There are a number of people who write extensively about Non League football- not for money or glory but just for love. In this series we catch up with five such individuals, finding out more about their work and what motivates them to keep doing it.
Our first subject is David Bauckham. David has an enviable reputation in Non League circles, his work appearing regularly in When Saturday Comes magazine, the Non League Paper, and many other fine outlets. He is a former winner of the Football Supporters Federation Amateur Photographer of the Year Award, has been nominated regularly for Blogger of the Year by the FSF and in the Football Blogging Awards, and is the author of several books about our game, as well as contributing to a number of others.
We caught up over a socially-distanced cup of coffee to talk about his career, and managed not to let talk of his local club, Eastbourne Borough, totally dominate the conversation!
Hamlet fans celebrate- Mishi has removed his shirt, as usual
So when did you begin writing about football- and why?
I moved to Eastbourne in 1987, and started watching Langney Sports, who later became Eastbourne Borough. Soon after my attendance at a home match became almost mandatory, I came across a book in the Eastbourne branch of John Menzies Newsagent- Kerry Miller’s “The History of Non-League Football Grounds.” I couldn’t afford it, as it was priced at around twenty five pounds, but that branch of John Menzies became almost a lending library; every time I was passing I’d go in, take it off the shelf and look longingly at it.
One day, as luck would have it, Kerry turned up at Prior Lane selling this book, and I managed to persuade my dad to lend me twenty pounds to go with the fiver I had in my pocket and purchased a copy, which Kerry kindly signed for me. It inspired me to want to visit the grounds it covered, and I started by taking a trip to Ringmer (these days in the Mid Sussex League), and it snowballed from there.
I began writing about my travels around the Sussex County League for the Langney Sports programme, a regular feature which became known as “Nomad’s Column.” It became quite popular and I began travelling to more and more games, and then when the internet began to take off I decided to launch an online directory of Sussex Non League clubs. It needed photographs to illustrate it, so I got myself a little digital camera and visited every ground in Sussex taking snaps. At some of them there was nothing to take a picture of apart from perhaps a dugout- no posts, no clubhouse, just a dugout! I then decided that the directory on its own wasn’t very scintillating to read, so I began publishing some of the programme articles, and it became “Nomad Online,” which was then twinned with a discussion forum involving lots of local supporters. Inadvertently I’d become Sussex football’s first blogger.
One of these people is a famous singer. Guess which one!
This also led me directly to my first book. Mike Floate invited me to compile a book of Non League Football Grounds of Sussex, in 2003, and included a four page gallery of my dugout shots. I looked at that and decided that a book about dugouts might be interesting- and luckily someone decided not only that I was right but that it would be worth paying me to travel around the country photographing dugouts for a second book.
Did you set out with any kind of goal in mind? It sounds rather like a collection of happy accidents.
That’s exactly what it was. I just liked visiting football grounds, and as I got better and my equipment got better the work got more and more notice. I began taking match photographs too, but quickly realised that I didn’t want to be someone who just took action shots- I was more interested in the background, the landscape, the people who were watching and the stories behind the game. Landscape football photography wasn’t particularly popular back then, but a number of photographers began to do it and it grew as a genre.
Eventually I started finding that interesting grounds- from a photography perspective- were more and more difficult to find, and I began to focus more on the clubs and their people. I’d always be at a ground early and have time to talk to the people at the club, and often their stories were more interesting than the football itself. These days I talk more about the people and the history than the match.
Did you make a conscious decision to stay with Non League football?
From a pragmatic perspective it’s a lot less hassle- no DataCo Licence required- but also it’s far more interesting, far more “real” if you like, less corporate. I focus entirely on the Non League game, and recently I’ve even began to drop down into amateur football.
So how did the current website- Centre Circle Publications- come about?
About four years ago. I was fed up with the way that Flickr managed my photographs, and Stuart Tree (Corinthian-Casuals award winning programme editor and a later contributor to this series) put me onto a new type of website which he thought would suit my work. He was right, and it gave me the opportunity to expand my writing and tell the story of a club in words rather than just pictures.
So when was the moment you first thought, “I’m actually quite good at this?”
I’ve never really thought that, to be honest! Photography is about having a good eye, and I suppose I have that, and I’ve also learned the art of making something half decent of an average picture by good use of cropping.
Is there one moment you would say you were most proud of?
It’s always nice when you get a picture that isn’t down to luck! I took at picture at Altrincham when they needed to win to stay up, and I positioned myself in front of the crowd knowing that their team would come out all guns blazing and the reaction I’d get from the crowd if they scored. Of course they did score five minutes in, and the photograph came out exactly as I’d hoped.
Being nominated for awards is always nice even if you don’t win them. That’s when I think, “I must be ok at this.”
What about that Corinthian-Casuals photograph? (Our headline image, above)
The player with the beer? It’s a nice shot, but it was luck! I was sitting next to Stuart Tree, and we were both shooting the same thing, but I got it and he didn’t. There’s an element of knowing where to be, but even with the best preparation in the world there’s still an enormous element of fortune about it.
