Behind the Scenes at Man United
Last month, I had the good fortune to accompany the winners of the seventh annual Young Creative Chevrolet Awards on an event-packed weekend – mainly taking place in and around Old Trafford. And thoroughly enjoyable it was too. Imagine how much I would have enjoyed it had I not been a Liverpool fan for the past 30 years?
Taking the tour round Old Trafford earlier in the day, I felt a little like Frodo walking into Mordor. But it was hard not to admire the incredible sense of pride each employee had for their club – not least our tour guide who explained that it wasn’t a job for him. He was part of the United family, and would have done it for free if he had to. To walk down the same steps as Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Puskas, Eusebio – and sit in a changing room where so many battles had been planned and celebrated – was quite an oddly inspiring experience. Even if it was the wrong team for me.
Tour finished, we boarded the bus in an obligatory deluge of rain and headed off to the awards ceremony. The Young Creative Chevrolet Awards were launched as a Europe-wide contest for students of the applied arts, to support emerging artists early in their careers. From France, Italy, Germany, Slovakia, Croatia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Serbia, Portugal, Hungary – winners really had flown in from all corners of the continent. Disappointingly there were no accolades for the UK. As ever with football, there’s always next year.
In 2012, Chevrolet announced a seven-year shirt sponsorship deal with United (starting next season) and it’s clear their involvement with the club is now considerable. Of course the Chevy brand had to feature heavily in all submissions, but as an introduction into the world of product marketing and brand-led design, it’s hard to fault the scope of the project. In a glitzy ceremony, winners in each of the four categories (fashion, photography, video and visual arts) were presented with their awards by Manchester United legend Dennis Irwin. The final works of the winners and the runners-up were displayed throughout the evening and were as varied as they were polished. Some of the conceptual fashion designs were not to my taste but I could still appreciate the quality of the work. The films, live-action and animated, were short, pithy and accomplished, and the winning piece in the photography category was quite something – so much so that it featured as a full page ad in the next day’s match programme. A panel discussion with four industry professionals (Stuart Roy Clarke, Peter Dench, Jocelyn Bain Hogg and James O Jenkins) followed and provided a fascinating insight into the life and work of a reportage photographer.
Next morning we headed off to Old Trafford again, this time for a street photography workshop with one of the panel members from last night. Stuart Roy Clarke led ours and it was a real treat. Clarke’s work has been on display in the foyer of the National Football Museum since it opened in summer of 2012, and I’ve always found his stuff rather affecting. His interest is in football as sociology – the game as a catalyst for social interaction and as a mirror held up to humanity. It’s a romantic notion and one which I accept wholeheartedly. Clarke’s passion for this type of photography is contagious. We were encouraged to anticipate reactions, moments, and it certainly opened my mind to the endless possibilities.
“Look here.” He gestured towards a girl walking down the road. “Now that image itself isn’t that interesting, but you get two blokes walking towards her, capture THEIR expressions, and then you have something.”
I found myself constantly looking for juxtapositions, for clashes between old and new, old and young, rich and poor, joyful and grim. Looking at Clarke’s work you see all of this and more. I asked him about economy of photography. Having worked with film for so many years, did the introduction of digital mean he became profligate and trigger-happy? Or did he keep his discipline?
“Sometimes I restrict myself to just 36 shots. If I see a situation, I’ll wait and see if it develops. If it doesn’t, I’ll walk away without taking a single shot.”
I’m not there yet. I still take too many shots, eager not to miss anything – but it’s given me a restrained approach to aim for. The workshop certainly opened my eyes, so much so that I started to see everything as a potential photograph. I wonder how these guys ever manage to switch off?
Lunch in Old Trafford was followed by an excellent game for the neutral fan: five goals, a couple of moments of controversy and Nani getting booed off the pitch by his own fans for diving and generally being a bit rubbish. A quick pie and a beer in the hospitality area deep within the bowels of Old Trafford and my time with Manchester United and the Chevrolet prize winners is over. The Theatre of Dreams? For this talented bunch, most definitely.
By Chris Payne
Images: Chris Payne
Where: Old Trafford, Salford
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