From football fan to photographer; my journey from the terrace to the touchline as a fan with a camera. Globe Trotsky explains why the beautiful game must make children not pay TV its core audience.
Football is like a family member to me. I can’t ever recall a time when it wasn’t around. Always around like a brother – except that time he was put in borstal for six months.
From a supporter in a huge crowd to photographing international finals, football has played a hugely emotional part in my life. I’ve been able to revisit childhood memories, watch many iconic players along the way as football fan and, in more recent years, as a football photographer.
And the football gods have been kind to me. As a kid, my team had just won the European Cup, and by my teenage years I had seen Celtic in a second European Cup final and three European semi-finals. Hampden Park was a second home for cup finals and we were on our way to an unprecedented nine-in-a-row Scottish league titles.
What an era to be a football fan. What a time to be a Celtic supporter. It was a golden age for the beautiful game; working-class ballet before big money and corporate suits got involved.
Etched in my memory is being an excited eight-year old attending the Celtic versus Leeds 1970 European Cup semi-final played at Hampden. I was one of a record crowd of 136,105 people to see Bobby Murdoch and John Hughes score goals to take Celtic through to a final in Milan against Feyenoord. To this day, the biggest football crowd I have been part of and a still a UEFA competition record.
Huge crowds were always a regular part of the experience. I was in perched in Hampden’s quaint North Stand again for the cup final in May 1972 when a crowd of 106,000 saw Celtic hammer Hibs 6-1 with my hero Dixie Deana getting a hat-trick.
European games with away goals counting double, extra time and even penalty shoot outs heightened the drama of the crowd. The month before on 19 April 1972 my man Dixie was the villain missing the vital penalty again Inter Milan in front of a crowd of 75,000 a Celtic went out 4-5 after extra time in the semi-final of the European Cup.
I was a regular follower of Celtic – home and away – through the 70s and later, on my own in the 80s. (My father stopped going in dismay at the sale of Kenny Dalglish to Liverpool in 1977.) It was only a move to London for work that curtailed my visits, though I still made it up to Glasgow for cup finals and Old Firm games.
Another unique element of the football crowd is the singing and the banter. I learned most of my Irish songbook on bus and train journeys to and from games. During one of those hushed lulls in a European tie against Dynamo Kiev in the early 1980s just after the Chernobyl disaster, one fan at the back of me shouts out: “Come on Celtic, get intae these radioactive bastards”. You were always guaranteed a laugh.
The move to London and then weekend work as a football photographer gave me new excitement within the game. One new pleasure was to explore the London fixtures on a Saturday morning and pick a game or new ground to go to. After finding the closest tube station, you could just turn up and pay at the gate.
A regular wage gave me the money to buy my first camera and a competing interest in photography. I recall the first time I took a camera into a game at the North Bank when Charlie Nicholas was playing for Arsenal. Wouldn’t it be great to combine the two?
Soon I was working weekends for a one of a number of free newspapers, covering Wimbledon who were in the top tier in the 1990s. My days as a fan on the terraces replaced with a seat on the touchline. To this day I find it easier to go to football as a snapper than a supporter.
Despite a career in government communications, I was able to build up a decent career in sports photography at the weekend. I was so successful that friends think I work as photographer, rather than a journalist.
I have always looked at football photography as a hobby that I earned some money through; rather than a weekday journalist which put a roof over my head, paid for the expensive equipment and funded trips abroad. But that’s for another blog about stadiums rather than fans.
It all means that I’ve experienced football from both sides of Ken Bates’ proposed electrified fence. It’s a privileged position where you are as close to the action as the manager.
I once had to give a talk to a photographic club about sports photography. My lightbulb moment was realizing that, as a photographic experience, football has it all: colour, movement, joy, despair, drama, passion – all perfectly packaged in front of you in a 90-minute photo-op.
Fans are an essential part of the dramatic mix. In 2008, I got the chance to attend the European Championships hosted jointly in Austria and Switzerland. Though the travel was arduous between cities, it was an unforgettably rewarding photographic experience. The passion, colour and sheer volume of fans is a joy to photograph. Add in the agony and ecstasy of the knock out stages and it is drama on drugs, as you can see from some of gallery below.
I’ve seen a lot of changes in football: To the game, to the stadiums, to the match-day experience. In my day it was pies and Bovril. One memorable Parkhead anecdote involved a vegetarian supporter who declined this tradition fare. The female pie seller insisted they were compatible with his dietary requirements, explaining: “there’s bugger all meat in them”.
Nowadays, I much more of an armchair supporter. I sure don’t miss lugging all the equipment around and worrying about batteries or rain. I’ve only sat in a stadium as a fan on a handful of occasions since my photographic career began. It still a pleasure to be part of the football family.
I bought shares in Celtic, I still travel to see them whenever possible. That highly personal and emotional connection never goes away. It’s in the blood; in the DNA.
In these days of short-stay, badge kissing superstars and rich sheiks with country-sized budgets getting involved in a more corporate game, it still a draw. I’m glad the super-rich are putting their money into the poor man’s game than Formula One or super yachts.
I especially like the tifos (I had to look up the meaning), VAR, firework displays and the light shows. It has transformed the footballing experience for the better.
Many football fans – and certainly many overseas fans of English teams – will never visit a stadium let along get to see their heroes in the flesh.
I’ve been so lucky to watch my team at the top and to see some of the most gifted players in the world, including George Best, Kenny Dalglish, Diego Maradona, Denis Bergkamp, Eric Cantona, Gianfranco Zola and Christiano Ronaldo.
The stairway of my flat has become a gallery of iconic players, some autographed. It’s a physical reminder of how lucky I’ve been to experience football so personally.
A Pele in every Playground
In these days of superstar players and multi-million-pound transfers, it’s vital that football nurtures the kids of today who become the players and fans of tomorrow. It is a game to be played and enjoyed first and foremost. The greatest players often have the most underprivileged backgrounds. We shouldn’t overlook the possibility of a Pele in every school playground.
The match day experience is out of the reach of many ordinary kids. Pay TV has further restricted the game as a spectator sport. Football authorities and the money men have a responsibility to every generation to reinvest in the game to create the players and the fans of the future. As Jock Stein once said: “Football is nothing without the fans.”
I got to see my heroes. Ticket stubs and matchday programmes have become treasured memories. If we break that bond, we kill the golden goose. Future generations will never forgive us.
I’m also reminded of another Scottish Football great, Liverpool manager Bill Shankly who said that football was socialism: individuals all working for the greater good of the team. Never has it been put more succinctly.
My team Celtic was set up as a charity to help feed the poor. My game football is (or was) my socialist politics played out for real. Let’s ensure football continues as the “beautiful game”, a force for good and one which remains open to accessible to the mass of ordinary people – playing and watching – in every corner of the globe.
To see more about Chris’ work and services, visit the dedicated Photography page of the website.
Globe Trotsky is a retirement travel and photogaphy blog for the independent, budget traveller. A sideways look at travel in a tshirt. Visit www.globetrotsky.com to join the travel and tshirt tribe.