Match Days and Nights scaling the rooftops of Old Trafford, Home of Manchester United
I’ve spent a lot of time around Old Trafford Football Ground down the years, ever since I set myself the task of photographing the match night (and day) atmosphere of Manchester United’s famous football ground.
I was shooting for posterity, but also because its great to get out there and exercise the photographic vision you’ve spent a lifetime developing.
I was also aware that both the city of Manchester and the area around Old Trafford (as well as the ground itself), were about to change forever, and – aesthetically speaking – not necessarily for the better (the city centre has been decimated with architectural drivel).
But ugly, functional buildings are fine if you don’t have to look at them.
On the plus side, they can provide superb photographic vantage points, and I’ve talked my way onto a lot of ugly rooftops around OT, which reveals something of my obsessive need to get the picture, especially as I suffer from vertigo (talk about suffering for your art).
If you go through official channels to get up into the Gods, you’re almost certain to hit the tick-box jobsworth, who’s rarely been on a shop floor, building site or playing poker in the tap room of his/her local boozer.
The British working man, on the other hand, is blessedly more pragmatic, particularly towards their own kind. It’s a bit like that great scene in the TV series Rab C. Nesbitt, in which he meets his Spanish counterpart whilst on holiday – they start blabbing frantically, and whilst neither of them can understand a word the other is saying, as kindred spirits, they don’t need to.
One time near the Lowry Centre I asked a site foreman (from the North East, I think) if I could get up onto the roof for sunset?
No problem. He told me when to come back and took me up onto the roof.
‘Right. I’m off now, so you’re on your own. When I lock the gates, I’ll leave enough room for you to squeeze out. If you fall and break your neck, you’ll be on your own until morning and I know f*ck-all about you being here!’
Right on, brother! Say it like it is.
The problem was, he didn’t leave me enough room to squeeze out – he either forgot or more was probably having a laugh – and I had to clamber clumsily over security fencing, with tripod and camera bag, in full view of Lowry theatre goers.
It wasn’t the world-beating sunset shot I’d hoped for, but hey – at least he gave me the opportunity and and my part of the deal was accepting the responsibility for my actions.
Manchester looks a sad old place since the ‘bad news wrapped in protein’ of COVID19 reared its ugly head, and there are areas that it is hard to see making a full recovery.
But you can be sure Old Trafford will bounce back, and in terms of atmosphere there’s nowhere quite like it.
For every Old Trafford picture on on my prints web site, I probably have a at least a hundred other variations, which I’ve stashed away for posterity.
From a fans perspective, the fact that many of the angles and vistas in these images have now disappeared forever is quite depressing, especially the hotel slap-bang in front of the East Stand facade, which obstructs the view from most angles.
But from this photographers point of view, the many irreversible changes have made my Old Trafford images totally unique.
Old Trafford Red Sea
The East Stand (or Scoreboard End) of Old Trafford on match day.
I’d worked out this vantage point when they were building some flats in the noughties, and fair play to the Chelsea–fan foreman who let me up there to do as I wished (another ‘if you doy I know narfink’ scenario, which for me beats another ******* ticked box… especially when you live to tell the tale).
What seems to have been lost on the digital generation of photographers, is that great pictures –like good graphic design, a Banksy stencil, quality writing or meaningful art – are born of ideas (unless they’re reflex photos – action etc.).
The idea that inspired RED SEA was to get all the red shirts running down Sir Matt Busby way like a Red River, but that title ended up on another image as Red Sea came rushing in to settle on this one. I’ve done a few variations on the idea, and many people have preferred to put others on their walls. But for me….
I started shooting at an England match in August . But all the elements didn’t come together until he first week in November.
Its a great feeling when you capture something unique,, especially when you’ve worked hard to develop and put skin to the bare bones of an idea.
I sold prints of my work in the now redundant Royal Exchange Theatre Craft Shop for nearly twenty years and on seeing this picture, an Arsenal supporter – and Sky Sports cameraman – stopped in his tracks and said : ‘That’s the best football ground picture I’ve ever seen.’
I’ve had similar comments from Everton and (most grudgingly) Liverpool fans, which, considering the sporting animosities, are compliments to be cherished.
Look closely at Red Sea and you’ll notice specks of stillness in amongst the sea of red shirts.
These are the fanzine sellers, and it was a sad day when Red Issue – one of the sharpest and wittiest of all football fanzines – shut up shop for good, but then so has much of football as we knew it has gone forever.
I’m not football fanatic of any shade (when working behind a lens, a measure of impartiality is essential), but I once placed a full-page ad in Red Issue, mainly because, like UWS / United We Stand (and many other football fanzines), they had the balls to say what everyone else wouldn’t… and it was very funny.
I also bought the last Red Issue for posterity, which I keep meaning to put in a frame, to remind me of a time when people still had individual views and weren’t afraid to articulate them ‘without fear or favour’.
When I knew I’d nailed Red Sea, I punched the air like Rafa Nadal.
Then I realised it was pitch black, I had no torch, no head for heights and had to fumble back down five or six flights of skeleton-build and scaffolding.
But when you’ve had opposing fans ‘WOW!’ at the sight of it, it makes all the unpaid schlepping with a dead-weight on your back doubly worthwhile.
Selfies burn out faster than a firefly, but a good idea realised gains in relevance with the passing of time.
See also Red White and Black (above), which happened within perhaps 20 minutes.