FFFootball – Simon Mooney Interview

FFFootball – Simon Mooney Interview

A pretty amazing World Cup is just about to draw to a close, so therefore we are coming to the end of our FFFootball posts.

But before we do, we managed to catch up with photographer Simon Mooney. Simon has shot many different subjects over the years, but football has remained at the centre of his work. He has been behind the scenes with the England squad, shot campaigns and documentary shots for Spurs and Fulham, as well as shooting for the likes of Umbro and The Sun. So we thought he was the ideal photographer to have a football based chat with. So we did, and we found it really interesting.

Hi Simon. As you might be aware, we’ve been featuring a lot of World Cup and football posts on FormFiftyFive recently. Obviously your portfolio of work isn’t just related to football and sports, but it is a subject you’ve shot a lot of. So how did you end up shooting this subject matter?

I’ve always played football and been fascinated by certain aspects of the game. In the early 90s I was an art director in a Leeds advertising agency just starting to take pictures. I love newspapers and particularly admired David Ashdown’s sports pictures in The Independent – they really inspired me but getting a Premier league license is difficult so I learned to shoot sport at my own amateur club – Overthorpe SC in West Yorkshire – on crutches as I recovered from a ruptured cruciate ligament.

“Rio Ferdinand in the hotel massage room on the morning of the quarter-final against Brazil. It was the first game I got pictures from the dressing room.”

I know you’ve got a keen interest in football. So do you think it helps having that passion when you’re capturing the moments you do with the camera, as opposed to a photographer who hasn’t such a vested interest in the game?

I don’t support a particular club although I remember my sisters taking me to see Leeds play Manchester City in about 1974 and being stunned by the experience. I was passed to the back of the stand over the fans’ hands when some trouble started and I think we had to leave early. I’ve always enjoyed drama at games. While a real interest in a subject makes for better pictures, I’ve never found it difficult to stay focused on doing the job even when England had just scored an important goal.

Your football shots cover all levels of the game. Do you have a preference between shooting the professional or amateur side of the game?

I’ve shot much more pro football over the years, I was looking through some of our filing cabinets packed with negatives from games from the mid 1990s up to us going digital in 2003 and there are so many from this time. Of course there are great pictures to be had from amateur football but it’s a different context. The England behind the scenes work I did from 2002 to 2007 is the work I’ve most enjoyed and would like to do again. The again, the Umbro ‘ Take Your Coat’ ad has been really important for us and, even though it was shot about fifteen years ago, it’s still a good example of how we work to answer advertising briefs. Come to think of it, we shot it as a quick test with a couple of others and the Dave Godfree at DMB&B had the nerve to make an award-winning campaign of them.

There is something very special about the atmosphere a football crowd can create and the players are so impressive in terms of presence and athletic ability. Floodlights also add another layer to the production values.

Have you ever done any press photography? And if not what do you think of the shots those guys produce? And what makes you different?

I’ve had news pictures published right from the start. I remember seeing some kids jumping round in front of a building on fire on my way to work at Advertising Principles in Leeds. I shot it, made a print and sent it to the Evening Post (I think) who published it the next day.

A couple of year later, in February 1995, I covered my first England international away to the Republic of Ireland in Dublin. We’d been working with The FA’s new commercial department to establish its own photo library for it to use and offer to the new sponsors. The commercial manager, Andy Oldknow (who we later worked with at a few Premier League clubs) arranged my access. A short time before the game, I had a meeting with Ross Kinnaird at Empics, the Nottingham sports photo agency, to try and get some freelance work and he mentioned he was covering the game in Dublin. Someone mentioned which hotel they were staying in so I booked myself to the same one. I spoke to Ross again on the night of the game and said I’d give them anything interesting I might get.

I had a dreadful start to the game and just couldn’t focus in the low light. After 27 minutes the game was abandoned after the Irish took the lead and the England fans rioted. I got a picture of a fight and gave the film to Mike, the Empics technician who I bumped into on the pitch among the fans, police and debris. Hours later, when I finally got back to the hotel, Ross said he thought I had a picture and had also sent a few back to the office for distribution. I woke up next morning and put the television news on to see my photograph of the fight. It turned out to be three England fans attacking a steward and had made nine out of ten of the national front pages and the back of The Independent.

My influences are mainly news or reportage photographers in the wider sense and the very first ones were Ernst Haas, Elliott Erwitt and the Capa brothers but sports photographers like Ashdown, Chris Smith and Michael Steele also inspired. Michael was doing great work, for The Guardian

Will Wintercross, who shoots for The Daily Telegraph, grew up in the same in village in Yorkshire we used to have our office and darkroom. He had a set of keys while he was still at school and would play with cameras, process film and make prints at all hours. More recently, he’s made a number of trips to Syria with his own cameras and even reviewed the week’s best news pictures on the television news.

