Thursday, 10 March 2011

Michael Whiteley United

My friend Michael Whiteley died last Sunday morning and I want to pay tribute here over the next few days, to the contribution he made to my work and my life over the years. We were introduced by Gerald the haircutter (who cut my hair at the Royal College of Art and Mike's in the back of an old ambulance at Greenwich Market, cheaply, cheerfully and perfectly well) because we were both ludicrously obsessed by football and making art about it. Michael was a graduate from Goldsmiths and he did textiley things. Most impressively he made torpedo sculptures out of Subbuteo football pitches. We met, exchanged Panini stickers, drooled over each others collections of football 'tat', played Subbuteo, Tomy Super Cup Football and occasionally even had real kickabouts with a real ball with jumpers for goals. He was such a good laugh I was able to put his enthusiasm for Leeds United to one side.

I was very busy with In Soccer Wonderland and Mike became a close comrade. He came with me to games where I could wangle 2 press cards. He'd shoot some Super 8 from pitchside and I'd be in the crowd somewhere with my Plaubel 67. The 1992 FA Cup Semi-final replay between Liverpool and Portsmouth at Villa Park was amazing but simply traveling with and talking to Mike was a joy. He was at least half bonkers and I never knew what he'd come up with next except that it could be sublime or ridiculous or both. He also came to the Cup Final where he couldn't get in, but he had loads more fun outside the stadium watching the match on a little portable tv with fans who didn't have tickets, than I did inside.

Later that summer I was teaching on a summer school at Sunderland Poly and Mike and I spent a weekend in the studio making portraits of me for In Soccer Wonderland. We ran and dived about outside in 60's/70's Ipswich / Leeds kits to get authentically sweaty and muddy, then dashed up to the studio. This was of course long before photoshop and we used a back projection machine to create the enormous crowds in the background. Michael pressed the button for me and then me for him. I don't think he ever saw more than the contact sheets of him, as everything was buried in the chaos of the build up to the exhibition and publication and then by ongoing laziness, busyness and eventually the mists of time .....I dug these out a couple of days ago, hugely relieved that I could find them.

Michael also contributed to various other parts of the project, introducing me to Kevin Ealand, the Barnsley 'supporter of the year' and orchestrating the shoot of the kids doing diving headers and flying saves, all pupils of his at Wombwell School, where he was doing his teacher training. We also had great days interviewing and photographing other characters for the book, especially Dr Hugh Simons, a fantastic 77 year old gentleman we went to play football with in the park. Afterwards Hugh opened a couple of bottles of wine (good for the circulation after exercise) and we all talked for about 4 hours.

Mike also wrote the introduction for the catologue of the exhibition at the Photographer's Gallery in London (a Panini style sticker album) and was there with many of his excellent friends at the opening night. I realise now with enormous regret, that a copy of that catalogue, with his signature, would be a wonderful thing to have.