BY ALEX STEWART
Oxford House in Bethnal Green, London, recently played host to Lâ€™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 oneâ€™s nation.
The exhibition and Liamâ€™s work was supported by Kick It Out and the Football Supportersâ€™ Federationâ€™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: â€œI first worked with football as a subject when I was at college, some twelve years ago, and I photographed Manchester United fans because thatâ€™s my team. But I hadnâ€™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.â€ The opportunity to â€œget so many pictures in a condensed period of time, so many different cultures and nationalitiesâ€, 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 cafÃ©, 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 FSFâ€™s Fans for Diversity fund, as Liam explained: â€œI wanted to do this around London and I wanted it to be a celebration of Londonâ€™s diversity. We agreed the project would work brilliantly and they supported me throughout. I also got the exhibition, which was a huge bonus.â€
Anwar Uddin, the Diversity and Campaigns Manager at the Football Supportersâ€™ Federation, was equally delighted that Liam had approached the FSF, as he told me. â€œOur Fans for Diversity campaign has a fund attached to the campaign and itâ€™s all about giving fans and people who love the game an opportunity to showcase diversity, and to celebrate it in their own way,â€ he explained. â€œPlenty 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.â€
The opportunity to support a photographic project was particularly appealing. â€œI thought we donâ€™t use pictures enough and Liamâ€™s pictures really show that, they really exemplify our philosophy and what weâ€™re about,â€ Anwar told me. â€œItâ€™s magical to see twenty-four different nationalities supporting their teams in one city. Weâ€™ve captured their emotions. It highlights the beauty of football, its highs and lows.â€
Of course, the tournament was not without issue, but to Anwar, that merely reinforces the need for projects like Liamâ€™s and initiatives like Kick It Out and the FSFâ€™s: â€œI 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.â€ For Anwar, the contrast with what happened in London was marked, as he said, â€œOver here though, everyone came together, watching games with their community but engaging with people they wouldnâ€™t normally engage with. Thatâ€™s what itâ€™s all about.â€
Kick It Out and The FSF are focused on â€œshowcasing the positive side of football in this countryâ€ 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: â€œWhen 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!â€
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 Liamâ€™s work at www.liamaylott.co.uk