The ever-changing face of football in the Nineties

Stuart Clarke's photographs chronicle a decade of upheaval in the natio nal game. Christian Dymond reports

Lowry's paintings have come to Tullie House in Carlisle and so have Sebastiao Salgado's photographs and John Keane's paintings from the Gulf War. Stuart Clarke's 250 photographs have eclipsed them all.

He may not be a household name but his "Homes of Football" exhibition has had the crowds rolling in, not unlike the city's football team. More people have seen Clarke's photographs than have attended any other exhibition since the new gallery at Tullie House opened nearly four years ago.

Clarke has just passed half-time in a 10-year mission to chronicle the changes which are shaping the football stadiums of the country.

"I realised after the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 that there would have to be major improvements made to grounds. So I decided to try and capture the spirit and characteristics of clubs as those changes were being made," he said.

The results have been shown at exhibitions all over Britain. Carlisle is stop number 38 and, because it is Clarke's home city, all the stops have been pulled out. The photographs come complete with turnstiles, football shirts, video footage of classic footballing moments, programmes and other memorabilia.

What is most striking about the exhibition is the tremendous humour with which many thousands go about their Saturday afternoon passion. This has, in the past, been in the face of some adversity: a shot of the toilet overspill seeping on to the terraces at Hearts springs to mind.

Clarke reminds us that football is about glamour, too. The dressing-rooms at Rangers, Glasgow, are an example of designer domesticity, like something from a bathroom catalogue.

Yet seen through Clarke's lens, much about football still seems quaint. There is a shot, for instance, of the coracle at Shrewsbury Town that waits, dutifully, for the ball to plop into the River Severn before being launched.

Of course there are the supporters, beer bellies and panoramic shots of the old and new. At Huddersfield - "New Home on the Horizon" - the two grounds rub shoulders, like old pro and protege.

But as Clarke said: "It is the little detail that really fires me. Something which makes one club different from any other, something which makes you feel warm towards the game."

His mission has taken him to almost every club in the land. Clarke has photographed at British grounds on 1,450 occasions in the past five years and assembled 20,000 photographs.

He is in awe of our national sport, enchanted, as he says, by the splendour of many match day experiences. But what sort of experience would it be, say, without the souvenir seller? Clarke captures him, too, at Maine Road for an FA Cup semi-final in 199

0

. Clarke saw the same man a few weeks later in Italy, selling souvenirs for the England versus Cameroon match in the 1990 World Cup.

"What I am also trying to convey in these photographs is the changing nature of support as the stadia themselves get upgraded," he said.

In April 1992 Clarke became official photographer of the Football Trust, the body which provides financial help to the game. Considering his show is running in the city, it was apt that the Trust should recently grant Carlisle £750,000 towards the club'snew east stand.

Talk is already abroad that this stand will house a national museum of football, Clarke's photographs being a vital component. Who knows, in 30 years' time people may be coming to Carlisle and looking at an Arsenal burger van lit up like a Christmas treeor a shot of the ladies retiring room at Bury or the warning sign against foul language in the family stand at Hibs, shaking their heads and saying: "Things ain't what they used to be."

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