European Fields: Hans van der Meer, Host Gallery, London
Rooney who? This is European football's grass roots exposed
Sunday 08 November 2009
Hans van der Meer wanted to get away from the modern hyperbole that surrounds football's global superstars enclosed in expensive stadiums, and the clichéd pictures they produce. He wanted to return to the basic formula of 22 people on a pitch.
This collection of work is the result of his travels around Europe over the past decade. Each image is taken from a similar perspective showing a large area of the pitch and the surrounding context, from the lush rolling landscape of Yorkshire on a damp grey day to a hot red ground on the coast near Marseille. The images might look prosaic at first, but each one draws the viewer in to observe the detail. This is not about the on-pitch drama, or lack of it, but a landscape study. The one constant is the minimal presence of supporters, suggesting players are there not for adulation, but for love of the game.
One of my favourite images in European Fields shows an endless landscape of empty football pitches stretching towards the horizon near Dublin. In the foreground, a moment of goalmouth action invites a quick game of "spot the ball", which must be somewhere in the air out of the frame. The only spectators are a small herd of deer. One beast seems transfixed by the action, while the rest seem more interested in grazing behind the goalposts.
Another memorable image is a classic French scene of a row of plane trees through which can be seen the low buildings of a town. In the foreground is a wall which forms a convenient grandstand for supporters watching a corner being taken. We see this from a slightly raised perspective beside the corner so the tension in the stances of the players are clearly visible, and the star of this scenario is irrelevant. The amateur feel of the games is charmingly illustrated by the kit the teams are wearing. Amusingly, in one picture both are kitted out in blue and white making it hard to tell them apart. In another picture, one side sport zebra stripes, and when three players stand shoulder-to-shoulder in a defensive wall, the impression is of a real-life zebra on the pitch.
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