Ambleside is the village next to my Grasmere home. A typical Lakeland spot with some eccentric retailers, including the talented and ubiquitous Lucy's for all things cookery, a Peter Blake art exhibition, a funky independent record store, and the world’s best football gallery.
Homes of Football is a permanent display and collection of Stuart Clarke's photography of football, festivals, fairy tale, and Cumbria. It is an amazing experience.
Stuart Clarke became a photographer during the Thatcher years. His monochrome street photography led him to begin "Homes of Football" (albeit in color) just as Lord Justice Taylor put together his recommendations to reshape the game after The Hillsborough Disaster.
"Here was an opportunity, as football changed, to make a big artistic record, having been immersed in the playing and staging of football matches from an early age (indeed we even had a football ground in our back garden!)...I took another chance in basing myself in the rural Lake District - to do something considered an urban phenomenon. I called it "The Homes of Football " (plural) as I was after something pluralistic. Long-lasting. Authoritative. Quirky. Not throw-away.”
So with a home at Ambleside, Stuart went on the road with a show – putting together the longest ever touring art exhibition before gallery audiences nationwide. At first he found that curators were dismissive of having football in their art galleries, but Stuart fought his ground, going over their heads and engaging the Heads of Leisure Services. His line was that football is the nation's game and that he had created a special treatment that went beyond copious newspaper coverage. His recent photography has done something similar with "Scenes From a British Summer Country Pop Music Festival".
But back to football. As Stuart says, “Football, season-long and outliving us all, is multi-layered and ever engages my artistic curiosity – putting the collection in The Lake District is a way to hearts and minds prized open by spectacular surrounds releasing the poet in us each...I want to see my pictures ever before all and sundry in galleries, exhibitions, in my books as well as in your imaginative adverts when it can become the turn of the creatives to translate and renew what was first seen. There is no sacred text – it's what we make of anything that matters."
Make sure you put Homes of Football on your next itinerary. I just brought two Manchester City pieces and there’s more brilliant stuff just waiting for you as you walk through the door.