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Football: photos coming home

I wanted to put faces to the matchstick people in Lowry’s street scenes

June 20, 2012 | By:

Stuart Roy Clarke has captured soccer's disappearing world. As he turns 50, his show The Homes of Football opens the game's relocated national museum

Stuart Roy Clarke, 50, describes himself as a photographer and reminiscer, hanging on to things before they pass. He also, in high50-ish fashion, says he “spent the first five decades warming up for the next five”. If his latest exhibition, The Homes of Football, is just a warm-up, then the next few will surely rival cup finals for crowds.

Clarke’s pictures are taking pride of place in the National Football Museum as it reopens in its new central Manchester home on 6 July. Homes of Football is billed as ‘Ten years in the making, 100,000 images, one patient man’. 

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It is a breathtakingly large study of the beautiful game, from dilapidated club shops in Alloa to dusty kickabouts in Mali.

Co-curating this exhibition is high50’s favourite cultural polymath, Wayne Hemingway, who says, “As a lifelong Blackburn Rovers fan and a designer with a keen eye for aesthetics, I have always loved visiting the grounds where the taste and the history of a local community is woven into the fabric of the local stadium.

“As money has poured into (and sadly, occasionally out of) the game, much of this history has been lost. However, Stuart Roy Clarke shares my eye for this detail and has managed to capture for posterity the DNA of what Saturday afternoons have meant to so many of us.”

A smuggled Instamatic at Watford’s Vicarage Road provided Clarke with his first snap. In his own words, “Lowry’s famous and much-valued painting Going To The Match was a starting point for me.

“I wanted to put faces to the matchstick people in Lowry’s street scenes but using a camera, in the modern era, in up-to-date settings.”

The scenes he has captured in the decades since also take in Martin Parr-esque provincial tableaux and straight-up reportage, with the focus more on those in the stands than on the pitch; men, women, old, young, home and away, euphoric and dejected.

As The Times once put it, “If Nick Hornby gave the fan a voice, Stuart Clarke has given them a face.” Visitors to the National Football Museum will see those faces dotted throughout.

The move from its Preston home to Manchester’s Urbis building has secured the museum’s long-term future and spurred hopes that it will dramatically increase visitor numbers. Manchester City Council has part-funded the move, and the museum will remain free for visitors.

Stuart Roy Clarke’s Homes of Football will adorn the new walls until 31 December, soundtracked by a specially commissioned recording by Mercury Prize-nominated band, and noted whimsy fans, British Sea Power. If you fancy coffee, croissants and a chat with the man himself, he’ll be hosting a Breakfast Club and exhibition tour at the museum on 26 October.

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Homes of Football opens on 6 July. Visit National Football Museum for more details.

• See more of Stuart Roy Clarke’s photographs at Homes of Football or follow him on Twitter