Wish you were here

Wish you were here is an exhibition of photographs depicting the Leeds of the late seventies and eighties through the eyes of a group of football fans. It offers a fascinating insight into a culture and unexplored time. Unlike skins, mods and punks, Casuals (as they came to be known) were a little known youth tribe borne out of football culture that very quickly became more expansive and embraced wider cultural significance across the major cities of the North. I have to say that this scene passed me by somewhat – as an art student during this period I was otherwise engaged – but as a teenager in Leeds during this period, it was hard not to notice the scene take hold.

When I look at the photographs in the exhibition, what strikes me most is the exuberance and innocence of the images. Clearly the young men depicted in the shots are far from innocent, but they are definitely images from a more innocent time. There’s a voyeuristic feeling too – the viewer gets a glimpse into another world that doesn’t belong to them, although that’s certainly how I felt (it could just be me).

There are shots of smartly dressed lads wrestling and fighting each other and these images look faintly ridiculous, like they’re mucking around in the park, having fun. I think actually that’s what they were doing, just the outside world thinking it was life and death. The violence of this world lurks in the background more than overtly depicted, as an undercurrent to the ‘good times’ narrative.

Although football was never really my world as I grew up (ours was a Rugby League house) it was hard to not get drawn into it as a lad growing up in Leeds in the seventies. Don Revie and his famous team cast a very long shadow in this city.

There was lots to savour in this exhibition, in particular the portrayal of a time in Leeds’ history that’s been swept away as the city grew into a more cosmopolitan and hospitable place to live. Leeds at this time wasn’t a particularly cool place to live, they were properly austere times and there wasn’t much fun was to be had. Clearly we got it where and when we could.

It’s hard not to get drawn into the world of the photographs: running battles in side streets, gurning faces for the camera, lines of coppers in riot gear, goofing on park benches, burning chip vans, smoky coach trips and beers in the sunshine. Although I definitely felt like an outsider looking in to this world – which in itself is no bad thing – Wish you were here opened a compelling window into another time and another life.