This photographer took 21 amazing pictures that sum up football in 2016

In Depth

Football is about more than 90 minutes. If all that mattered was what happened on the pitch, we’d have stopped torturing ourselves years ago.

Football is about love. It’s about relationships. It’s about history and tradition. It’s hope, excitement, joy and disappointment all rolled into one. A football stadium is a microcosm of life itself.

When we first came across This Is My Love on Instagram, we knew the person behind the photos understood this too. Thousands of people take photos of football matches every weekend, but only a select few are able to capture the essence of the game itself.

Football isn’t really about results, and photography isn’t really about photos. It’s about the stories behind them. Here, Dan Kendall shares with us how 2016 looked through his lens, with a few oldies thrown in to share a bit of his own story too.

• • • •

(1) Choirmaster. Old Trafford. Manchester United.

This guy was an absolute gift. He’d just had his beer confiscated, and there were a few laughs around him as a result. Next thing we know he’s turned around and started to lead a rendition of U-N-I, T-E-D. I wanted to start with this photo as it’s my most ‘liked’ Instagram post from this season.

This whole project started as an Instagram page in 2013 and has steadily grown ever since. I’m keen to always acknowledge the role that my Instagram supporters have played in developing This Is My Love. I never expected messing about with my iPhone would have got me to here.

• • • •

(2) Happiness is a china cup. Bloomfield Road. Blackpool.

I visited Bloomfield Road in August just after Blackpool had been relegated to the fourth tier. I wanted to see what happens when the parachute payments are long gone. I wanted to see the clean up after the party. I’m of the view that you see the heart and soul of a football club when the good times are far away.

Blackpool are in a here and now of empty seats, loan players, fan boycotts and unpopular owners. The people who I shared the ground with that day were the diehards. The last thousand or so who absolutely would not let go. This lady was serene among it all. She’s wearing her colours and enjoying her brew from her own china cup. As always you would presume. Premier League? League Two? Boycott? Keep calm and carry on, love!

• • • •

(3) Mint Sauce down Derbyshire way. Causeway Lane. Matlock Town.

“Do you want mint sauce, love?” is a question I never thought I’d be asked when ordering a meat and potato pie. It’s a Matlock thing apparently. Oh, and it works. Causeway Lane is the most picturesque place to watch your football and it had been on my list for a good few years. This pie was too good (and indeed too weird) not to share here.

• • • •

(4) Yes We Can. Westgate. Burnley.

In May, Burnley were crowned second-tier champions after staying undefeated for the last 23 games. In the dead of night one Saturday, a local graffiti artist put up this ‘Obama’ mural on one of the roads into town. It allowed Sean Dyche to stand looking over his kingdom. Hero worship in the extreme. Yes We Can!

• • • •

(5) Take me to church. Burnley.

We’ve all walked down streets like this to the ground. That feeling of invincibility when you are among your own always fascinates me. It’s the only social scenario I know where it is absolutely acceptable to walk in front of moving cars. You can smell the pies and hear the clicking of turnstiles. You have to make sure your three-stripes dodge the puddles and the back of the police horses. Programmes are ‘only’ three quid. Wonderful.

• • • •

(6) Staying Up. Leicester City at Turf Moor.

You can’t talk about 2016 without mentioning Leicester City.

Every pundit has a view on the goal that was pivotal to them winning the Premier League. For me it wasn’t Hazard’s against Spurs, in fact it wasn’t even in their championship season. At Turf Moor in a relegation six-pointer the season before Burnley won a penalty. A defeat for Leicester would almost certainly have relegated them.

Matty Taylor hit the post and Leicester broke with the ball. Drinkwater, Albrighton and Vardy hacked it up the other end for 1-0. Relief, elation and chaos were all obvious responses. In the celebration, the new message was togetherness. This newly-promoted team were staying up and that was clear. The rest is history.

• • • •

(7) Making them wait. St James’s Park. Newcastle United.

We can’t talk about 2016 without mentioning Aston Villa either! Whilst Leicester City oozed togetherness, this Villa team were the polar opposite. I took in their game up at St James’s over Christmas ’15. The Toon pulled themselves into a huddle while Mark Knopfler blared out, much to the delight of their ‘army’. The Villa wandered around as eleven individuals with nothing more than the occasional fist pump. I was far from surprised they finished bottom of the pile in 2016. That ‘weight on their shoulders’ was telling.

• • • •

(8) Where football once stood. Leeds Road. Huddersfield Town.

I grew up with the photography of Stuart Roy Clarke. He photographed better than anyone the game of my childhood. Not only that, but he took that game and turned it into fine art. I wanted to somehow pay tribute to him in my own work, but the game he made his name in has long gone. I got the idea that regardless of what was around me, I would stand where he stood and highlight the changes.

The Leeds Road ground in Huddersfield has long been demolished and replaced with a retail park. It seemed the most appropriate place to try out the shoot. I climbed up Kilner Bank and held the Clarke photocopy aloft. In the valley below, some Sunday league games were going on which gave me the perfect soundtrack of distant shouts and whistles.

I took my camera out of my pocket and pressed the shutter….nothing. The battery was still on charge under my desk in Manchester. Undeterred I shot this on an iPhone and it turned out to be my most asked-about photograph yet. Following Stuart Roy Clarke up Kilner Bank taught me a valuable lesson about photography. Photos aren’t better when they are taken on fancy cameras. The best photos have a story behind them.

• • • •

(9) Tribute to the 96. Anfield. Liverpool.

The inevitable redevelopment of our football grounds is necessary but saddening at the same time. I will miss the Anfield main stand with its wooden seats and tiny dugouts. The place had history in its plaster and was the last bit of Anfield to pre-date the Taylor Report.

