On a Saturday afternoon at 3pm, all eyes tend to be on the pitch, watching the 22 players battle it out for three points, marshalled by three men in black.
But two pictures caught my eye over the weekend which served as a reminder that it’s perhaps just as important to keep an eye on the thousands – maybe tens of thousands – in the stands.
In a world where every goal, tackle and red card is shown around the globe in seconds – either legally or illegally – the job of the reporter has changed. For the regional press, so long THE source of information on the football club, the role has changed too.
Getting closer to the fans is more important than ever before, and that means making them part of the coverage. It doesn’t mean being led by the extreme voices or reacting to every allegation of bias, because that way lies madness.
But increasingly, the websites I work with see as much success from digital content which has the fans involved as they do from content about the players, the manager or the next transfer.
This picture from Aston Villa’s defeat to Chelsea was a belter, posted on the Birmingham Mail’s Facebook page:
Villa fans had waited 10 hours for a goal prior to the weekend. The picture above shows the good humour which has helped make the frustration manageable. It made for a good standalone story on the Mail website.
Then, on Saturday teatime, came the Merseyside derby, a 0-0 affair but one which still causes an incredibly charged atmosphere:
The above picture was captured by Getty Images, and while clearly meant to be a shot of the player, displays a remarkable range of emotions from fans.
I saw this picture first on Facebook where journalist colleagues were discussing how worrying it is that football can generate such feelings of hate among some people – and that’s clearly on display here.
There are others smiling, but we don’t know (obviously) whether that’s in appreciation of the celebrated rival player, or in response to a witty (or not-so-witty) remark from one of the more angry in the crowd.
The two images combined show the extreme range of emotions and atmospheres which can emerge at football grounds. They both demonstrate brilliantly why it can be important for photographers to capture images from the crowd as much as images on the pitch, and for journalists to make sure they understand what’s going on in the crowd just as much as on the field.
In a world where press officers try to ensure ‘manager hopes to win’ is the top line from the pre-match press conference and every sellable journalistic edge is put up to auction by the football authorities, understanding and being closer to the fans has never been more important for regional journalists.