Interview | Mike Ryan

In order to further my project of reconnecting with my football past I felt that I needed to move away from a documentary photographic approach at non league football matches and begin to engage with my story at a deeper level. In response I decided to contact former teammates and arrange some interviews with the intention of listening to their experiences of the game.

Having read loads of player autobiographies over the years, my intention isn’t to recite nostalgic stories about famous players as is often portrayed. I want to understand their philosophy and how they coped with life after the professional game. Venturing into the non league realm and understand the challenges this presented in an emotional sense.

Reflecting on my own experience, the overriding emotion was one of fear. In stating this I don’t mean the fear of actually playing in the game. More the constant burden of putting your body on the line twice a week for little reward whilst having to go to work and forge a new career. The consequence of this being a lack of confidence in being able to do anything else. Playing football becomes the norm and continuing to play out of a sense of routine as opposed to enjoyment.

The first subject of my research was a man I have known through football for over twenty years. Playing with and against on a number of occasions. We are part of a small group of players who have a bond, although we don’t spend much time in each others company anymore. We are a close support network and understand the difficulties we went through at that stage of our lives, having to adjust and find a new direction.

My approach to this shoot was to make a portrait which suggested something about the lives my teammates have now. Whilst speaking to them about their experiences of the past in recorded interviews.

When considering supporting images to fit within a sequence of this shoot, I was interested when Mike suggested that when he left Manchester United after 13 years of his life he felt alone. Not to be confused with being lonely but alone in his experiences of life. Throughout his childhood he was the envy of all of his peers within the community. However this isolated him as he was unable to have a normal childhood as a result he feels that he largely missed out on the vernacular experiences of youth hood.

Transferred from United to Wrexham for 100k, he struggled to settle in his new home deciding one day to get on a train home and not kick a football for three years.

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