When did your passion for photography first start?
I traded drawing and painting my provincial hometown – about half the size of Arnold – in favour of using a camera. The penny dropped. It was more immediate, more authoritative. People and place, or even people versus place, was my main aim through the viewfinder. My family have always been competitive and sporty. I am those things and arty.
Homes of Football began in the nineties. You were the only official photographer for the Football Trust, how did that come about?
The Trust, then the Football Foundation, seem to have a benign, wallpaper image. But in a way, as bodies for social change, they were as radical as they come. They were commissioned, through Football Pools money and government direction, to completely redraw the football landscape so there couldn’t be another Hillsborough disaster. This meant building new stadiums and facilities, and a new mindset: What do we intend for our football? That people die or are abused mercilessly at a football match, or that football serves our greatest sense of belonging?
What is it about football that really inspired you?
As a coming-together of people, I could see and feel no rival to football. Beyond mere sport, churches and political gatherings could not hold a candle to what I found at ‘the game’.
With the constant documentation of the grounds, do you notice the small changes year in, year out, or is it only when you see the images in hindsight that you realise the differences?
From day one, in 1989, when I set about the football grounds of the UK for my opus Homes of Football, I realised there and then that what I was staring at was priceless, would change, would disappear, would be sentimentalised over. However grim it was at the time. We do that as a nation. We are not Zen masters – we like to carry emotional and physical baggage. It’s our way of keeping an identity, and keeping Britain, in our minds, Great. Britain is as much a state of mind as it is physical places, but we need our touchstones.
You’ve obviously seen a lot of grounds in your time, do you have a favourite and why?
However decrepit, some grounds just do it for me. No matter how lovingly built a new stadium is, it might not do it for me, or anyone. I love Brunton Park in Carlisle, near where I lived for almost thirty years. For the many who trek there, it’s a vision of damnation. To me, it’s a beautiful green on the edge of the Lake District, Scotland within sight – the place where players plied their simple profession with some terrible, as well as some heroic, performances. I am talking Carlisle United. My United. I have slept in the stand, made it mine. It has changed and it will change, but it’s in my heart.
What’s your involvement in the City of Football?
I like blank canvases. Being the very first CoF, I’ve got leeway to do what I think is being asked of me by Sport England, to do what is expected of me by the city, and to do what I feel is right artistically. I am well grounded – the insides of my eyelids screech community, loyalty, humour and inspiration, so I don’t for a moment think I will not deliver. I have two years. With road checks along the way.
Do you ever have a kickabout yourself?
I grew up with a full-sized goal in our garden. Then a pitch in the cornfield behind the house. I am inclined to join in a game being played on a near vertical slope. But I am mindful, at fifty, of my tendons.
Anything else you’d like to say?
I’m falling in love [with Nottingham] but I will not get carried away.