Since 1989, photographer Stuart Roy Clarke has been on a mission of epic proportions. Its goal: to capture the very heart, soul, sweat and tears of British football. Over the course of nearly three decades, his quest has taken him to over 4,000 matches and resulted in over 100,000 images captured with his single-lens Bronica. Together, these offer a vast portrait not so much of the game itself, but of the people behind it: from the dedicated fans who turn-up rain or shine to every Sunday league match, to those who travel halfway across the country (or world) to attend the major Premier League games.
While, off the pitch, football’s reputation has been tarnished somewhat in recent years by FIFA corruption allegations and the scale of the industry’s money-making conduct, Clarke refocuses our attention on the fundamental essence of football – ‘the people’s game’. His photographs are dominated by powerful images of supporters stood shoulder-to-shoulder, lost in the grasps of euphoria or despair, as well as the often-overlooked moments that occur in between the high-drama, which focus instead on the aspects of ritual, tradition, dedication, identity and community.
Clarke first began the project in 1989-1990, shortly after The Hillsborough Disaster and ahead of The Justice Taylor Report announcing changes to football, viewing the watershed moment as an opportunity to show the new spirit of the game. 30 years on, the artist will now present a selection of his personal favourites and most significant works in an exhibition staged across the entire third floor of the National Football Museum, also featuring British Film Institute celluloids and a dedicated soundtrack.
Football aside, the power behind Clarke’s vast output lies in his ability to document and express our fundamental need for shared passion and belonging in an age when mass gatherings no longer play the central role they once did. The exhibition will grow and change over the course of its twelve-month run in response to a regular series of artistic interventions.