“Rooney has a ball with him almost all the time in the dressing room and was smashing one against the shower wall in Nuremburg before we played Trinidad on 15 June. I told him I trusted him to miss me as I sat under the target but this one grazed my head”.

What’s your approach of capturing the shots you do when you’re at a game?

Hammer it while trying to focus.

My most important decision is where to sit (or stand). I often like to have an alternative position to the editorial photographers, especially on an advertising job when I need more flexibility. That could mean shooting in the dressing room or up in the television gantry.

I often like to work with a team if the occasion or brief demands it and this could mean one or up to five more photographers plus assistants if required. Working this way has really added depth to the library work we’ve done for The FA and clubs and also makes the most of our more ambitious advertising productions.

We’ve set up four football tournaments with all the elements – football, fans, entertainment and stadium. It’s liberating to not have to get the goal picture, the red card or touchline row and the editorial photographers who shoot 50-100 games a year are much better at it than me.

The last game I shot was England v Peru at the World Cup send-off at Wembley. It was a tough brief to shoot fans for The Sun’s World Cup campaign so I had my back to the game for the full 90 minutes. The agency also needed model releases which can be impossible in a stadium during a match but our editorial and advertising experience and a team of six really made it work.

“David Beckham’s last game as captain in the quarter-final against Portugal in Gelsenkirchen on 1 July 2006”.

Footballers have a certain public perception. How have you found working with them?

They’re mostly like the lads I play with at Berry Brow AFC in the Huddersfield District League but with much better facilities, especially the showers. And bigger watches.

“Just before the Brazil Quarter Final. After loading in and helping set up the dressing room, the players and staff arrived before I left so i sat in the corner and snapped a few pictures.”

Are there any good stories or anecdotes behind any of your shots?

If only I hadn’t signed those confidentiality agreements.

Did I mention the time Xxxxxxx Xxxx threatened to knock me out?

“Martin and Tom the kitmen with Paul Scholes in the team hotel kit room in Shizuoka, Japan during World Cup 2002.

Who has been the best and worst person you’ve photographed or worked with?

Gary Neville and Xxxx Xxxxxxx.

Your England shots in particular give a great idea of what its like behind the scenes. How did this project come about and do you think clubs should do more of this kind of thing?

Paul Barber was The FA’s Commercial Director in 2002 and was very creative and prepared to give me good access to the players and staff just before the World Cup in Japan. I’d been to Downing Street with the team and done some commercial work with them and always gave prints. I met some of the staff around training sessions and on jobs at the team hotel and Tom and Martin, the kitmen really made me welcome but the they needed another pair of hands and I was happy to get mine dirty helping them out whenever I could. For the next five years I worked as their unofficial assistant and this relationship was the foundation of the 100,000 pictures I took.

Clubs are always looking for new commercial opportunities and there’s much more ‘behind the scenes’ being shot these days with some coming from players and staff themselves. Personally, I think it needs careful handling and not only because a lot of managers are conservative and can see this kind of access as a threat to the group.

Many of the big sports brands include a lot of other effects and CGI in their imagery. What do you think of this, and is it a route you’ve ever considered going down?

It’s not my kind of thing really, I like to be as real and as honest as possible and really believe that pictures of things that happened have so much more value than those that are contrived and have the life retouched out of them.

If you could do a photoshoot with any footballer who would it be and why?

I’ve honestly done it though I’d be very interested in photographing the German national team goalkeepers training. I’m a goalkeeper and they do seem to be consistently good at it. One thing that’s struck me about training at this level is that not only does the ball wobble as it’s hurtling towards you, it whistles as well.

What would your ultimate football assignment be?

I’d like to continue the England project – I’m both English and optimistic.

What’ the best football chant you’ve heard either while shooting or watching a game (keep it clean!)?

I can’t remember the last game I watched away from the viewfinder and seem to have professionally shut out those distracting crowd noises . I wore England staff kit (and boots!) while working with the national team so did get a bit of Danny Mills themed abuse from fans which I was quite happy with as he has ten years on me.

Who’s you’re money on for Sunday’s final?

Anything can happen in one game and I do like an underdog so it’s Argentina for me.

“My collection of England goalie gloves”.

A big thanks to Simon for his time.
Simon is represented by Metcalfe Lancaster.

Graeme Cook