Stuart Roy Clarke

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The brilliant foreword to my new book


I drove to Barnsley once to watch a football match and on this occasion I

got to know Vladmir, the hamster. I was still young enough to think of discos

as an exciting place. So on a vibrant Barnsley night before the game, I

found myself on the edge of the dancefloor in a club called Hedonism.

My world was already spinning like the disco ball above me when two girls

started talking to me, telling me that I had to be student. Irritated, I said

no and told them that I was 27 and a football correspondent for German

newspapers in England. Why would they think I was a student? Because I

looked so different, they said. It seemed as if during the mid-nineties, a

student was the strangest thing they were able to think off in Barnsley,

South Yorkshire, where the coal mines long since had been replaced by

placid, green hills. If I wanted to go home with them, they asked, to take a

look at their hamster Vladimir. It sounded like the most beautiful declaration

of love and I decided, that I would let the girls decide, which of the

two I would fall in love with.

Vladimir, in a running wheel, was racing at breakneck speed through the

living room. Every time he crashed into a wall, one of the girls would turn

the running wheel around and Vladimir would start running again until he

hit the wall on the other side. Back and forth, back and forth. Meanwhile

the girls were talking to me about Lars Leese, the German goalie playing

for Barnsley FC. And if I knew, that Barnsley’s substitute goalie David Watson

managed to get a black eye at Hedonism? He had lain down on the

dancefloor to take a look at the world and the girl’s skirt from the worm’s

eye-view. One lady, probably not completely unintentionally, had stepped

onto his face with her high heels, close to the eye.

Vladimir was running and we were vividly chatting. At least I thought so.

But some time later the girls told me that it was time to go, so, completely

confused, I stumbled out into the night. They really only had wanted

to show me Vladimir, the hamster.

The next day, Barnsley played 2:2 against Newcastle United in the Premier

League. Later that night I met up with goalie Lars in the bar of the

Queen’s Hotel and Lars at some point smiled knowingly. That I obviously

had had an exciting night. “How the hell do you …”, I started, but he just

kept on smiling, and then my penny dropped: In English football during the

nineties, the players were a natural part of small town life. In the afternoon

they would play in front of 18.000 fans and during the afternoon

and especially at night they would mingle with the people, the girls, the

hamsters – no wonder a German goalkeeper in Barnsley would hear about

the mishaps of a German journalist immediately.

This familiarity and vicinity between players and spectators, this natural integration

of professional football into every-day-life, it slowly disappeared

in England in the mid-nineties. Basically, Lars and me on a night out were

first messengers of things to come in Barnsley, where until then many

people had thought of every stranger as a student. In a minimum of time

English football turned into a global game with Russian club-owners,

French coaches and a couple of teams without a single English player. Inevitably,

British football gradually lost its British etiquette.

Ten hours of drinking beers in a pub from Sunday noon to Sunday evening -

like the English Arsenal players in the beginning of the nineties – was not

the fun thing to do in your spare time for the African, French and Dutch

Arsenal pros only five years later.

The unity of players and fans, this core principle of the English game,

weakened, because players switched teams faster and faster, came from

further and further away and quite often just stayed in their self-created

bubble, where football is a serious occupation without any connection to

the place they are summoned to work in. Barnsley, Vicenza or Cottbus are

more or less the same place for these global players. This place – it consists

of a green square with white chalk lines on each side.

Stuart Roy Clarke took the pictures of British football for this book in the early

nineties, a time of major change. Yet these images are not covered with

the nostalgia of a sunken era. On the contrary, these photos deceive us,

that the flair, which makes English football unique for fans around the

globe, might have been reduced, but will survive forever. The game in

Great Britain is famous for its quirks and rituals more than anywhere else:

the handshake with the opponent after the final whistle, no matter how

hard-fought the game might have been; supporting your team to the very

last second, no matter how badly they might play, press area’s tea and

sloppy sandwiches during half time.

