Football is everywhere, you can’t escape it. The Premier League and all other major competitions are in the close season, but that hasn’t stemmed the flood of news and rumours that clog up newspapers and Twitter timelines, with the grinning faces of Ronaldo and Paul Pogba encouraging you to consume football in some way. In recent years, there’s been a backlash against the raging spread of modern football, by those who attach a sense of romanticism to the beautiful game that is at odds with the money-obsessed and endlessly hyped TV coverage. Regular Bido photographer Michael Kirkham is one of those people who sees something nostalgic in the makeshift arenas made by children to host their games of high fantasy: more chalk and brick than jumpers for goalposts. Here, he tells us about the creation of his URBAN GOALS photography project.
You must have passed these places a lot of times before the idea jumped to mind for the project. How long did it take for the idea to come together?
Yeah, one particular goal in Granby actually. I’d pass it a couple of times a week and it got me thinking about the kids that use them. Their goals in life, their own urban goals. From there the idea for the project grew pretty quickly; within a couple of months I’d shot 70-odd goals in Liverpool and was searching Google maps of towns and cities all over the UK. Two years later, I’ve photographed around 800-1000 from Glasgow to London and everywhere in between.
The image of a goal painted on a blank wall is a universal one that people from Liverpool to Lisbon will understand. Have you had much reaction from places outside of Liverpool on this project?
The reaction has been massive, yes. I get people posting goals to the Twitter account from all over the world. There is such a fascination with the English game too, the history of it all, that transpires through into the project’s appeal, no doubt. The project’s been published across Europe in various magazines and papers, and has a strong following in Holland, Germany, Italy and Spain. I’m hoping to take the project to these places with time too. I’ve already found goals in Spain, Ireland, France, Germany and Italy.
You must have grown up playing street football with goals like this as a child. Do you lament that fact that there aren’t as many sites around urban areas now?
Most definitely, I think loads of us did, right? The nostalgia of it all is big pull for the project. More should be invested in spaces for this when areas are regenerated though. I’ve noticed a huge correlation between regeneration and abundance of sites. Leisure and sport seem low on many councils’ priority lists when planning such things.
Is this a sight that is becoming a dying breed?
I don’t know about dying breed, I come across new goals often enough. It’s the materials that seem to have changed though, paint has been swapped for chalk. That makes the goals temporary, I find they crop up in the school holidays only to be washed away by the inevitable rain some weeks or months later. I do love the old ones though, you can feel the history attached to them, paint peeling over the decades leaving a ghost-like presence on the wall.
Each of the places you’ve shot looks like a blank canvas for people (mainly children) to project their dreams on to – not just footballing ones. How important is it to have these places, do you think?
Every child needs dreams, they help shape our aspirations in life. Who are you without dreams, goals and aspirations after all? Spaces like this help form those ambitions, and they are needed all the more in the kinds of neighbourhoods you find these goals in. One thing I hope to highlight with the project is the lack of funding for these places in our communities. It is certainly an issue that needs addressing and I hope this project can help raise the subject in a wider context.
Is this your first foray into street photography?
No, I’ve been shooting street photography for a good few years now. I’ve photographed many protests and demonstrations in Liverpool since about 2011 and I’m developing a strong body of work around that. Street photography is a passion and it drew me into the profession. There are so many great stories told on the streets of Liverpool too, and the people so full of life that it makes my job easy.
Follow @UrbanGoals on Twitter for more updates and exhibitions.