BY ALEX STEWART
Oxford House in Bethnal Green, London, recently played host to L’Internationale, an exhibition of photos taken in London during Euro 2016. Liam Aylott, by day a professional fashion and advertising photographer, tracked down fans of all twenty-four participating nations and captured the agony and ecstasy of supporting one’s nation.
The exhibition and Liam’s work was supported by Kick It Out and the Football Supporters’ Federation’s Fans for Diversity fund, which was set up to help fans celebrate the extraordinary power of football to unite people from a diverse set of backgrounds.
As Liam explained to me, football has always been part of his life and work: “I first worked with football as a subject when I was at college, some twelve years ago, and I photographed Manchester United fans because that’s my team. But I hadn’t touched on it again until the World Cup two years ago, when I went and photographed fans on the beaches of Rio and Sao Paulo, and the streets of Sao Paulo.” The opportunity to “get so many pictures in a condensed period of time, so many different cultures and nationalities”, as Liam told me, makes international tournaments hugely attractive as a subject for the kind of personal, emotional pictures that Liam has taken for the exhibition. The project had a long lead time, with research starting two or three months before the tournament, but in some instances, Liam just turned up at venues associated with the various nationalities – a Polish club, a Turkish café, a Belgian restaurant – and went from there. The informing principle was very much in tune with the ongoing work of Kick It Out and the FSF’s Fans for Diversity fund, as Liam explained: “I wanted to do this around London and I wanted it to be a celebration of London’s diversity. We agreed the project would work brilliantly and they supported me throughout. I also got the exhibition, which was a huge bonus.”
Anwar Uddin, the Diversity and Campaigns Manager at the Football Supporters’ Federation, was equally delighted that Liam had approached the FSF, as he told me. “Our Fans for Diversity campaign has a fund attached to the campaign and it’s all about giving fans and people who love the game an opportunity to showcase diversity, and to celebrate it in their own way,” he explained. “Plenty of people want to use the power of football to celebrate diversity and to be a positive influence for social change, but this fund gives ordinary fans the chance to do that.”
The opportunity to support a photographic project was particularly appealing. “I thought we don’t use pictures enough and Liam’s pictures really show that, they really exemplify our philosophy and what we’re about,” Anwar told me. “It’s magical to see twenty-four different nationalities supporting their teams in one city. We’ve captured their emotions. It highlights the beauty of football, its highs and lows.”
Of course, the tournament was not without issue, but to Anwar, that merely reinforces the need for projects like Liam’s and initiatives like Kick It Out and the FSF’s: “I was in France for the early part of the tournament and sadly there was a lot of violence involving some Russian fans, some English fans, but that united the other fans; no one wants to see that.” For Anwar, the contrast with what happened in London was marked, as he said, “Over here though, everyone came together, watching games with their community but engaging with people they wouldn’t normally engage with. That’s what it’s all about.”
Kick It Out and The FSF are focused on “showcasing the positive side of football in this country” and the way it brings people together, even if they are getting behind different teams. With increasing use of social media, photography is a natural and impactful way of doing this, and Anwar and Liam both want to see more projects of this sort. And as Liam explained, it was a positive experience for many of the fans too: “When the French team started to progress in the tournament, they were brilliant. The Icelandic supporters were fantastic too; I think they were just so surprised to get as far as they did!”
The Fans for Diversity campaign was launched in March 2014 as a joint initiative between the FSF and Kick It Out. They welcome applications for funding: visit www.kickitout.org for guidance and an application form
See more of Liam’s work at www.liamaylott.co.uk