Many of these rituals have outlasted until today. Deliberately we ignore

the fact that they are only shells nowadays. Fans still might boo a player

of their own team for trying to get a penalty with a theatrical dive. But

strikers dive as often in England as they do in Spain or Germany. They

only do it in such a skilled way, that the spectators have a hard time recognizing


But still we all go to the stadium, because here we can dream up a world

away from reality. This dream – the unique milieu of English football lives

on – stays alive in Stuart Roy Clarkes’ photos. We see his pictures and feel: This

is England. The home of football. Back then. Now. Forever.

Especially his photos in which the camera turns away from the pitch take

you back to Great Britain: the white picket fences separating fans on the

stands of York City or these rows of identical brown brick houses leading

the way to the stadium of Wigan Athletic. Instantly I was taken by the

picture of fans, waiting in the pouring rain – of course without an umbrella,

most of them even without a hood – at a bus stop for their transport

to the stadium of Greenock Morton. You downright see the pain these

cold raindrops cause on their skin in their faces trying to hide from the rain.

This suffering for football and for your club, as well as defying and withstanding

are still the most important values of the English game, on the

stands and on the pitch. It’s all about passion, not beauty.

The most significant photo in this book though is a completely trivial one

at first glance. It shows a digger on the demolished old stands of Old Trafford.

This picture shows how English football was rebuilt with the stadiums.

On April 15th 1989, police in front of Hillsborough Stadium saw themselves

confronted with a large crowd of fans that wanted to get in even

after the FA-Cup semi-final between FC Liverpool and Nottingham Forest

had already started. To reduce the pressure on the gates and the policemen,

one gate to a single fan-block was opened. But this one was already

over-crowded. 96 Liverpool fans were crushed against the fences or trampled

to death under the pressure of the entering crowd. „It sounds cynical,

but there is a truth to it“, Liverpool’s decade-long club-decision-maker,

chief executive Peter Robinson, confessed to me years later. „The catastrophe

of Hillsborough was the catalyst for the big change to the better of

English football.” As a consequence of Hillsborough the stadiums were rebuilt

into more comfortable, all-seater arenas, the security fences disappeared.

Almost at the sme time, media-mogul Rupert Murdoch and his private TVchannel

BskyB declared football the “battering ram”, with which he wanted

to crash the doors to people’s living-rooms. Henceforth, directors and

camera-men orchestrated the working-class-game as a history of human

triumph and tragedy – an event for the whole society. Football became interesting

even for people, who were not interested in football at all.

The unexpected billions TV paid for the broadcasting rights turned the

English Premier League into the richest and therefore global league of

the world. Players now came from Senegal or Peru, kids in Saarbrücken or

Singapur now were more likely to buy Manchester United or even FC Everton

jerseys rather than the ones from 1. FC Saarbrücken or Tanjong Pagar

FC. The foundation of the Champions League in 1992 and the holding of

the 1996 European Cup were additional factors why the English game became

a world-wide entertainment-sector within the few years of 1990 to


This transformation was also found in the book-shelves at home: In 1991,

Bill Buford’s masterpiece Among the thugs, in which the reporter for the

New Yorker describes his years of travels with English hooligans, was published.

Only a year later Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby pushed Buford’s hooligan-

case-study aside as the most outstanding book on football. In a passionately

literary manner, Hornby described the love of a middle-class boy

for his club. The tenor for Fever Pitch success: the love for football had become

socially acceptable. At breath-taking speed, Buford’s hooligans, the

ugly scars of English football for so long, were pushed to the verge of the


If it’s society, politics or just sports, years of change are always the most

fascinating. English football of the nineties witnessed the arrival of French

coach Arsène Wenger at Arsenal, a bastion of Britishness, where lads like

defender Tony Adams wore two sets of track suits on warm Mondays.

They thought they would be able to sweat out the ten pints from the day

before. The press panted what this French guy with glasses wanted at Arsenal

anyway. A French! With glasses! Because of all their panting the

press only realized, that these hard-drinking lads were suddenly practicing

gymnastics with Wenger, when Arsenal won the Premiership.

The old British codes of conducts and the new professionalism of the global

game lived side by side in a beautiful ambivalence in the English football

of the nineties. These two movements crashed head-on, argued, intertwined.

