Liverpool, a city synonymous with football. It is home to two of English football’s most prestigious and decorated clubs, whose supporters rank amongst the most loyal and passionate in the country.
Everton’s Goodison Park and Liverpool’s Anfield football stadium, sit less than a mile apart – divided only by a short walk across Stanley Park.
It’s a city brimming with pride and togetherness, awash with humour, the reputation of Scousers often built on clichés and and stereotypes. However, it is the people of the city that bring it all together and give it its distinct character and charm.
Despite their football club allegiances and rivalries, this is city where the friends and families are bounded together, by history and their identity.
Most appreciators of photography will be familiar with Rob Bremner’s project capturing the tempestuous mood of Liverpool during the 1980s, capturing everyday life and the positive spirit of the locals during the Thatcher years. His focus on the ‘ordinary’ and realities of life.
Between 2003 and 2005 however, Bremner turned his focus to football fans on match days in Liverpool. By his own admission not a massive football fan, Bremner understood the importance of the game and what Everton and Liverpool football clubs meant to their supporters.
“I’m not really a football fan anymore. I did support Rangers as a kid but I lost interest in 1978. Partly due to Scotlands performance in the World Cup. But mainly to do with Celtic and Rangers winning everything every year…!
“But, you simply can’t go to Liverpool without covering the football in some way, even though l’ve never been to a match in my life.”
Everton fans, Goodison Park. 2004-05
Liverpool fans, match days at Anfield. 2003-05
These pictures, some of which are now nearly two decades years old, beautifully frame what a day at the football looked like during that era. The gathering crowds, pre match burgers, replica shirts, style and fashions that were of that moment. In typical Bremner fashion, it was the normality of the occasion that he was instinctively pulled towards.
“It was street photography that drew me to the football… all the crowds… It’s immensely difficult and compact. It was the people that I found most interesting. The people tell you everything about the sport…
“You go to Everton and there are people turning up who have been going for 40, 50 years. Generations of fans from the same family. You keep going and then you begin to see people who are regularly meeting their mates in certain places… They have rituals. They form certain groups as part of that society.
“The banter between those groups of fans (Liverpool & Everton) was great. It was always cheeky. Just trying to wind each other up. The football and those fans brought a certain dimension to the town. You never see Liverpool and Everton fans scrapping, unless it’s just silly kids.
“The difference between a Liverpool fan or an Everton fan is you have the option of supporting Liverpool. Everton fans are born into supporting Everton and don’t have the option if they come from Liverpool.”
It’s clear how well Bremner came to know those subjects. And so, has an understanding of the role football plays within wider communities and society. Playing, watching, and everything in between… He gets it.
“So much effort goes in to being a professional football. So much sacrifice. Often at the expense of their own education. But they are young and doing what they love. There’s too much pressure on them. When did we decide that footballers should be role modes?
“I once found myself in Slaters Bar on a Tuesday night, drinking at 2am and chatting to Duncan Ferguson about pigeons (Big Duncan is a fan of Homing Pigeons). It was great. It was genuine.” He reflected.
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Born in Wick in the North of Scotland, Bremner landed in Merseyside as a student of Wallasey School of Art where he studied with reputable documentary photographer’s Tom Wood and Martin Parr. After Wallasey, he moved to Newport in Wales to study at the acclaimed School of Documentary Photography, run by Magnum photographer David Hurn. But, Inspired by the works of the likes of Chris Killip, Graham Smith, Diane Arbus, William Klein and Lee Friedlander, it wasn’t long before he returned to Merseyside and began taking pictures of some of the most economically deprived areas of Liverpool.
“I started working in a local hotel as a porter when I was 13 years old. People from the North West were always the best tippers. I got accepted into Wallasey College of Art in 1983, they were the only ones who’d have me! I did apply elsewhere but didn’t get in. I’d been down south but there was always a certain snobbishness towards people like me. I didn’t speak ‘English’.
I had to get tough during my studies. Standing up for myself. Studying and living in Liverpool was a good fit for me. I spent a lot of time on the dole, but there was a connection between me and my subjects. I became to know them well. I was one of them.”
Liverpool wasn’t just the perfect fit for Bremner, but the people became his perfect subjects. He relished photographing the ‘ordinary’, the day to day life, his proud subjects often pictured in their colourful and casual fashions, standing on neglected crumbling streets. Studying his photographs, you can’t miss the all the sports brands that dominate much of the street style; Adidas, Nike, Reebok, Lacoste all prevalent throughout.
Bremner had found himself at home in Liverpool, there was an intimacy between him and the people he was with, which helped build trust.
“Sometimes I would go to Pier Head and just sit with pensioners. Sometimes sharing a cup of tea with them. Hanging out with them.
“I just photographed where I felt comfortable. I could only take two or three frames max for a portrait because film was so expensive.
“I don’t think there is ever one photograph that can capture an era or enough of what was going on at that time. Photography is great for showing the fashions, buildings, cars and how things have changed. In one picture, it’s not great for showing the all the poverty or capturing something like death. Photography is about memories, history – capturing a moment. It increases awareness. It provides a continuity – capturing how things change. With history, it doesn’t matter if it’s a great photograph. It’s all about what it shows.
“We’re not always having a good time are we? That’s the big problem today, photos often only portray happy times. We don’t look happy when we’re just walking down the street going to work or watching TV, that’s the reality. And that’s fine. It’s not real to look happy all the time.”
Bremner lived in Liverpool for 23 years before moving back to Wick to care for his parents who suffered from dementia.
Nearly 17 years later, he intends to return to Liverpool in the near future to resume his photographic work. “The plan is to get back to Everton to photograph people I met and pictured 30 years ago… luckily most of them I still know or am in touch with.”
You can keep up with Rob and browse his work on Instagram.
Rob Bremner’s archival prints of Liverpool in the 80s and 90s are available from British Culture Archive.
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