You’ve had a lot of work in When Saturday Comes? How did that come about?
These days they ask for it! Actually, that’s a proud moment- becoming one of their staff photographers. I see my name on a list each month alongside some exceptional people- it’s a complete fluke!
I suppose the breakthrough came when I was asked to go and do a shot feature for the magazine after someone dropped out- a two page spread- at Marlow. I was a bit nervous, and didn’t want to mess it up, but I did it and they liked it, and it grew from there. I did my first Premier League match for them last season, and it was the first match I’d done that wasn’t Non-League. But there was a lot less freedom. I’d rather be at a Non League club or a recreation ground.
So what are your future plans? Where do you go from here?
I’d like to do an anthology. I’ve done lots of writing, and I’ve got such an enormous library of photographs- twenty seven thousand on Flickr alone, and I’ve not used that for four or five years. But I’d need a brutal editor to help me.
I’d quite like to put together a book on dressing rooms, and perhaps one on tea bars! That might sound daft, but nobody thought a book of dugouts would work, and it did!
I do it because I enjoy it. If I stopped enjoying it, I wouldn’t do it. I’m worn out by the end of the season, but then the itch returns come August. And I only go where there’s a story to tell- the photographs alone aren’t enough. I try to visit clubs who need their profile boosted somewhat- clubs that don’t get much publicity, unsung clubs. The website gets fifty thousand views a month.
I went to Aveley, for example, last season because there was a story to tell. I’d considered going earlier but their FA Trophy run made it special. I’d like to go to Sittingbourne, too- I’ve known John and Peter Pitts there for years, since the Brickies were playing against Langney Sports in the Southern League and beyond, and the adversity that the club has gone through, and the fact that they’ve come out of the other side, is a story worth telling.
If someone was thinking about writing or photographing football for the first time, what advice would you give them?
Find an angle that you’re really interested in. If your not passionate about what you’re doing it won’t last. And if you’re writing a match report, just don’t write a blow by blow account. Get involved in your own club, learn about that, then broaden your approach.
Football is about people, and at non-league particularly it’s the people you meet that make it special. Characters like Mishi Morath, who we all miss, make the game- but there are people like Mishi- although I suppose nobody is quite like Mishi- at almost every club.
Finally, what are your three most memorable Isthmian matches?
Going back to Dulwich Hamlet- the club I grew up watching- and seeing them earn promotion from Isthmian South to Isthmian Premier. That was a wonderful day.
Can I have a match from the Essex Senior League involving two of your clubs who were fighting for promotion to your North Division? April 2015, Haringey Borough versus Bowers and Pitsea- a five goal thriller, a great atmosphere, the home side won three-two and won the title in doing so. Only Bowers had a chance of stopping them taking the title, and that result clinched it. Leroy Griffiths got a forty yard winner for Borough; he had been a big star for Grays Athletic and had a rather notable goal celebration. Emeli Sandé, the singer, is a Borough fan and was there with her sister, I took a picture of them with the trophy. It was a ground I’d wanted to visit for quite a long time, and the people were great, it was a special day, a notable day- and it meant such a lot to the club, to Tom the manager and Aki the chairman, who made me feel really welcome.
I loved last seasons trip to Aveley for their match in the Trophy against Chelmsford City. I’d seen them at Mill Field but this was my first trip to Parkside, and I rang Craig Johnson and the club were really welcoming, and it was a wonderful day. It looked as if Chelmsford were going to win, but Aveley turned it around and made history, and it’s always fabulous to be a small part of an occasion like that. Before the game Craig told me that they’d really wanted Yeovil Town or Notts County, and low and behold they earned a trip to Nottingham in the next round.
Trying to pin Craig down for an interview was difficult, he never stood still! He was out working on the pitch, then working behind the bar, then welcoming the supporters, and during the game he wandered around the game engaging with people and kicking every ball. The club is only where it is because of his hard work, and it his passion was obvious and heartening.
Each of those three matches were great occasions, but it was the people that made them so. The fans at Dulwich, Tom and Aki at Borough, Craig at Aveley- that’s what made those days special.
Will we see you at many Isthmian matches this season?
I’m planning a trip to AFC Sudbury, as I mentioned I’d like to go to Sittingbourne, and I’ve always wanted to go to a match at Soham Town Rangers. I’d love to go back to Coggeshall Town too- I last saw them in the Border League, and what they’ve achieved since is phenomenal.
I want to see the new stand at Bognor, too- and it’s always good at be at Corinthian-Casuals, Enfield Town, Leatherhead- I used to watch them as a child, too, as my dad was from Ashtead. I was at the match when they defeated Colchester United in the FA Cup.
It’s just that I’m waiting for a story to present itself before I commit!
If you've never seen David's work- or even if you have- many of our clubs are featured, indeed celebrated, on his website. You'll find it here. Each image featured here comes from his lens.