It seems astonishing that the end of this season will mark 20 years since the line was drawn under Manchester City’s history at Maine Road as a new, triumphant era got under way at a brand new home, The Etihad Stadium.
Kevin Cummins‘ pictures bring the memories flooding back in a sell out book first published in 2003. Entitled “We’re Not Really Here” after the supporters’ chant bellowed out to the tune of we shall not be moved, Kevin Keegan was then the manager, and Cummins, a cult music photographer and massive City fan, approached the club with a view to documenting the final season at their home of the previous 80 years.
Born in the 1950s at Withington Hospital within crying distance of Maine Road, Cummins has worked with some of the biggest names in music, and for some of the biggest publications.
Oasis, Joy Division, The Smiths and New Order are among those featured in a catalogue of work that reads like a Who’s Who of the music industry and is held in such high esteem it features in collections held by the National Portrait Gallery, as well as gracing the covers of some of music’s most iconic albums.
He has enjoyed a career at the top of his profession, while at the same time savouring a love of football that began in the early 1960s with memories of seeing Denis Law live for City, first time round, before Law’s move across Manchester to United.
Cummins’ father was a United fan. And Cummins junior remembers the big European nights at Old Trafford, even though it was City’s own stars who were his heroes.
“I loved standing behind the goal to watch Bert Trautmann because I was school goalkeeper,” he recalled. “I also loved Johnny Crossan and then Mike Summerbee because they were entertainers.
“Every City player were my heroes. My dad was a United fan and took me to their midweek European games. I saw Eusebio play for Benfica. I also saw him playing for Portugal in the World Cup in 1966 at Old Trafford and at Goodison Park versus North Korea, which was probably the best game, other than City games, that I’d ever been to.
“I saw the Germany versus Russia semi-final in 66 at Goodison too. I went to see Leeds play Barcelona in 1975 just to see Johan Cruyff.
“If top world class players were playing in the north, I’d try to go. You’d never get to see them otherwise.”
Since then he has followed City over land and sea (and Stretford) for over 60 years. The rest of his time is spent earning a living as one of the world’s most venerated music and portrait photographers.
After studying photography for four years in Salford, he embarked on a career that was to encompass a wide range of photographic work. The burgeoning punk scene in Manchester dominated his early work and he quickly became one of the premier documentary photographers of the era.
Cummins then started working with Manchester’s prestigious Royal Exchange Theatre and was soon in demand by major theatre companies across the UK, most notably: The Royal Opera House, The Royal Northern Ballet, The Liverpool Playhouse and The Oxford Playhouse.
He was instrumental in establishing City Life, Manchester’s ‘what’s on’ guide and was a founding contributor to The Face, the influential style magazine where he won an award for Magazine Cover of the Year.
Since moving to London in 1987, Cummins has contributed to many major UK publications, including: The Times, The Observer, The Guardian, Esquire, Maxim, Elle, Vogue, Mojo, FourFourTwo, Sleaze Nation and The Big Issue.
He spent 10 years as the chief photographer for New Musical Express (NME) – the world’s biggest selling rock weekly – where his award-winning pictures were a major contributing factor in the rise of the Madchester and Cool Britannia scenes.
His work can be seen gracing many record sleeves and book jackets and he regularly contributes to publications worldwide while still shooting regularly for The National Theatre in London.
A love of Manchester City, football and photography came together perfectly when Cummins approached City the season prior to their last one at Maine Road with a view to preserving it for posterity.
“I felt it probably wouldn’t have been documented the way I wanted to do it,” he said, “because football clubs rarely approached anything that way.
“As a City fan I wanted to do it and would have been upset if they’d commissioned someone else.
“I had a dry run in the final match of season 2001/02, to see what problems I might encounter, as I wouldn’t be shooting much match action, I’d be in and out of different stands.
“I needed complete access, without stewards constantly stopping me. Once we’d worked it all out it went really well. Everyone was really cooperative.”
Cummins’ photographic journey began early.
“My dad and my maternal grandfather were both keen amateurs,” he recalled, “and they taught me how to print when I was five.
“It was always something I was interested in, but didn’t understand that it could be a professional job. When you have a working class background, you tend to think the arts are for the middle classes.
“Well that’s what you were taught to think. Then I went to art school to study photography and graphic design.
“Diane Arbus, August Sander, Bill Brandt, were three photographers I studied and adore. I love Paula Rego, Ben Nicholson, Francis Bacon. I love Gregory Crewdson, Jane Bown, Francesca Woodman… loads of others too.
“I’m interested in portraiture mainly, but I studied other documentary photographers. A photo has the depth in one image that a writer can struggle to describe in 500 words.”
Ironically, it was at Manchester United taking pictures as a college student that Cummins began to perfect his style. He had previously chosen a Manchester City match to photograph as part of his studies, but didn’t want to miss any of the action so concentrated on just the football.
“My course tutor told me I needed some crowd reaction shots. I hadn’t taken any, because I didn’t want to miss any match action. I went to Old Trafford a week later and shot full face reaction shots of United fans instead, as I wasn’t interested in watching their game.
“I love photographing people. It’s different every day.
“Never settle for the obvious photo. Take it just in case another opportunity doesn’t present itself, but once you’ve got that in the bag, start to work around it and look for a better angle. Maybe look behind you to see what your subject can see too.”
Cummins recognises the strong connection between the music scene and football.
” I always exploited the links between football and music as often as I could for NME,” he said.
All this has presented Cummins with a wealth of memorable pictures, admired and respected around the world.
Does he have a favourite?
“If I I were to choose one, it’d be a photo of my mum at a hotel window in Paris in 1986,” he said.
A must have for all City fans, “We’re Not Really Here” is available to buy directly from Kevin. The £200 hardback limited edition comes boxed and contains a signed photograph, and an autograph sheet of former City greats. If interested, please drop Kevin a direct message on Twitter or Instagram.
If you enjoyed that, you may also like Iain S.P Reid’s photographs of City and United fans on match days in the 1970s.