Young footballers

Copyright Martin Shields

Copyright Martin Shields

The project asks to look at the photograph above and comment on what the image connotes and denotes, and then seek further comments from other students.

My first thought was how much the use of monochrome robs us of information. These two boys are wearing football strips, they are carrying footballs and football is for so many millions of other young boys around the world, important to them, and colour would have denoted, to great degree whom these young boys might have supported. I also wondered though about why this photograph would have used, there must be millions of other photographs of young lads with footballs, playing football, on grass, on beaches, jumpers for goalposts etc. One of the key identifiers for football fans are their tribal markings, that of their favourite football team’s shirt as being the one of choice; why would they wear another team’s shirt when they could wear the one of their team? If this was in colour, I thought, and those hoops on the left were green and that solid shirt was blue, that would add so much to the narrative power of the photograph. It could signify Glasgow. Those emblematic signs of those shirts would have said so much more than monochrome could ever deliver…..

Anyhow, back to the task:

Denotation: The boys are in a run-down area, no grass for their play. The buildings are ‘run-down’. The image around them is grey, whilst they are bright (and quite clean for young boys playing football!) further suggesting a ‘run-down’ area. They are ‘mates’, their arms are around each other. They are in different football kits – normally a divisive instrument – these boys are happy in each others company.

Connotation: I sense they are going home, the use of the ‘lead-lines’ seem to be taking them back somewhere – they are presented walking away from us, as if returning to a place. The line of the buildings, the road and the direction of travel of the boys all lead to a space/area/point towards the upper left hand side of the photograph.They are walking together to that place – I am assuming is home – and that I now connote is a shared place, that they both belong to a community which, though it may be divided, is the same place they belong and will become, through adulthood, responsible for. That they are wearing different kits suggests a lot of things: fraternity can overcome division, they don’t appear brothers as one has dark hair the other light (not in itself an absolute marker, but suggestive nonetheless) and therefore strengthening the narrative that opposing sides can come together without enmity based on tribalism. I think that as they are clean suggests also that they have played together and not been ‘dirty’? That they can be friends despite their affiliations to opposing teams.The ‘greyness’ though in their future – that place to which they are walking to doesn’t necessarily bode well for them, they face difficulties and not such a rosy future.

And what if the picture editor made this decision?

Copyright Martin Shields

Copyright Martin Shields

An irrelevance perhaps.

I have now looked at the article unedited in the Core Resources and discover that it was a piece about Glasgow,

Copyright Martin Shields

Copyright Martin Shields

Though this reproduction is small, it is immediately obvious that it is to do with Glasgow, about redevelopment and about ‘a view’ of the future.

Having the text associated with the image (though, of course, it is the image that accompanies the text, serving to illustrate the text, maybe even to help develop the underlying narrative being espoused by the author) alters our perceptions that have been developed without the aid of the directional text.

We can now connote, armed as we are with our own life experiences, further signifiers that develop our reading of the image. The essence of the piece might therefore be about the future, about how these children, united through a love of football need to have a place to find at the end of their road, their journey, this journey that we can see them on as they walk together. Thus unity is a strong theme, the enmity of the Glaswegian football teams is legendary, built on the sectarian divide of Catholicism and Protestantism ; this picture might suggest a vision of the future where that divide has been been healed, there are few totems to that harmonious end that have stood any test of time. Now, I perceive that the image is posed, not a cynical view as the statement might suggest; but the likelihood of two urchins together from the slums of Glasgow that hail from opposing sides of that city is low, that they walk in such a run-down area with clean bright football kits starts to stretch the arc of belief still further, that they have their arms around each other in a pose of solidarity beggars belief just too far for me. However my belief, or any other reader’s belief is what this image is possibly about. If the image challenges that received wisdom and plants a seed of hope, then maybe we could begin to believe that another chance, through the redevelopment of the run-down tenement slums are just what is needed. We perhaps could receive the idea through the significance of the image that there is a future for these two boys, innocently walking towards a better future, for if they walk towards their collective past their prospects are as bleak as the sky they are currently beneath.

