A photographer best known for capturing football crowds has turned his focus onto fans in lockdown for a new project.
Stuart Roy Clarke, who has been chronicling the relationship between the sport and those who love it since 1989 through a series of exhibitions and books, worked with Amazon Prime Video on a new Homes of Football project in late 2020.
Clarke, with the help of some fellow photographers, spent six weeks going into the homes of fans of Premier League clubs as they watched matches being broadcast by Amazon, capturing the quirks of following a team when going to grounds was off limits due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The collection is now part of a new outdoor exhibition at the National Football Museum in Manchester, which reopened on May 27.
“Every picture just comes at you as you walk past,” Clarke said.
“There’s a lot beckoning you. This isn’t just for football supporters. If you are an absolute football fanatic, you would like these pictures, but if you have never been to a game, I think you might still enjoy them.”
Among the beauties of Clarke’s work at stadiums before the global public health crisis are the small details and reactions you might miss on first glance. But he insists even in someone’s living room, there was plenty of golden material to work with.
“We didn’t do any reconnaissance, we didn’t go to the house like maybe Gogglebox and plan it and light it,” he said.
“I quickly have to just look around as I would at a football match and think ‘we’ve got the family, that’s the fan. And then we’ve got the house, and oh there’s a dog or a cat – now they could come into play’.
“One guy’s got a Subbuteo table. Take the Lake District family, where the daughter is doing handstands and gymnastics, because she wasn’t bothered about football but she was excited about life. Someone else, a farming family, has a picture of a buffalo on their wall.”
Clarke began his professional work against the backdrop of the Hillsborough disaster and the Taylor Report which followed it, and captured the transition away from perimeter fencing to all-seater venues.
The pandemic has arguably had the greatest impact on the match-going fan since the foundation of the Football League in 1888. Clarke pointed out that even during World War Two, football continued and spectators were still able to attend friendly matches.
Since the reopening of venues on May 17, Clarke has already been out to observe and record the reactions of supporters as they return, albeit in small numbers.
“People were crying,” he said.
“And it wasn’t crocodile tears, silly tears, these were genuine. I overheard people saying ‘I didn’t think I was going to get to come again’.
“You could take that several ways. Was football going to die somehow? Were crowds never going to be allowed back in? And a few people might be thinking ‘I know people who have been casualties of Covid, and it could have been me’.
“We all respect the opportunity to be returning to a football match. I’m not saying people didn’t respect it before, but it was kind of what you did. Now, it’s ‘we’re the chosen ones’. With the example of Leeds (when they played West Brom on the last day of the season), they had 10,000 there and they could have had 10 times that.
“I’m not the only photographer who takes pictures of crowds. But that’s peculiarly what I’ve done for 30 years, I’ve put the crowds first and the game second and not the other way around.”
The Homes Of Football exhibition will run until June 12.