4th July 2012
I’m the only car on the road. And I’m going as slow as possible. Because I can. Shadows dart across the tarmac, the light bounces across a huge silvery plate that is the lake.
It’s 4 a.m. in the morning…the day before my life’s work is unveiled at the new National Football Museum.
I’ve gone back to what I believe is the source of The Homes of Football. Somewhere here the stream became the river and one day it will become the sea…my life’s work analyzed in 3 stages.
I guess now I am in the middle bit, with equal amounts of looking back as looking forward.
There are 2 younger men, relaxed by a fire they have made. They have doubtless been up all night, talking about this and that and, it being The Lake District, with all its beauty, they have possibly said nothing, just sat there taking it all in. It has hardly got dark last night. No sooner had the shards and strips of a really late sunset on the horizon begin to fade, then a more complete glow took hold and it started getting light, again. As it has been doing here and everywhere for millions of years.
This is such a big deal for me : to have my wotk at the now-opening National Football Museum; I have waited years for this. I had tried as early as 1993 to propose a national football museum for No.1 Wigan Pier – Orwell surely would have approved. Then in 1995 it looked like a British Football Museum on the English-Scottish border in Carlisle. Then finally in 1997 I took my toys to Ambleside, and created a permanent home for The Homes of Football there – in a sense a national football museum. A few years later and Preston got it together and The official Museum opened there. Now it has closed and is about to restart up again, in Manchester, with, hopefully, renewed vigour.
The two men tell me that if they could they would live off the land. They caught fish in the dusk and ate them all night. I’m twice their age.
Mine is that lovely age, a bit scary perhaps if one’s health is failing (and mine is not) – an age when you can not only look forward and back in equal amounts but you have the advantage of now knowing what to do. Youth is wasted on the young, someone said.
With a splish and a splash and that time i am accustomed to taking to get warmed up beforehand, I am in the Lake , swimming for that island. What drives me on is what lurks beneath. All sort of fantastical things appear to me and, looking up, the towering cascading mountain rock formations take on faces : some knowing, some anguished, some judging, some quite noble, some attractive, some almost feminine – the whispy trees as elongated eyelashes. Some of these rock faces are reclining, as if they are quite relaxed – as if they have been here for a while and will be here for a lot longer yet.
I’ve never taken drugs in my life, nor drunk, but I imagine the feeling in swimming across such a lake with such surrounds is equivalent to what some people experience. Thought processes become quite hallucinatory – quite fantastic. Excuse this blog and all things I do if they are, well…a bit fantastical. I swim in open water as much as I can.
So I am looking around the Lakes for clues as to what gave birth to The Homes of Football officially in 1989, 4 years after I first arrived here. I arrived much like a spaceman – not quite knowing – landed at a place called Ambleside and then on to Hawkshead for a job in a hotel, all in the darkness of a March night. I AWOKE, handed wellies, to plod to the top of the ridge oh and the next one above that and one more until FINALLY, I had arrived, something that I had never seen before, the most spectacular of views.
I fell, in love.
There needs to be a big break here. For I was speechless at the time. That taught me to shut up.
From that day forth there would be times when I would roll around on the ground like some demented person, hugging the grass, the roots of trees. Because I loved the place. It would be less conspicuous to do this IN the lake where frolicking in water appears dolphin-esque. So began my love (and fear) of lake and river swimming.
I got as far as May 1985, working in Tarn Hows Lake Hotel. Then I started to pull away. Not just for the 25 girls sacked by the ruthless manager (had driven his daughter out and now thought he’s do the decent thing and drive out anyone who was not his daughter), nor for the endless temptation to go for a walk one day and just keep going, right into the heartland of this mysterious place. As a boy I had wanted to be an explorer.
Anyway, I did return to take up my duties in the hotel. And I had a radio in my room, my direct contact with the world beyond.
May 11th 1985 I listened to a horror unfolding as I prepared for the evening waiter shift. Bradford City’s Valley Parade was on fire. Killing prople. Lots of people. At a football match. The commentator’s box was going up in smoke, flames all around, a vision of hell, and he was still commentating.
29th May I was attending to the fireplace in the lounge, hoping to catch the second half of The Final, when, looking up at the tv, I learnt graphically of the new disaster befalling Heysel. Loads of people injured, dying. At a football match. The hotel manager, drawing on his cigarette, cruelly flicked from chanel to chanel. He a Scouser as well.
The years rolled on and my Lakes immersion continued, falling in love not only with the landscape. One winter was long and determined and provided a freeze from Boxing Day until March 8th. I saw the possibilities not just to ice-skate. The frozern tarn provided a canvas on which to write. Something writ large – a message to the Gods – someone looking down from on high, or just to the brown eyed girl who might know it was for her. Before it was light I went on the ice with the largest broom I could find.
And created a message I viewed not only as a message, but an artwork. Why else would one do something so distinct. That others could see. People craned their necks.
Perhaps this was another marker in the road to doing The Homes of Football, something personal – about my own love of the game – but on a big scale, that could be shared by others.
A following spring I took myself to Corfu. Whilst it was cricket I looked upon in Corfu Town – English cricket as opposed English football – I was impressed how my little country could give something to another part of the World, that would stick. Indeed it would be held aloft…and played out day after day, for weeks on end and indeed centuries. Our mad bad and dangerous to know Lord Byron in trying to save the Greeks from the Turks had given the country not only an army (of Albanians) but the very English game of cricket. This is how I perceived the legend and this is what I wanted to believe. That we had something in my country that could not be bought elsewhere – a gift to the World.
Football was my game. Football was the game of our people in not only in England but throughout the United Kingdom. And particularly in Scotland. I was sent there, via Liverpool and another photographic job, by Time Out 20-20 magazine : to get a few pictures evoking what it had been like for the pop group Wet Wet Wet growing up in Glasgow. Wet indeed – the piece was titled Glasgow Reign. What had fired the lives of the four young lads growing up on the Clydebank, was not only the Shipbuilding cranes and the Singer factory, but the glorious release to football more than once in a while. Football ran through the very blood that boiled up in these passionate people. Trips to Kilbowie Park (to see Clydebank FC) were for the Wet boys intertwined with trips to Celtic Park and above all Ibrox, home of The Rangers. I photographed the gates. Heavenly-looking. In fact I had got some grease on my lens from my hurried brow and this had added to the photo – light patches of the picture just flew away. I had something that evoked the feeling of being a football supporter stood before the cathedral home of whatever club.
Whether Scotland had given England the game or vice-versa, I soon realised that what bound ALL our towns together was this pursuance of and love of football – these together and apart were our homes of football.
The game that extended from my youth, from the back-garden goal my Dad built of wood, through being part of a club training and playing in leafy Hertfordshire, and up through the professional ranks to the gates of the big stadium experience, all of this was my territory, as it was or could be yours.
And so it began…