If ever a club was aware of why modernisation was so necessary though, it was Liverpool. In 2016 the Hillsborough victims finally got justice. As someone who spends more time than most travelling to football matches, the Hillsborough tragedy is close to my heart. It’s been unthinkable in my era that I would go to a game and not come home.

I got into Anfield early on my last visit and walked to seat 96 to have a quiet moment before the old Anfield was gone forever. This picture was my way of paying my respects. Football will never look like this ever again.

• • • •

(10) Everything that is right with Football. The Shay. Halifax Town.

Whenever somebody tells me that all footballers are arrogant prima donnas who don’t care about their fans I want to show them this picture.

• • • •

(11) Sky blue. Stamford Bridge. Chelsea F.C.

It looks like Chelsea will win the league this year, after nearly being relegated from it last. You don’t see this flat across from the ground when you watch the millionaires play at the Bridge. I always go for a walk about when I’m photographing a game, especially at Premier League level. I always seem to find something a little grottier than what the Premier League would have you know about. It feels like walking off a movie set.

• • • •

(12) On parade. Ibrox. Glasgow Rangers.

Rangers got back to the top table in 2016. This guy’s weekly ritual of getting up his stepladder and putting his display on really caught my eye. It’s the idea of marking your territory, I guess. The team colours and the rituals are what make our stadiums ‘home’.

• • • •

(13) When you dare not enjoy the moment. Burnley at Deepdale.

1-0 up. You are under the cosh and it’s like the Alamo. You need the win. You can see the players are leggy. Its corner after corner. The ball never leaves your half. The board goes up and then the announcement comes: “The fourth official has indicated there will be a minimum of five minutes added time”. The home fans roar, but you stay quiet. Too scared to cheer your team and tempt fate. Just take a drag on your vape and see out the longest five minutes of your life.

• • • •

(14) Over the top. The Shay. Halifax Town.

I have lots of photos of goals being celebrated. This is my favourite of the lot. The team are overwhelmed, the fans are overjoyed and one chap is over the top! Town and team as one, sharing the big moments. Everybody knowing what it means and in it together. This is what watching your local team is all about for me.

• • • •

(15) For you. Gigg Lane. Bury.

The weather was miserable down at Gigg Lane. I had my wife asking me before I left, “why are you still doing this?” and “how can you enjoy watching a team that isn’t yours?” Then James Vaughan rifled a loose ball into the top corner for 3-0 before half time. I heard the roar and saw him turn and celebrate right in front of me. I just pressed the shutter frantically and fortunately I got him. Grabbing that one picture that sums up your day is a brilliant feeling. Questions answered.

• • • •

(16) Joey Barton pulling the strings. Ibrox. Rangers.

I like Joey Barton and find him fascinating. A real character who splits opinion. He’s been around the block, there is no doubt, and if I could choose one professional to work with, it would probably be him. When he played for Burnley I never caught a shot of Joey being Joey. I managed to get up to Rangers for a game and grabbed this, which I feel sums him up.

Just after the Rangers defence has been torn apart, Joey starts the post-mortem with Clint Hill. You can just imagine it’s no holds barred and Joey wants his answers. I put the focus on the two Rangers players here. The opposition are sauntering back, job done. The contrast between that and Joey’s fire is what I love about this.

• • • •

(17) Pure joy. Burnley F.C. at Deepdale.

I don’t think I need explain why I like this to any football fan. When you win a derby away from home. This is what it means.

• • • •

(18) Boleyn memories. Green Street. West Ham United.

2016 saw West Ham move away from the Boleyn Ground – and the media seemed to cover every single second of it. I’m also guilty of doing it to death on my website. The reason I liked visiting Upton Park (who calls it the Boleyn? Really?) was that it felt local. The walk down Green Street through the market from the tube station is proper. The Boleyn pub is that little bit scary. It’s how it should be when you are in someone else’s ‘manor’.

The media were pretty quiet on what will happen to that little collection of streets and the businesses that occupy them now the Hammers have gone. In this photo I wanted to focus on the pub on the corner that scared me as a visiting Burnley fan on a few occasions. That was West Ham for a lot of folk. Stratford won’t have the same fear factor for a good while.

• • • •

(19) The Model. Boundary Park. Oldham Athletic.

Oldham are a lovely club with proper football people wherever you look. If you asked me as a child to draw a football ground, you would probably end up with something that looks like Boundary Park. They put a fourth side on it this year but thankfully kept those wonderful floodlights.

• • • •

(20) Blue Round This Parish. Manchester.

I live in the ‘burbs of Manchester now and most of my neighbours are Blues. You don’t see much of it apart from the scarf behind the bar in my local. However, I did clock this outside our village church. It must have been there a while and no one thought to remove it. I can understand why as it seems somehow appropriate. He is the messiah after all…

• • • •

(21) Father’s Day. Turf Moor. Burnley.

My favourite photo. I had to put this one in as ultimately this is why I do what I do. When I first launched This Is My Love I wanted to keep my name off it completely. I certainly would never have included a photo with me in it! When things started getting serious, the publications all decided to post me as the author with This Is My Love as the project name. My cover was blown!

I’ve got used to being named and shamed now so here goes. This is me, Dan Kendall, with my son, George. I started taking photos at games again because I wanted to have something to share with him. Hopefully in the next few years he will be following the game too, but I’m sure it will look very different by then. I once read that Lowry started painting everyday life because the electrified mills came to Manchester and he knew that things would never look the same again. I guess I’ve had the same thought process, triggered by fluorescent boots and a five billion pound TV deal.

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