A game of two halves

Football fandom: Martin Parr and Corbin Shaw celebrate the beautiful game
By Ella Joyce | Art | 23 March 2022

GB. England. Wolverhampton. Wolves fans celebrate. 2012.

When thinking of the things that constitute British culture, the nation’s football terraces are certainly up there: allegiances marked, limbs flying – that unique collective community and intense emotion is something we’ve all experienced, whether you’re a season ticket regular or a World Cup adopter. Taking a deep dive into the cultural fascination of the great sport and its intimate relationship with visual culture, OOF Gallery has installed two new solo exhibitions from legendary photographer Martin Parr and rising art star Corbin Shaw.

GB. England. West Yorkshire. Halifax Town football ground. 1977 © Martin Parr; courtesy Oof Gallery

Tucked behind Tottenham Stadium – round the corner from Spurs’ futuristic new stadium – the gallery space is a haven not just for the football fanatic but for the culturally curious. Parr has been documenting the world of football since the beginning of his career in his trademark candid documentary style, charting fans from freezing sidelines in the North to the t-shirt tans of Benidorm. Alongside his signature images, a room of rare black and white photographs from heritage stadiums in Bolton, Bradford, Halifax and Hartlepool will showcase the trajectory of the sport’s rise. Turning his lens towards the fans instead of the pitch, we observe frozen moments of frenzied jubilation or utter despair. “Football without fans is nothing” ring out the immortal words of Celtic’s legendary manager Jock Stein.

Shaw takes the subject matter into a different medium with his signature slogan flags and pennants, subverting traditional British values is the artist’s raison d’être, and this showcase is no exception. Yorkshire-born, the site for many of Parr’s photographs, the language of football culture is intimately woven throughout Shaw’s formative years (he fondly remembers weekends at the pub with his dad to watch his beloved Sheffield United). Phrases and sayings that ring true for every football fan adorn memorabilia reminiscent of the flags hung from the rafters of a stadium and the pennants team caption’s traditionally swapped before kick-off. Aiming to highlight not just the homecoming feeling evoked by lines such as ‘Pilgrimage To Paradise’ and ‘Football Without Cans Is Nothing’ but the underlying intention behind the words speaks of 90 minute emotional rollacoasters, twisting from aggressive to sympathetic, light-hearted to heart-wrenching. The perfect strike duo, Parr and Shaw’s artistry crafts a cherished image of Britain, while also confirming one thing – it’s called the beautiful game for good reason.

Martin Parr and Corbin Shaw run at OOF Gallery until May 8th, more info here. 


Read Next