“I fancy Liam O’Brien over the wall.”
Foot thuds into ball. Ball whips over wall.
Ball caresses net as thousands of Geordies go nuts.
What, you never heard the click?
I bet hardly anyone heard the click. Maybe even Stuart Clarke, the photographer who pressed the button to release the shutter to make the click, didn’t even hear it. He was, after all, quite high up, on top of a football ground, beside the sea.
The weather had been kind by not engulfing the place in The Fog; generously, it allowed the Sunderland fans a perfect view of a stunner. It was a perfect sight.
This sight happens to be one of my favourite footballing photographs. Because on this photograph, a moment that you cannot see on the pixelated footage, is captured as magic.
The ground is silent. Expectancy is frozen on the faces of everyone apart from one man. The ball has not reached the goal, although Tony Norman is as mobile as gets in this little story. The only movement is Liam O’Brien, reeling away with his arms in the air, carrying an invisible dream above his head. He is the only person who knows that he’s just scored a free kick that will be immortalised in song. He knew as soon as the ball left his foot. And Stuart Clarke took a photograph of it.
Football is perfect for photography.
There’s drama, heroes, villains.
There are the hands of God.
There are testicles being grabbed.
There are the faces of the victorious; the tears of the defeated.
In his book, ‘Football in our Time’, Clarke covers every level and emotion. Another favourite shot is a match between Ullswater United v Penrith Rangers, with the backdrop of the Lake District a welcome difference to the cities that have grown around the football stadiums of our cities. It is, indeed, a beautiful game.
Remember The Pink? Me, my brother and my dad used to read it while we had a kebab after the match. I used to love looking at the black and white photographs; you could see the dots making up the image. I’d wonder if the photograph was the same bit I’d been watching, or if it filled in the bit I missed while I was eating my Waggon Wheel.
When I was a kid, I went to a training week at the old Pendower (Benwell) training ground. This was a matter of weeks before Kevin Keegan signed. We finished at roughly the same time as the players, so we could plague the players for autographs.
On the last day, there were five-a-side and age group keepie-up competitions. The players on my team were really good, and after they put me in goal, keeping the ball away as much as possible, my team won the five-a-side. My brother won his age group keepie-up with a not inconsiderable two.
The final day was the only day my mam had been able to come down to pick us up, and she could not believe it as Arthur Cox shook our hands and presented our treasured medals. Her first comment was, “I wish I’d brought the camera.” It’s OK, mam. You weren’t to know your kids were the Robledos. Err…
These days, I’m drawn to the candid shots of fans. The family on the way to the match; was it the little ‘uns first? I would love to see a photograph from my first match (v Wrexham, 1979. 1-0, an Alan Shoulder penalty).
We remember moments, and I’m intrigued by the different views around the ground. Moments we remember, moments we wish we’d seen. Great photographs don’t capture them all; but they do encapsulate one. We’ve all got our moments we’d like to see in a photograph.
Click. I bet there’s a few in that album in the head of every Newcastle United supporter.