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Photographer, Ian Beesley

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.
'I am a fan first, photographer second.' As Simon Inglis reports Ian Beesley sometimes found himself cheering while other photographers were busy snapping the action!
September 1999. At the Valley Parade ground, Bradford, Yorkshire, hardly a seat is empty. Tottenham, the powerful visitors from London, look certain to win until Bradford City's ginger-haired Scottish midfielder, Stuart McCall, equalises with seconds remaining. Valley Parade erupts. Behind the goal, photographers point their long lenses at the celebrating players, leaping around on the pitch in City's distinctive amber and yellow shirts. But one photographer looks elsewhere. His small Leica camera focuses upon a man in the crowd. 'Mr Khan reaches a level of excitement that few people ever experience,' reads the caption.
This is Bradford's first season in England's top division since 1922. Ian Beesley, a locally-born documentary photographer can hardly believe that his team, Mr Khan's team, the Bantams, have reached the Premier League. For years Valley Parade was an embarrassment; its name forever associated with the tragic fire of 1985, in which 56 fans died. The club had been bankrupt on several occasions. Yet now, under new owners and with the ground rebuilt, Bradford were back at the top.
 'I wanted to record what this meant to the community and to the fans who had supported the club through bad times as well as good,' explains Beesley. Beforehand, in books and exhibitions, he had photographed poignant images of Bradford's Victorian heritage, the demise of the local wool trade and life in a Yorkshire coal mine.
 He works only in black and white. 'It has a slightly surreal quality. It allows your imagination to fill in the colours. The photographs I admire most come from the 1930s, taken by photo-journalists rather than sports photographers. Football photographers now are more concerned with celebrities, whereas I'm interested in the interaction between fans and players.'
 Beesley sometimes found himself cheering while other photographers were busy snapping the action. 'When I work at Valley Parade I am a fan first, photographer second,' he admits. 'But I soon learnt to take advantage of that. I could act like a barometer of the crowd's emotions. We opened the season in bright sunlight with a feeling of optimism. Then at Christmas the weather started to get awful. The team was awful. The prospects were awful. Apart from supporting Bradford I'm a masochist in one other way too. I love bad weather!'
 So his photographs show fans huddling in a drizzle, some gloomy, some laughing. Clouds roll by, shadows fall in the stands. We see half-lit faces at a floodlit game, distant pin-pricks of light piercing the cold night air. Expressions are undisguised. Details are exaggerated. Tensions are shared. Here is a community, visibly united by hope and fear.
 That season Bradford did survive in the Premier League, just. But this season didn't win the relegation fight. Beesley is not deterred, however. His photographs of the 1999-2000 season were so popular that the club asked him to carry on.
 City are lucky to have such an observer. But his images, surely, speak for all fans.

Simon Inglis, June 2001

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