Human Foibles And Fellowship / David Winner

Beside the drystone wall of a Victorian cemetery in Yorkshire, a group of amateur footballers in blue and black are putting up goalposts.

They drape nets awkwardly across top beams, jiggle the uprights into position, laugh. In the absence of anything as new-fangled as a changing room with toilets, a player pees against the stoic ancient wall, which doesn’t seem to mind. A teammate moves slowly at the edge of the frame, spreading wood shavings to mark the touchline. Just out of shot is a stone house where Patrick Brontë, choleric father of the novel-writing sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne, used to live.

In the midwinter of 2004-5, the celebrated Dutch photographer Hans van der Meer came here to Warley and ten other locations around this most distinctive bit of northern England to record scenes of non-professional football.

The resulting film takes us to a world far from familiar TV coverage of the sport. Instead of sleek and skilful athletes, frenzied crowds and even the results of matches, Van der Meer shows us something unexpected, and more interesting: human foibles and fellowship, football as part of the rhythm of the seasons.

The backgrounds are at least as important as the game. Seagulls wheel over municipal playing fields in Bradford’s Peel Park, named for the man who created Britain’s first police force. Beyond, we glimpse markers of the city’s past and present: the Valley Parade stadium where a fire killed 56 fans twenty years earlier; the vast Lister Mill, once the biggest silk factory in the world, dominating a hilltop; the beautiful green dome of the Jamia Masjid Hanfia mosque. On a pitch beside a factory that proudly declares itself to be Britain’s largest manufacturer of clogs, a goalkeeper uncomplainingly shakes away the wet mud into which he flung himself when he failed to make a save.

The game, in other words, becomes a symphony of vignettes and sounds. Old men with yapping dogs look on from the sideline. The shouts of players merge and transmute into a song of life. Portly defenders and attackers chug gently back and forth across the field like waves on a beach.

David Winner is an English author and journalist. His best-known books are Those Feet: An Intimate History of English Football (2005), and Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football (2000). Winner supports Arsenal football club.

 

 

Thanks to our UK partner Impressions Gallery for the international premiere. www.impressions-gallery.com

 

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Hans van der Meer (b. 1955) studied photography at MTS in The Hague, followed by a residency at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. He is probably best known for his series on amateur football, Dutch Fields (1998) and European Fields (2006, published by Steidl/MACK). In 2009, Camera Austria hosted a retrospective of his work. Through photography, film and writing Van der Meer examines the world around him. For example, his images of amateur football are also an exploration of human nature within the landscape. In The Netherlands – Off the shelf (2012) he wryly observes the increasingly homogenous built environment of provincial Dutch towns. With his latest project, Time to Change Van der Meer shows us the remarkable world of dairy farming. Hans van der Meer is based in Amsterdam and teaches at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague.

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