As the new football season kicks off, we share an excerpt from the latest issue of OOF, the art and football magazine. There are more links between the two activities than you might expect—this is the magazine’s seventh issue and it continues to pick out rich stories.
Not everybody loves football, of course, but if that’s you, don’t click away. Our sample from the issue involves two people who didn’t think they were interested in the sport either.
Editor Eddy Frankel explains, ‘I bumped into the writer, Louise Benson, in the pub one evening, and she told me that she had an idea for a story based around her late mother’s obsession with football. Louise doesn’t like or watch football, but was starting to feel this pull towards the game, a pull maybe fuelled by grief.
‘At the same time, I knew that the artist Emma Cousin had a similar relationship to the game. She’d done a beautiful painting for our Women's World Cup exhibition, ULTRA at J Hammond Projects, her first football-based work. It's stunning.
‘Anyway, she doesn't like football either, but her grandfather was passionate about Preston North End. I thought asking both of them to have a conversation for the mag would be an interesting way of looking at how football can unite us, even when we don’t care about the sport, maybe even about how we find new ways to express our grief.’
Over to Louise and Emma…
Louise Benson When someone dies, you reflect differently on your relationship with them and what they cared about the most. Football is so present in popular culture that it can bring up vivid memories of a person who is no longer here. Since her death, it has surprised me how much football reminds me of my mum. I realised that she was my connection to a wider cultural phenomenon that I’d never taken a strong interest in and it added a layer of emotion to the game that took me aback.
Emma Cousin Football does offer that connection to a person and it doesn’t go away when they die. If anything, it gets more profound. I’ve realised how committed my granddad was to the game and how much football was part of him. He was a lifelong fan of Preston North End. Every Saturday he would go to the game, and, no matter where they were playing, he would travel there. It offered a sense of rhythm. Every Saturday, granddad and the whole family would all be at the football. It was just this incredible union of family.
My grandma would stay at home and spend the whole day cooking with the radio on to listen to the football. And then granddad would come home and listen on the radio to the match reports and we’d all be in another room with a big spread of food. It took precedent over everything and it was never questioned.
My grandparents had an old-fashioned front room, which was the formal room where you sit and have guests, and that’s where he’d often listen to football on the radio. It was a hallowed space, but somehow football was allowed in there—if anything, it was protected there.
LB It was different for my mum, who was a single mum. Supporting Chelsea was very much a solitary pursuit for her within our family, but I think she craved that collective experience of the chanting and the crowds. She was a season ticket holder and sat with the same row of people for many years, which over time creates an informal sense of community. It brought together people from very different social backgrounds, and I think she really valued that.
Each match, someone in the row would religiously bring a bag of sweets that they would pass up and down. My mum would occasionally invite a friend to the game and he’d always accept the sweets, but after a while she took him aside and told him off very seriously. Had he not realised that he should have brought his own sweets to share with the row by now?
She also absolutely participated in the filthiest chants and took pleasure in the fact that these forms of ritualised excess in the stadium went so contrary to every other aspect of her neat, controlled life, as well these subtler forms of ritual with the sweets.
EC My granddad was a season ticket holder too, but he had a standing ticket and refused to move to a seat. Even if it meant he was in a different part of the stadium from the family, he would insist on staying there. It was quite intense and dedicated, and he never talked during the game. I’ve got this amazing image of him standing for that length of time; the posture and the way you fold your hands behind your back and then you rock a bit. It’s about concentrating and this was the ultimate time when his attention had to be completely focused.
It’s not just a static thing that you go and watch football and then you leave; it lives on in the bodies of the fans. Everybody would sit around and dismantle the game back at home. It was a moment when my family, who were often quite quiet, would be very vocal. They would shout and laugh and talk really fast, and you could sense this different energy.