Other views from students who have been kind enough to respond to the request for their readings of the image:


“two boys going to or coming from a football match walking through a run-down area. (I’d say going to the football because of the cleanliness of their clothes.)”

“Two boys, arms around each other, carrying a football each and walking somewhere.”

“two lads going to football.  I think this is before the match as they are clean and well pressed – unless this is modern image that has been ‘aged’ in which case they might have been on an all-weather pitch.  An area of urban dereliction.”

“Boys walking through a partially completed demolition site on a dry day, each has a football tucked under an arm, each has the other arm around the shoulders of his friend.”

The readings focus on the prime subject of the two boys, the cleanliness of the kit is clearly observed and to a lesser extent the run-down area.


“Current friendship, northern township dereliction of 1960’s, rugby (from shirt on LH boy, hoops not stripes), freedom of travel, age of innocence, destruction of heritage, working class area, long summer days.”

“opposing teams – might be Rangers and Celtic and maybe Northern Ireland – got that feel to it – boys can still be friends – innocence of youth transcends divisions. This could be the Catholic/Protestant divide?  Can still have friendship and camaraderie across divisions in the eyes of the young – but does this stop as they get older.  Contrast between the clean kit and the derelict surroundings.  Do they belong there or just passing?”

“The image has a late 50’s look to it, but names on football shirts only became compulsory around the late 80’s and found their way onto replica kit.  Also footballs made with pentagonal and hexagonal panels were not available until 1970ish – so is this a composite?  Maybe the dereliction is more recent?  Maybe it’s not dereliction.”

“they support different teams yet care about each other. A rundown council estate – looks abandoned somehow, waiting to be demolished. Thought bombed-out but not sure as it looks 50s/60s. Something about the different tops makes me think of Northern Ireland, factions, warring religions – yet here are two boys wearing different ‘uniforms’ and arm in arm. Hope lies with the young; they are our future; they can re-build etc. There’s something that unsettles me but would take longer to work it out.”

“friendship, innocence of youth, sentimental, people can be friends even if their football teams are old enemies.  Even in poverty and decay there is human spirit, kindness. Perhaps the adversity of the surroundings strengthens the need for human empathy. There is certainly a strong contrast between their clean clothes and the squalid environment. Perhaps they’re from wealthy families just passing through this area en route to their destination.  Maybe they’re brothers.  Maybe one or both are girls?”


I wonder though if the connotations are changed by the knowledge of what the image has been used for? Perhaps the respondents might want to address that?

Thanks to Brian, Catherine, Dave and Eddy for taking part in this.


5 thoughts on “Young footballers

  1. I suppose the denotation now is that if people buy their own houses then everything will be much brighter and cleaner etc because those people will take more care of them. However, if it’s a large estate then there are still all those communal areas that need to be maintained and, presumably, the Council would have to do that but on what finances. The ramifications are endless. I could go on…..

  2. Thanks Eddy and Catherine. It’s interesting that you’ve decided to comment on the text rather than the caption of the image, which is what I had done…… Different viewings present different readings…
    Now, what if I said that the image in a photo-shopped composite?

  3. That’s one big jump in intent, and we could take it as either the boys are the subject or it’s the sale of the council house. If the boys are the subject then the background provides context that their relationship is probably doomed. Rangers and Celtic just do not mix, although I’m reminded of a visit I made to the Ibrox social club twenty-five years ago where a few of the Rangers players did some sort of appeal for harmony with the auld enemy from the stage. I don’t think anyone there was convinced that this was any more than an SFA requirement.
    If the sale is the subject then the boys inclusion must be a similar appeal to common interest, also doomed to failure.
    As a photograph I think it easily qualifies as “art” given the emotions it must elicit.
    I’d congratulate the artist for the boys inclusion if is a composite.
    This is the type of image I’d buy if it was a reasonable price.

  4. Pingback: Narrative | Andreas Fernandez - Level 2

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