Photography: Offside! Manchester

Jane Richards realises that a football video doesn't have to mean Cup highlights

Mark Wallinger's fastidiously constructed blue and black tracings of football photographs from newspaper sports pages must have a compelling appeal for the avid fan - to see Eric Cantona sketched in mid-tackle must offer endless opportunities for tactical analysis. But what do such drawings have to say for the rest of us?

This kind of line-drawing confirms my worst fear - that football is second only to trainspotting in its tediousness. But, for that reason alone, Offside! Contemporary artists and football, an exhibition commissioned by the Institute of International Visual Arts for Manchester City Art Gallery, is curiously compelling. The artists - from Britain, Argentina, Columbia and Mexico - explore the visual and didactic messages transmitted by the football experience as it goes into orbit for Euro 96. Even if it's an experience you'd rather not be part of, it's still an education.

Glaswegian artist Roderick Buchanan suggests that the football fan has the ability to feel at home in any European city because a football pitch is the same the world over. Buchanan's message is conveyed by standing slap-bang in the middle of four empty pitches and slowly revolving his camera around the regimented ground. On four TV monitors are pitches in Manchester, Nantes, Glasgow and Budapest, but you have to stand there for some time to spot the difference.

Nick Waplington's four large-scale colour team portraits are tacky blow- ups of collectable sticker cards framed in high street-style gold frames. The series is titled Best of British, but it's an ironic title - the portraits are of foreign nationals in British teams (Rosler, Klinsmann, Cantona and Ginola).

There's something about the line-up iconography of uniformed footballers, with their set expressions and their hands held rigidly behind their backs. Footballing pin-ups are not like film star pin-ups - more an identity parade. This is the rough end of glamour, something that Freddy Contreras exploits in his rows of gleaming red high-heeled Vivienne Westwood shoes fitted with aluminium football studs. You can almost smell the sweat on the changing-room walls.

Crispen Jones's lovingly simplistic large-scale photograph of a battered football given by Captain W P Nevill to one of his platoons at the Battle of the Somme stands out. Nevill offered a prize to the first platoon to kick its ball up to the German trenches during the first wave of the assault near Montaubon. It's simply a beautiful image with a delicious tale of European rivalry to match.

Offside!, Manchester City Art Galleries to 1 September

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