Frequently, foreign football pros were slandering the British unprofessionalism,

as local colleagues showed up at the bus for an away game

carrying a paper bag filled with fast food. But before long many guest

players loved all these eccentric moments, all these antiquated rituals,

which make English football stick out. In Barnsley, local poet Ian McMillan

dedicated a poem to the German goalkeeper Lars Leese as a welcome:

“Oh Lars Leese, tall as trees, that grow in Barnsley Wood. Lars Leese, listen

please, we think you are very good.”

In Birmingham, Thomas Hitzlsperger joined FC Chesterfield on a loan basis

and was told to wait at a highway-gas-station the next day. Chesterfield’s

team-bus pulled up, Hitzlsperger got in, not knowing a single person …

and two hours later he was playing for the team. During a FC Fulham

practice in London half of the team pulled down their pants. The other

half, including German Moritz Volz, was trying to hit the naked butts with

footballs from 15 metres. Coach Chris Coleman had offered this exercise as

a reward for the winning team of a training match.

Even today, as most of us are living in Germany again, I regularly meet

with Germans who used to play in Great Britain at that time. There is this

binding feeling of 40-year-old veterans, who experienced an exciting and

by far not conflict-free border-line experience. And almost all of us share

the impression that it was the time of our life: English football. The lunatic

tempo of the game, the joy for the physical game and Paul Gascoigne,

who saw me and said: “Not another German! Do I have to talk about

damn World War again?”

In Stuart Roy Clarke’s photos you will hardly find this dawning era, this clash

of the Old and the New. His photos show what shall outlast, the timeless

peculiarities of English football. The narrow and low entrance doors

of watery painted brick-stadium-walls in St. Mirren, tea sold from a

sheet-metal-container in Clydebank. And in between a shot of Barnsley’s

small winger Martin Bullock: without shoes, wearing red socks in a heartfelt

hug with a chubby fan, two men alone in their joy of Barnsley’s promotion

in the middle of thousands of cheering people; football player

and fan united one more time in the old English bond of professional

player and spectator.

Nowadays German fans on a pilgrimage to Anfield Road or Old Trafford in

search of this traditional England are often disappointed. Irritated they

will realize that German stadiums seem to be much louder, much more

passionate. In the course of modernization a clientele of tourists has

partly occupied the English stadiums. Many take a seat as bystanders in

their expensive chairs. They want to be entertained instead of going nuts.

But if you listen closely, you will still hear the sound of the old English

football at Anfield Road or in Old Trafford: a murmured “Ah!” or a respectfully

whispered “Oh!”. While fans in Germany just reel off their atmospheric

sing-alongs completely regardless of the action on the pitch,

the English crowd is first and foremost interested in the game itself. The

silence is often devout, because the spectators are really watching to

then honour a skillful feint with the ball or a risky, but successful cross

pass with collective outburst.

It’s these moments in which I convince myself with the illusion, that football

in England still is what it’s supposed to be: a game.


“the Blackburn End at £4.50″

Blackburn Rovers “The Blackburn End at £4.50″ year 1990 ©stuartroyclarke cat.0162

Ewood Park was built in 1882, the idea of four local businessmen. In 1890 Blackburn Rovers purchased the ground and spent a further £1000 on refurbishments to bring it up to standard.
90-91 would see Rovers scrape 19th place. But before that season was out the club made the most valuable signing: Jack Walker as Chairman, whose personal fortune was about to change the fortunes of Rovers and those who worked in his factories and those like them.

Also go to Campo Retro com where I have more work on show AND you can buy SHIRTS evoking the era and the spirit of the age from whence my photos leap forth.


“standing in the shadows”

Fulham “Standing in the shadows” year 1990 ©stuartroyclarke cat.0317

The Cottagers are playing in the 3rd Division. Crowds have all but evaporated from the days of the 1960′s when they were a top club.
But their time will come again.

Also go to Campo Retro com where I have more work on show AND you can buy SHIRTS evoking the era and the spirit of the age from whence my photos leap forth.