Ken Grant’s World of Football: Liverpool, Landscape and Manhood

For our final post before Photobook Bristol, here is a short interview with Ken Grant on his new book, The Topical Times for These Times: A Book of Liverpool Football.

This will be launched at Photobook Bristol on Saturday and is set to become (alongside Julian Germain’s wonderful In Soccer Wonderland and Hans van der Meer’s formally beautiful European Fields) one of the classics of football photobooks. Not that it’s really about football. It’s about much more than that. as Ken explains below.

Both Julian Germain and Ken Grant will be speaking at Photobook Bristol on Saturday.

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‘I was OK at football. I was in the primary school team. I was centre forward but then I got distracted and other things took over in my life.

Then years later I got asked to photograph the cover of Extra Time: A Season in the Life of a Football Fan. It was by Kevin Sampson who later wrote Hillsborough Voices. So I went to take pictures at this pitch in Birkenhead but they said ‘Bring boots. You can take pictures but you have to play.’

So I started playing football again.  I’d be teaching in Newport in the middle of the week, then Friday lunchtime I’d race back up, jump out of the car and I’d be playing football in Birkenhead.

It was the kind of team where anyone could play, but we also had players from Half Man Half Biscuit (see above) and The Farm. We’d play and then we’d go for a cold drink somewhere and that’s where the education comes in. One conversation would be about vigilantes in Tranmere and another one would be about hellfire preaching in America’s Deep South.  I learnt a lot from listening to people.

I’d always have my camera ready when I was playing. I was goalie, my knees had gone by then, and the camera would be there. I didn’t get it out when we were playing but in the book you’ll see pictures at half-time or at the end of the game. I was part of those games.

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Then I started working full-time at Newport and the football fell by the wayside. But I was photographing football anyway around the grounds of Liverpool and Everton and around the city itself.

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But I wasn’t photographing football itself. I wasn’t photographing football as a subject in the usual sense. It was about what goes on around football, how football can be a distraction from the pressures of life.

When I worked for a photographic agency, they’d have these little boxes to put your pictures in. So here are the work pictures, here are the beach pictures, here are the football pictures. But I always resisted that. Things aren’t that clear cut. What happens after work might be just as important and as much part of work as the work itself.

It’s the same with football. Football can be a crutch. It’s a support for what happens outside. Football is at the core of the book, but it’s what happens around it that matters as well.  There’s food, there’s the city, there’s landscape in there. That gives the context of what people do in the rest of the working week.

It’s also about the pressures of life, of growing up in that environment and learning who you can trust and what it means to be part of a community. It’s about how you share your concerns. And it’s about how people look, it’s about their health, the food they eat and what can happen to them. I hope people can see that.

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So a lot of the pictures are not directly about football. There’s a picture of a kid standing in front of the Bidston Steel Works. That Steel Works was closed and flat-packed and sold to Asia. There’s a Tesco Superstore there now. That says something about what’s happened to the city. It’s about football, but it’s about more than that. It’s about life and how you live it.’


Order the book here.