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Tales from the touchline

11 September 2009 by Sam

Many people will remember Stephen Shakeshaft’s fantastic football photographs from the Soccer Shots exhibition a few years ago. The good news is that there are some more on show in Liverpool People by Stephen Shakeshaft, which opens a week today. Here’s a picture of the crowds that didn’t quite make it into the exhibition.

Being paid to go to football matches may sound like a dream job, but as Stephen recalls below, life on the touchline was far from easy:


football supporters watching match

Copyright Liverpool Daily Post and Echo

“Football crowds fascinate me, every emotion is on view – jubilation, frustration, anger, despair and a lot worse. Why don’t photographers show excitement on a goal being scored? Because they are watching the aftermath from players and fans, the goal passes them by. Even now I watch football totally emotionless, after 40 years of sitting on the touchline it has taken its toll.

From the aching knees after lying prostrate in front of the Kop to the scars of European cup ties I have suffered for my sport. A bottle bounced off my temple in Rome, a police dog took part of my ankle in Rotterdam and a Bruges defender landed so heavily on my back I couldn’t exhale for two days. I lost so many jackets after smouldering cigarettes landed on my back – ‘Hey mister, you are on fire!’ My shoes were taken off my feet at Wolverhampton Wanderers by a cheeky fan who was obviously annoyed that my body was blocking his view – I had to bribe him to give them back.

The problem was we had to lay flat on the grass on a groundsheet between the fans and the touchline, parallel with the goal post. This was not a position conducive with fast reactions – in other words we had to dodge the missiles from the crowd and the studs of the advancing winger heading for the penalty area. If a foul was committed on a home player in front of us the missiles showered down aimed at the offending player – coins (half crowns the favourite as they travelled the furthest, being the heaviest) hit me on the ear leaving me seeing stars for a few minutes, pop bottles, darts, meat pies. One night I counted five pellets that had been fired from an air pistol which I gave to the police. It wasn’t all bad though, often after a stormy, eventful match there would be enough money scattered around the groundsheet to buy a round of drinks.

We would always follow the home team attack and at Anfield walking around the ground to the Kop for the second half on a wet cold day it was like walking into a giant hairdryer – the heat hitting us from the crowd. It was a great view and a dramatic angle to take photographs from, camera at pitch level. A wet day was miserable, the ground sheet resembling a pond. The secret was to dress accordingly – starting off with long johns underwear, two pairs of socks, thick jeans, two sweaters, scarf and cap and then a waterproof leather divers suit which had no ventilation. I just prayed I didn’t need the loo at half time and at the end of a game, after a good soaking from the rain, I literally squeaked when walking.

Leaving the ground in the middle of the crowd my feet didn’t touch the ground until I reached the main road, my elbows stood out like handles and I was lifted by the pressure of the throng as I hung on to my cameras.

Songs developed on the Kop from nowhere, it was if 20,000 people had been in a rehearsal room before the game, as one they developed the funniest anthems and hilarious chants against the opposition – but when they sang ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ the hairs on the neck always stood up.

I couldn’t do it now but I’m glad I did it then.”

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