Over the last two years I’ve been recording traces of football fan culture in my neighbourhood, to the south of Edinburgh’s city centre. This exercise initially came about through a desire to try out a new camera, combined with the fact that pushing my 2 year-old son around in his buggy was a sure-fire way of getting him off to sleep. Hundreds of miles and hours later I've decided to share some of the photos and stories they tell. I've collected the most interesting images in a slideshow below and then, further down, have mapped them onto the streets of Edinburgh's Southside.
From a few different places in Marchmont - within Edinburgh's EH9 postcode district - you can look north to Edinburgh Castle, before turning east towards the volcanic rock of Arthur's Seat. The Castle and Arthur's Seat: the royalty of postcard Edinburgh. Maybe more interesting though (to me anyway) is the ephemera and milieu that says something about the city right now. At the danger of over-simplifying things, The Castle tells us about history whereas the streets are part of an unfolding story.
Through repeated excursions I became aware of colourful stickers attached to lampposts, recycling bins and other bits of everyday street furniture. If this sounds like an unglamorous pursuit, on the contrary I encountered Danny Kaye and Johnny Cash as I walked the lines of tenements that characterise my neighbourhood. Some of the most interesting stickers were those bearing the identity of football Ultra groups. Ultras, in case their existence is new to you, are groups of highly organised and often politically-motivated football fanatics. They have an investment in their chosen club that goes beyond the 90-minutes-plus-time-added-on and manifests through colourful choreography, carefully crafted banners and controversy. There will frequently be fireworks when Ultras assemble in their chosen area of the stadium.
Looking beyond the imagination and humour of some of the stickers, I was interested in the way that their presence felt out-of-step with the calm order of the residential streets, schools and shops where I found them. Marchmont isn’t Merseyside and The Meadows is a long way from the Maracana, both figuratively and literally. To illustrate the point in a very blunt way, I’ve never queued behind the Green Brigade at the cash point on Thirlestane Road or nervously exchanged glances with Ultras Nurnberg on Bruntsfield Place on my way to get the croissants. And yet their presence was to be found attached to the physical material of the street - in fact they became a part of it's materiality, its personality. As I became aware of this curious jarring I changed my approach and set out to record each sticker against the backdrop of its surroundings. This resulted in some amusing juxtaposition that wasn’t always apparent at the time: aggression in front of a place of worship; a zombie gathering set against a leisurely family outing.
Hover over the map and then a hotspot to view a low res picture of a sticker in it's location.
Over time these vinyl calling cards became more commonplace and I altered and extended my excursions to take in different paths, parks and other public spaces. The derelict land and industrial units around the Union Canal evoked a battleground as different Ultra groups competed for eminence. The message was clear: our football might be mediocre on the pitch but our fan artistry rises above all others (and is placed high enough up this lamppost to make it difficult for rival fans to deface or remove it). South Clerk Street presented a similar story of conflict as the different sides of the road became the opposing ends of a football ground: Hibs versus Hearts at Easter Road, at Tynecastle and then spilling out onto the lampposts and postboxes of the Southside.
There was also serendipity in this documenting of fan culture. Without it ever being my intention a number of photos taken during the Summer and Autumn of 2014 inadvertently revealed the political climate in Scotland at the time. When the story of Scotland’s independence referendum is told it’s likely that it will be accompanied by images of politicians, press calls and orchestrated mass rallies. What will mostly be overlooked, I imagine, is the everyday appropriation of the street, as citizens of different hues pinned their sticky-backed colours to the lampposts and signs of their neighbourhoods. Better Together with the Union Bears. Another Scotland is possible with the Brigade Loire. And they say football and politics don’t mix.
If there’s any value in this exercise (beyond learning how to use my camera and helping my son off to sleep) it’s that this approach can tell a story about what was unfolding within a specific part of the city over a particular period of time. Perhaps the gathered images can be seen as a capturing of the moment that will be overlooked in conventional histories of Edinburgh, and in the websites and brochures that are used to entice visitors and investors. If Edinburgh Castle and Arthur’s Seat are immovable rocks in the city’s landscape, there's also value to be found in turning an eye to the ephemeral: the minutiae of our everyday surroundings that capture what’s happening, rather than what has happened. Divert your gaze from the city’s landmarks and study the detail of your neighbourhood. The terraces have a story to tell.
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I am a Lecturer in Digital Education (Education Futures), within the Centre for Research in Digital Education at The University of Edinburgh.