When the Red Arrows fly over Bray on Sunday July 24th as part of this year’s Bray Air Display, they will be treated to a scenic view of the Carlisle Grounds, situated as it is in its picturesque setting beside the town’s railway line, esplanade and harbour.
Photographs taken from the air can be amongst the best snaps of any location, and this is definitely true of football grounds. I’m a big fan of photographic collections in general, and one of the prized possessions amongst my football books is a copy of the 11th edition of the Aerofilms Guide to England’s football stadia. All the shots are taken from the air and show the stadiums from on high, nestled into their surrounding neighbourhoods. You can see the architecture of the stands and terracing in all their glory, whether they are the big stadiums with eye-catching symmetry or the smaller ones with a quirkier, more haphazard [but no-less appealing] make-up. The fact that this book dates from the 2003-2004 season means that it captures the views of the English stadia before some were knocked down as clubs moved to generic purpose-built out-of-town stadiums with sponsored names.
Something like this should be done for the League of Ireland grounds. We don’t have as many clubs and grounds, so perhaps it could be done as one section of a general League of Ireland photographic book. Any publishers reading? I’m sure it would sell well – all the clubs would put it in their club shops for starters. The book could be compiled entirely from submissions from the various clubs, who all have fine photographers attached to them [usually volunteers]. Maybe the FAI could pay for a helicopter to be chartered to take some air shots of the grounds!
If you search on Google images for any of the League of Ireland grounds chances are that amongst the hits pulled up are some decent air shots of the stadiums, as good as anything in the Aerofilms book I mentioned earlier. Tolka and Dalymount Parks are good examples. The air shots show a kind of airbrushed version of the grounds in that you can’t see what you can see up close when you visit these stadiums, namely the run-down bits. This doesn’t make the air shots less valid; in fact it shows the potential of the stadia, if only the clubs could afford to maintain them in all their glory. It’s such a shame to see a football ground becoming less in reality than what it could potentially be just for want of a few quid.
Football in general is a very photograph-friendly sport. Action shots, crowd shots, behind-the-scenes shots and of course shots of the stadiums either empty, full or [most commonly in the League of Ireland] part full. The colours that abound in a football match provide a rich palette just asking to be captured and documented in a photograph. The colours and designs of the jerseys, the green grass and the white of the ball and line-markings, the colours of the seats and clothes of the fans.
A good footballing photograph isn’t always about an action shot or a sun-kissed pitch. Bad weather can provide great photographs too. One of my favourite photographs from Bray Wanderers in recent years was from our last home game in 2014, when we needed to get something against the visiting newly-crowned champions Dundalk to ensure survival. In the end Bray got a 1-1 draw and ensured safety, but the match was perhaps most memorable for the horrendous conditions it was played in, with driving wind and rain. A fabulous picture was taken of the Bray kit man Stephen McGuire braving the conditions with grim determination, coming from the kit room with some items that were needed. True grit, just like the Bray team’s efforts on the night and indeed during the entire run-in that year as they escaped relegation in a manner Houdini would have been proud of.
Back to the Red Arrows and the Bray Air Display. The Red Arrows didn’t take part in the 2014 Bray Air display, but that one fell on the same day as Bray Wanderers entertained a Manchester United XI in a friendly. Obviously there were some memorable photographs taken on that great occasion [Bray won 1-0!] but the game for me was perhaps most memorable for an incident that happened at half-time. I was sitting in the stand with my family and a group of United fans were in front of us, having come over especially for the game. At half time the Air Display was in full swing, and planes of all shapes and sizes could be seen in all their glory and complex formations from the stand. The United fans turned to me, impressed, to ask what was going on. I said with a completely straight face that it was just the half-time entertainment, sure we have it at every match!