asked to cover the first-ever fixture of newly-formed fans’ team FC United of Manchester for a national newspaper. WSC picked up on the set of photographs and asked to run some in the magazine. Only after publication, did they join the pixels and discover that I was the same person they had commissioned all those years ago. It re-started a love affair with the magazine and for the last decade I have been proud and delighted to have contributed photos and features for WSC on a regular basis.
Now, it’s one of the highlights of the month for me going to a match with my camera for WSC. Whether it’s an international match or a fixture at a non-League club, the approach is always the same: to get under the skin of the sport and to reflect the fans’ experience as seen through the lens.
This growing collection of photography by Simon Gill, Tony Davis, Paul Thompson and myself has been put together by WSC art editor Doug Cheeseman and is available now for licensing images – or just pure nostalgic enjoyment by people who love the sport.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
The storm clouds have been gathering over Heart of Midlothian FC all summer.
The venerable old lady of Scottish football is frail and in ailing health. Having befriended a rich Lithuanian, she finds all her savings gone and day-to-day life is a struggle. Can she carry on on her own? Might she be forced to move out of her home of more than 100 years? Can her family and friends come to her rescue?
My phone rings. It’s one of the old lady’s friends. Can I help her? She is in desperate need of a make-over to attract new suitors and I am the only photographer in his contact book. I tell him I’ve never been particularly fond of this old lady, often found her to be be grumpy and bad-tempered, but my motto is never kick a man when he’s down, so I suppose I could extend this courtesy to an old woman.
After a few more conversations, I discover that most of the people who help the old lady on a day-to-day basis have been made redundant. Her care is in the hands of a small band of people retained to make sure that the life-support machine stays switched on and have been given the task to see if some medicine can be provided which will allow her to start making a recovery.
The brief for me was simple. Come down to her house on Sunday and take some photographs of her home and visitors. On this particular day she had a visit scheduled from a rather noisy neighbour from Leith and it was expected that the get-together would offer the chance to see the old lady and her friends partying long into the afternoon.
And so at the appointed hour I knocked on the rather dilapidated front door of the old lady’s house in Gorgie Road. I could see that she had had some renovations done since my last visit many years ago, indeed three-quarters of her house looks pristine and lovely, flags fluttering, seats upturned and everything ready for a great occasion, the first meeting of the season of these old old neighbours.
And so it was. The old lady extended a welcome of sorts to her neighbour, but then the two of them started their bickering and quarreling about who was top dog in Edinburgh. Back and forward it went with little purpose. I thought of some of the great arguments these two had had down the years, the passion was still there, but the debating skills had deserted them.
In the end it was one skillful riposte from the old lady which settled the argument. Her friends and family jumped and leapt for joy. It was just the tonic the old lady needed. She felt much better. There are challenges ahead, but long-term, with the help of all her friends and family – and a passing photographer – she may make a full recovery and be a fit, strong and healthy member of Scotland’s footballing community for years to come. Good health!
A funny thing happened on the way to the photo assignment.
I was commissioned to do portraits of aspiring, young British boxer Haroon Khan, brother of world champion Amir, at a gym in deepest Salford. A prearranged time and a prearranged venue. Bags, lights, stands, batteries, everything packed and an easy trip along the M62, thinking about how I’d photograph the younger Khan and hoping that he’d allowed enough time in his schedule for me to do a nice set of pictures.
The scene that greeted me when I entered the small, one-ring gym was baffling. Several TV crews, a dozen or so journalists, a clutch of photographers (or should that be a flash mob of photographers?), not to mention trainers, advisers, and the obligatory PR people all milling around. Interviews were in progress and media equipment strewn around the small space. Maybe Haroon’s first professional fight really was bigger news than I imagined? After all, he is Amir’s younger brother.
But no, the assembled press pack weren’t there for the same reason as me. Soon I saw the real object of their interest in the familiar facial shape of ex-world champion Ricky Hatton. If I couldn’t quite hear those famous Mancunian tones, I could certainly imagine them. He was there in his role as promoter – bigging up a forthcoming fight by one of the boxers he now represents. Of course this rather changed my plans and cramped my style when it came to photographing Khan the younger. But somehow, like a boxer swaying around the ring, weaving in-and-out and ducking the odd haymaker, I managed to find a number of suitable locations and got on with my portrait session. Haroon was a real pleasure to work with and seemed genuinely delighted at the interest in him. And after I’d completed the images I wanted, I thought it would be rude not to photograph Ricky, someone who had eluded my camera up until then.
So, in boxing terms, I photographed the under card and the main attraction. But I won’t reveal which was which. Although in this week’s Independent on Sunday, you’ll see my photographs of a champion-in-the-making.
* 1 [mass noun] any of various forms of team game involving kicking (and in some cases also handling) a ball, in particular (in the UK) soccer.
* 2 the playing of football, especially in a stylish and entertaining way: his team played some impressive football.
These images were taken on assignment for When Saturday Comes magazine from matches across England, Scotland, Wales and continental Europe. The brief is always clear: get behind the scenes of the world’s favourite sport. Continue reading…