Before there were all-seater stadiums there were stands; before there were stands, football supporters simply stood at the edge of the pitch. As Brighton & Hove Albion fans look forward to the new stadium in Falmer, this postcard is a reminder that their predecessors once put up with far cruder facilities.
This photograph was taken during a Southern League match between Brighton and Swindon in March 1914. It was sold as a postcard and is one of numerous scenes produced by the Hove-based photographer, Wiles. Although Wiles regularly photographed the crowds at matches, the action on the pitch escaped the camera. This was not due to any fascination Wiles may have held with the supporters; it was a result of the limitations of photographic technology in this period.
In the early twentieth century many photographers still relied on glass plate negatives. Although these generally provided a better quality image than photographic film, they were cumbersome to use. Each negative had to be placed into a holder, and individually loaded into the camera. This was hardly practical for capturing the fast flowing action of a football match.
Wiles’ solution was to photograph the crowd, and sell the postcards as a souvenir of the match. But even here, the limitations of photography can be seen. The crowd has clearly been posed for the shot, and has mostly remained still. But in the front row, to the left of the figure holding the sign, an exuberant boy has chosen to wave at the camera. The exposure time is long enough for the boy’s image to become distorted, leaving a ghostly image at the front of the crowd.
Looking at this image almost 100 years later, the ghostly boy seems strangely appropriate. World War One began less than five months after this photograph was taken. Within the next four years, it is likely that several of the men shown here would have been wounded or killed.
But at the time of the photograph, few of these football fans would have been troubled by events in Europe. By the end of the afternoon, most would have been pleased that Brighton had won 2 – 0: a good result given that Swindon topped the league.
Kevin Bacon, Curator of Photographs