The Homes of Football has a new home, for six months at least.
© Stuart Roy Clarke
The relocation of pitchside photographic overlord Stuart Roy Clarke’s unsurpassed collection of dramatic panoramas and snaps, at Urbis in Manchester, follows two years of negotiations to rival the most convoluted of the game’s transfers: the host building had been a popular arts venue in its own right before it was deigned the new destination for the National Football Museum, moving there from Preston North End’s Deepdale stadium in a switch which, when it was first announced, caused a certain amount of uproar.
And on the part of Clarke – who has captured the changing face of the English game in between international sojourns to World Cups in Italy and Japan – the exhibition is the culmination of an at-times nomadic existence for the collection.
© Stuart Roy Clarke
“It’s taken a while,” reflects the man responsible for the longest unbroken touring exhibition in the country, between 1990 and 2005.
“Twenty-two years. The last two have dragged. I tried setting up something in Carlisle in 1995, then did a Football Museum of note in Ambleside [Cumbria] from 1997 for 13 years.
“Towards the end of that time, we talked about taking what I had done to the National Football Museum down the road in Preston. Once that move had been decided, we went on to Manchester in a leapfrog action.”
Clarke took his first shot of the game at Watford’s Vicarage Road in the mid-1970s, bunking Saturday school to sneak an Instamatic camera through the turnstile in pursuit of the “beauty in the squalor” of a landscape littered with dilapidated grounds in the days before pristine stadia became widespread.
It’s little surprise to learn his inimitable portraits of a sport so embroiled in emotion and history were inspired by a Lowry painting, Going to the Match, which is now owned by the Professional Footballers Association, who have been staunch supporters of Clarke since seeing a show of his at Salford Art Gallery in 1992.
Most recently, the PFA backed his project to chronicle football in the deserts of West Africa, which has produced many of today’s best players. Another high-profile figure, lifelong Blackburn Rovers fan Wayne Hemingway, has co-curated this exhibition.
“I have always loved visiting the grounds where the taste and history of a local community is woven into the fabric of the local stadium,” says the designer, singling out signs, turnstiles and pie booths for particular resonance.
“As money has poured in – and, occasionally, out – much of this history has been lost. Stuart shares my eye for this detail. He has managed to capture, for posterity, the DNA of what Saturday afternoons have meant to so many of us.”
So with 8,000 pictures vying to be shown, has it been worth it for Clarke?
“I went back to the old building in Ambleside at the weekend - for the first time since I left it 18 months ago - and mused over that very question," he says.
"Some charm and self-determination has been left behind in The Lake District. At worst what I did there was a glorious failure, at best it provided the platform for what happens next, which surely has to be a step up to a larger stage in Manchester.
“Already, after one day in the new home at Cathedral Gardens, I see my pictures back amongst the people, and in greater numbers than before.
"I find myself wanting to sleep in the gallery at Urbis, wanting to overhear visitors whisper and shout about pictures and features in the new show.
"Sixty pictures on view from a collection of 8,000 may not sound like a lot, but they speak volumes. And on top, there are my wallpaper designs, a film about the work and the glorious music."
That soundtrack comes in the form of the tribally anthemic No Lucifer, by former Mercury Music Prize nominees British Sea Power. It accompanies films covering everything from schoolboy matches in Mali to the incredible finale to this year’s Premier League season.
“There are many pictures from the early 1990s, when I got stuck into The Homes of Football, right up to 2012, when I have been enjoying a new renaissance,” says Clarke, whose next stop is Brazil.
He hints that the show may tour again when its scheduled run in Manchester ends next year. With so much new material, it’s easy to imagine the Homes still doing the beautiful game proud 15 years from now.
- The National Football Museum opens to the public on July 6 2012. Open 10am-5pm (11am-5pm Sunday). Admission free. The Homes of Football will be displayed throughout the museum until at least December 31 2012. Visit homesoffootball.co.uk for more.
Watch the video accompanying the show: