The distinctive wall at The Dell © Daniel Lewis 2001
Ten years ago I was a photography student at Salisbury College in Wiltshire. I was very much into my football. Still am. In particular, I was obsessed with following the fortunes (and failures) of my beloved hometown football team, Southampton FC.
Being a student at the time I was trying to find my way in to a career. I was sure that I wanted to be a photographer – in which field though I wasn’t sure. I remember being very into sports photography and thinking perhaps I’d like to go into sports coverage. Formula One I was also very interested in, but more realistically I thought I would be involved in photographing football. A lot of the projects that I was set at Salisbury College as work assignments I bent over backwards to interpret into a football related theme. “Obsessed” all my friends said!.
Being a student you are generally afforded opportunities, and given the benefit of the doubt when approaching people in authority. You learn to be a bit cheeky when going about getting what you want. So with this in mind I picked up the phone and called Southampton Football Club, blindly, not knowing who I should speak to. I was put through to the Club Secretary and I asked him to give me a photographer’s pass for a friendly match at The Dell, just prior to the move to St Mary’s Stadium just up the road. The game happened to be the last ever match to be played at the old place, against Brighton & Hove Albion, and was a significant match in the history of the football club. The Club Secretary kindly, and probably sympathetically knowing that he was giving me a chance, agreed. I had a pass with my name on waiting for me at the entrance to The Dell on that summer’s afternoon.
This was my first experience photographing a professional football match and I was a little in awe at being so close to all the action, and the players whom I idolised. Whilst there I got chatting to a chap who worked for the club’s official fanzine, ‘The Saints Mag’. If the chance to get into the football ground was good then this was an even bigger opportunity. I was appointed the official photographer for the publication within a few weeks. This magazine would be my key to so many things, including covering most (if not all) of the home matches for the next three years and gaining access to photograph all the players for the front covers & features interviews that would appear in the magazine. Nobody minded me being there because they could see I was just a kid at the time and posed no threat to anybody who WAS doing it for a living – I was still a student and was gaining valuable experience. What it also did for me was to put me in a place where I met all the relevant media people in the area who might be able to give me a job after college. Within a year or two I was starting to be paid to shoot many of the Club’s new football kit and season ticket campaigns and such.
I would first pick my spot, usually facing the direction the away team was attacking so that I could photograph the big stars like Beckham, Owen and Gerrard for the first half. Then I would photograph the Saints players for the second half for the magazine. At the final whistle I used to go into the post match press conferences with the managers and click away. I was most proud of a portrait I shot of Sir Bobby Robson in such a session (see below) during an interview in 2003.
Now as a fully-fledged professional photographer, who travels the world for international clients (though not as a sports photographer), I decided that it was time to dust off this work, which had been sitting in a box in my basement in London for a few years. As it was, these images were never actually amalgamated into a project or large body of work. My plan is to self publish this huge body of work into a glossy coffee table book of photography, documenting those years: 2001-2006. This period of time, for the people in the know, was a hugely exciting time. Southampton moved to a new 32,000 capacity stadium, reached the FA Cup Final in 2003, played in the UEFA Cup, but sadly, got relegated soon after to the Championship. All this happened within four years. So in that time I shot a lot of pictures, both digitally and on film. Having picked my way through the cardboard box full of Saints pictures there was a tremendous amount of nostalgia that struck me when looking through the material, which consisted of hundreds upon hundreds of negatives, prints and digital CD’s.
Getting involved with shooting the Saints eventually snowballed towards getting my first ever full time job as a photographer at Solent News and Photo Agency and then in time my move into commercial photography in London. So the call I first put in to Southampton FC for that press pass was probably the most important call I ever made career-wise, as it put me in the position to meet people and produce work worthy of employment, which at the time was invaluable.
Here is a taste of some of the images to be incorporated into the book…
Lots to show you – laying out the pages on the computer