Jacqui McAsseyOpen Eye Gallery 16/3/17
Liverpool’s waterfront photography beacon Open Eye Gallery hosts tonight’s event as one of the closing elements to its exhibition North: Identity, Fashion, Photography. The exhibition’s eclectic representation of the North’s influence on international fashion and the cultural history of the region challenges its audience to see beyond the tropes that are commonly shrouded by the North’s traditions and ingenuity, and aims to identify a connection with both. As this exhibition comes to an end, it seems an essential accompaniment for Liverpool native JACQUI MCASSEY to showcase her ongoing passion project, GIRLFANS.
Daylighting as a fashion and communications academic at LJMU, McAssey has a rail-full of other talents under her belt, which soon become apparent as she stands before this evening’s audience. Proudly wearing a Christopher Shannon football scarf – a luminary of fashion design, with whom she has worked before, of course, no big deal – McAssey explores the events that led up to the genesis of Girlfans, her groundbreaking, two-part digital zine which celebrates football fans and their style. AND they just happen to all be women – haway, the lasses. Having struggled to get tickets for an increasingly popular team growing up (she’s a red), McAssey had become accustomed to the ingrained patriarchy of Premiership television. So, in 2013, when she turned up outside Anfield having opted for an innocuous parka jacket, the former casting photographer was completely taken aback by the prominent and striking female presence: Football Association statistics report that a substantial 23% of attendees are women.
With a casting background that includes numerous acclaimed fashion magazines, Jacqui McAssey illustrates her familiarity of public photography in her extemporary approach to Girlfans. The result is two authentic indexes of candid imagery and incidental glimpses of female fans shot in a street-style vernacular. The zines epitomise the feminisation of sports fandom, showing how women adapt their team strips with designer accessories and some showing more subtle ways of support for the occasion, using low-key team colours within their outfits. An important observation is that the now ubiquitous ‘tailored for women’ merchandise fails to be seen among the Girlfans. None of this shrunk down, v-necked, Swarovski-crystalled, chihuahua crap that football merchandisers think women would prefer to wear. McAssey comments that she isn’t dead set against the cliché merchandise, but that sponsors have to recognise that this is a game for two sexes that don’t require differentiation.
Shot before the match, McAssey’s fans exude positivity and expectation. This kind of atmosphere wonderfully transpires in the photographs she shows to us, and no, she won’t be drawn on the difference between Evertonians and Koppites. Without directly tackling the cultural conventions of football, Girlfans praises the diversity of fans in a nuanced and modest perspective. Looking forward, McAssey hopes to update the manner in which ‘women who love football’ are represented in the media (Google ‘girl football fans’ and you’ll understand). Equality should finish first next season.