It was back in the early 1990s that football in the UK finally caught up with the trends sweeping Europe, and photographer Richard Davis was there to capture the transformation first hand, with his pictures now republished in a book, simply titled: Football Fans 1991.
He had stood on the terraces as a young Wolverhampton Wanderers supporter and recalls his first game 50 years ago, as Wolves battled for First Division survival at one end of the table, against the mighty Liverpool, chasing the title at the top.
“It was absolute bedlam,” recalls Richard. “There must have been 30,000 of their fans there, on the roofs and hanging off the floodlight towers.”
A mass pitch invasion when Liverpool clinched the title, and Wolves went down, stuck in his mind, so too did seeing a brick being thrown during a game against Arsenal.
Fast forward 20 years and Richard, now following football in the early 1990s as a photographer across the North West of England, noticed outside influences changing the atmosphere around the game.
Music, fashion and football had come together. Oasis, and the Gallagher brothers, Liam and Noel, were big Manchester City fans, as was The Smiths’ Johnny Marr. The ‘Madchester’ nightclub scene had taken off, with The Haçienda top of the list, co owned by another huge City fan, Rob Gretton, manager of New Order and Joy Division.
Where they might not then have been hot on the pitch, Manchester City’s young, impressionable, fans were leading the way off it.
Richard provided the pictures, all taken between March and May in 1991, for a new book, Football With Attitude, by Steve Redhead. The focus was the fans and Richard’s backdrop took in the terraces of Manchester’s City and United, as well as Liverpool, Everton and Oldham.
“There was a big attitude change,” said Richard. “It became about hedonism, having a good time, coupled with aesthetics, the importance of looking good.
“Modernism was all about experimentation, being individual”.
From nightclubs like The Hacienda came Rave Culture, Acid House and the rise of the DJ.
“Dance culture, and maybe ecstasy, seemed to have mellowed the fans,” said Richard.
“There they were, posing with their mates as if they were Ian Brown and in The Stone Roses.”
His photography took him with Manchester United to Rotterdam and a 1991 European Cup Winners Cup Final against Barcelona.
“Manchester was at the heart of most of these changes, ” he said, “and 1991 caught that moment in time. It was a glorious period and I was in the right place at the right time.”
Gazza, Paul Gascoigne’s, tears inspired a whole new wave of followers. New TV football programmes, like Channel 4’s Gazzetta Football Italia, which ran for 10 years from 1992, helped fuel the fire with its focus on a different soccer style, both on and off the pitch.
The programme’s title was a play on Gazza’s nickname. Sometimes he didn’t show, and in came presenter James Richardson, on occasions supping a cappuccino while reviewing the Italian newspapers outside a coffee bar. Casual, relaxed, laid back. A new way of presenting to match the new mood.
Richard’s pictures capture that transformation as he put to good use his early days as a photographer covering the music scene in the 1980s. It all came together with Italia 90 and New Order’s England anthem, World In Motion.
“Love’s got the world in motion,” went the lyrics.
And that’s what football in the 1990s became all about.
Football Fans 1991, and Richard Davis’ pictures, bring that era back to life.