Tony Davis: Football fans bringing the 90s back to life 

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Football fans, their fashions and their culture are chronicled in a series of candid images that recapture the real essence of match day.

Tony Davis: Stoke lads outside The Victoria Ground, 1992. Football Culture, 1990s
Stoke lads outside The Victoria Ground, 1992. The Victoria Ground was the home ground of Stoke City from 1878 until 1997, when the club relocated to the Britannia Stadium after 119 years. Copyright: Tony Davis

Perhaps more renowned for his rave and music scene pictures from the 90s, photographer Tony Davis has an even much more extensive archive of football imagery that transport you back to a bygone age.

Tony Davis: Mansfield fans at Notts County, 1990. Football Culture, 1990s
Mansfield Town fans arrive at Meadow Lane for their clash with Notts County, 1990. Copyright: Tony Davis

One reviewer said Tony Davis’ rave culture pictures didn’t just capture what it looked like, but also managed to conjure up what it felt like.

Exactly the same sentiments can be applied to his football images which represent around 90 per cent of a back catalogue brimming with candid moments and memories of just what it was like to be on the terraces when Saturday comes.

“What happened on the pitch was the least important thing to me visually.” 

Tony Davis
Tony Davis: Notts County fans getting in the mood pre match v Mansfield Football Club at Meadow Lane, 1990. Football Culture, 1990s
Notts County fans set the tone pre match versus Mansfield Town at Meadow Lane, 1990. Notts County are recognised as the world’s oldest Football League club, formed in 1862. Copyright: Tony Davis

Davis, from Nottingham, came to photography on a roundabout route, initially following a path into engineering rather than the arts.

“My Dad wasn’t into football, he was into motorbikes. Football was something I chose to get into with my mates in the lates 60s and then I started going to matches in the early 70s. I even caught a train on my own aged 12 and saw the great Eusébio play for Benfica against the late great Brian Clough’s Derby Count at the Baseball Ground in October, 1972.” 

Derby ran out 3-0 winners that night with first half goals from Roy McFarland, Kevin Hector and John McGovern, a match described as one of the greatest the Baseball Ground has ever seen. 

Tony Davis: The Baseball Ground, Derby County Football Club. Football Culture, 1990s
The Baseball Ground, Derby County. The ground was first used for baseball from 1890 and was the home of Derby County Football Club from 1895 until 1997. Copyright: Tony Davis
Tony Davis: Anti Robert Maxwell Protests, The Baseball Ground, Derby 1991. Football Culture, 1990s
Maxwell out. Derby fans protest against then chairman Robert Maxwell, The Baseball Ground, 1991. Copyright: Tony Davis

During the early 70s Davis became something of a terrace bootboy, identifying with the football culture of that era, seeing it as “character building and a non conformist thing.” He enjoyed travelling to games on his own, something that would hold him in good stead professionally later on in life. 

By his own admission, he struggled at school with literacy in particular. However the creativity was always there, and Davis was able to express himself through his imagery and visual communications.  

Tony Davis: Elm Park, Reading Football Club, 1997. Football Culture, 1990s
Young Reading fans perch on floodlight base while their dads watch the match from the terraces behind at Elm Park, Reading Football Club, 1997. Copyright: Tony Davis.

“In my 20s I went off travelling and came back a very different person. I knew I was creative and should be doing something. I came to photography late on, but I was hungry to photograph stuff. It was a really special time trying to find my way of photographing and finding something that was good at. It was all about intuitive seeing.” 

Tony Davis: Overlooking the Old Den, Millwall Football Club, 1993. Football Culture, 1990s
Kids on pocket bikes and bicycles overlook the Old Den, Millwall Football Club, 1993. Copyright: Tony Davis
Tony Davis: Overlooking the Old Den, Millwall Football Club, 1993. Football Culture, 1990s
The Old Den in Cold Blow Lane, New Cross, opened in 1910 and was home to Millwall for 83 years, before moving to the New Den. Copyright: Tony Davis

Davis began studying photography, in 1989, and began concentrating on football as a subject matter at the same time, he and his small SLR camera finding a regular home in the away end.

“What happened on the pitch was the least important thing to me visually,” he said, preferring to capture what was going on around him.

The evolving When Saturday Comes magazine tied in visually with his own approach, concentrating more on the off-beat moment rather than anything formal.

“Carrying my portable SLR camera I used to get laughed at by the sports regulars,” he recalled. “To me, they looked like they were going fishing with the amount of gear they were lugging around.”

He would often turn up, on spec, at press conferences or matches, following his own path. He covered Italia 90 as much as a fan as a photographer, without passes or accommodation, but buying match day tickets when available and staying on occasion with friends in Turin.

“I just needed to be out there”, he said.

His hunger for photography was developing as he described these formative years in his life as a photographer as being raw, seeing things through an innocent eye.

When asked what advice he would give to any aspiring photographers right now, Davis reflected;

“The more you shoot, the more you see, the more you learn.

“Look at art and photography, take on influences, then find your own way.

“Do it as a passion.”

Tony Davis: Wolves fans on the fence at St Andrews, 1992. Football Culture, 1990s
Young Wolves fans on the fence at St Andrews, Birmingham, 1992. Copyright: Tony Davis

“In my 20s I went off travelling and came back a very different person. I knew I was creative and should be doing something. I came to photography late on, my eye was very innocent and raw, but I was hungry to photograph stuff. It was a really special time trying to find my way of photographing and finding something that was good at.” 

Tony Davis

He followed just that path himself, from days spent in libraries, trawling through the works of classic photographers Leonard Freed, Marc Riboud and Henri Cartier Bresson, which helped shape his own distinctive style of composition.

“You don’t need expensive gear to get going,” he said.

You do, though, need to be dedicated and prepared for the long haul. 

“My work has recently become recognised nationally, ” Davis said, “but it has taken years.”

Tony Davis: Fans at Saltergate, Chesterfield, 1992. Football Culture, 1990s
Father and son at Saltergate, Chesterfield Football Club, 1992. Copyright: Tony Davis

It has been a long journey of dedication for Tony Davis, chronicling the cultural scene that envelops both football and music, seemingly in equal measure.

Davis, with his once innocent eye, and his compact SLR camera, has perfectly captured the key moments.

His archive of football fans, their trends and their culture ensure the 1990s are safely preserved. Prints of Davis’ work can be purchased directly from the British Culture Archive.

If you enjoyed that, you may also like Life’s A Ball 90s, where photographer Zak Waters meets 90s football fans taking their support for their club to new extremes.

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