Photographer and life-long Tottenham Hotspur fan, Martin Andersen has turned his camera on his fellow fans to capture the atmosphere of hundreds of football games at home, away and across Europe, right up until 2017 when the last game played at the White Hart Lane stadium.
In the intimate and often visceral collection, Can't Smile Without You, Andersen presents authentic and unflinching documentation of the fans and their community. His imagery depicts the drama, tensions, and raw emotions involved in such unwavering support of a football team that infiltrates every part of life.
Capturing a rapidly changing culture and a unique moment in Tottenham Hotspur's history following the demolition of the 118-year-old stadium at White Hart Lane at the end of the 2016/17 season, the monochrome images also have a timeless quality that transcends the recent era they were taken in. These could be images of any diehard football fans and of the associated rituals, pre and post-match, that are an integral part of being one.
Brought together in a new photobook, Can't Smile Without You features texts by lifelong Tottenham fans Joe Kerr, a writer and bus driver at Tottenham Garage, and Felix Petty, Editor at i-D Magazine. You can buy a copy of the book on Martin's website at shop.martinandersen.co.uk.
What was Andersen hoping to capture from his fellow fans? "I've been supporting Tottenham most of my life and have seen us in good times and bad. Players and managers come and go, and it can be frustrating, even heartbreaking when they leave for another team. Sometimes it can feel like there's little loyalty in football. One day you are Spurs, the next day you can go play for a rival. The focus is always on the players and the manager.
"I was interested in making a project about the fans. The fans never switch alliances, they are here forever and I felt that needed to be documented and celebrated.
"I wanted the book to capture different generations of fans, the camaraderie, the banter, the songs in the pubs, the madness. Travelling up and down the country and the long away trips in Europe. I wasn't interested in making a chronological 'football fan' book covering all the games with numerous pictures on each page and accompanying text.
"I wanted the book to have some artistic merit in terms of photography. I am interested in people and I've always been more interested in photography that is open-ended, pictures that are suggestive and open to interpretation, rather than pictures that are descriptive.
"I started bringing my camera to the games and photographed the atmosphere on the streets and in the pubs before and after. It ended up growing into an obsession, and after three years I realised that I was beginning to document a piece of our history – the last five seasons at White Hart Lane and the away trips from that period. It felt fitting to put that into a book to mark the occasion.
"I decided that our last game at White Hart Lane should be the endpoint of this project. I went to, and photographed, over one hundred home and away games between 2013 and 2017 and the photographs that are featured in the book have been edited down from that."
As you can see, there's a lot of energy in many of the images. Were people happy to be photographed? "It definitely helped to be a Spurs boy, but you don't just turn up and get invited in and start taking pictures. In the beginning, there were certainly a few people who questioned what I was doing pointing a camera in their face. I knew from the beginning that I had to take my time. It was important for me to get to know people first, find out what they are doing and just go with the flow. It might sound like a cliché, but you can’t make images happen when you want them to, the images will come to you. It’s a little bit like fishing – sometimes you catch something and sometimes you come home empty-handed."
Andersen adds: "I like using my camera as a tool to meet other people. It can help break down boundaries. I always treat everyone with respect, if they didn't want to be photographed I wouldn’t photograph them. I am always modest and interested in what other people are doing and thinking. I take better pictures when I feel a connection with others. Once you are accepted and you are part of the same dynamic you feel that you belong to something special and it becomes easier to take pictures."
Was he ever nervous about pointing the camera? "Most of the time no, I truly enjoy taking pictures. It's one of my biggest passions in life, but having said that there were some occasions when I knew that I was maybe stepping out of line to get a good shot. Running around Park Lane at night when you play Arsenal using flash is not the ideal situation.
"I am an intuitive photographer, I enjoy meeting people and I like my pictures to be up close and personal, and at the same time humanistic and soulful. They can be emotional, funny, surreal, but ultimately it has to be real. Staged work often seems a little lifeless. It can be too perfect and lose the heartbeat."
Andersen has many fascinating stories from his project – of the people he met. "I frequently met and spoke with an elderly gentleman named Arthur – 'Tottenham Arthur' as he was known to many of us. He was a dedicated fan who had been to most of the home and away games for decades. He sadly passed away in 2016. You could always find him hanging around Bill Nicholson Way watching the players arrive, wearing the same cap and jacket, and he wouldn't be seen without his big plastic portfolio in which he kept the matchday programme in pristine condition. I often wondered how many of these he had at home.
"On a personal level – my father sadly passed away last summer and the last thing I did with him was to read Joe's foreword to this book and show him all the images. Over the years, we had so many great memories together at White Hart Lane. When we were in the hospital and the doctor told him that he was terminally ill, he didn't say a word to any of us until we had left and sat in the car. He then suddenly turned to us and said: 'I won't get to see the new Tottenham stadium now'. I decided to dedicate the book to him."
What does it mean to Andersen to be a football fan? "First and foremost, it's about loyalty. Throughout your life, you might change house, job and partner, but you will never ever change your football club. For the dedicated fan, it's an obsession.
"I have met people who have only missed a handful of games since the 1960s and fans who wouldn't want to miss a friendly game on the other side of the world. There is something fascinating about the camaraderie you establish and your fellow football fans become more than friends, they in a way become your 'football' family."
To grab yourself a copy of Can't Smile Without You, visit shop.martinandersen.co.uk.