David Sims, fashion photographer, on Kenny Dalglish’s number seven football shirt.
GB Tell me why you chose this.
DS I sat wondering what might be a definitively beautiful thing for me and I kept coming back to this. I’m conscious that it seems like a lowbrow choice but behind it there are so many high emotions for me, it just became inevitable that I chose it in the end.
GB It’s probably quite hard for people who don’t know much about Liverpool Football Club to relate to the emotions behind this choice. The Liverpool legend was built in the 1970s and 80s and Kenny Dalglish was at the pinnacle of that. Football has changed so much. Do you think people can relate to how you saw that shirt as a kid?
DS People access football in different ways now. The opportunities to engage in it are more plentiful but there’s a sort of deconstruction going on around football now. It did itself no favours in the 80s and Liverpool was implicated in a fairly dark passage of British footballing history. But setting that aside, there are lots of other values that this represents for me, in particular within the club – but they’re also bigger than that. If you support one club or another you might relate to what I’m saying. I think, what validates my feelings in choosing the shirt and this number is that I have a real romance for the city itself. I think what happens on the pitch is one thing but the sentiments that this emblem carries are broader human emotions.
GB How did you come to support Liverpool?
DS My family are all from Liverpool. I remember being about five years old and being stuck between my father and my mum’s brother who are both Evertonians and they were urging me to be blue – and somehow in the midst of this I turned to my Nan and asked who she supported. She said Liverpool and I decided to support them too, much to the chagrin of more or less every other member of my family.
GB Was there something about the colour red that drew you to them?
DS I was deeply in love with my Nan. I adored her and that was the doorway to supporting them. Luckily for me it was a wise choice! Although I don’t really have any truck with the animosity between reds and blues. I do still get it sometimes from my cousins. Evertonians can be pretty brutal in their criticism of Liverpool and their fans. But I like the values that are at large in Everton as well, it’s just that I happen to think I support the best team!
GB They have the best song.
DS Songs are very important. They’re not chants, they’re songs and they’re deeply romantic. If you listen to Fields of Anfield Road, it’s based on an Irish folk song, which is originally about loss and brutality. I guess in some sense it’s a rebel song. Then there are other things that Liverpudlians pick up on – they might not be as militant as they were in the 80s but there’s still a strain of socialism in Liverpool. There’s an idea of what’s fair and what isn’t. For instance, it was quite poignant last weekend when Johnjo Shelvey scored against Liverpool, the Kop were prepared to stand and applaud his lack of a celebration and respect the fact that he had once been a Liverpool player. That probably does go on at other clubs too, but when you’re part of that atmosphere the culture and the history, I think you respond to those moments quicker as a Liverpool fan. Maybe people are sick of hearing about Liverpool being a sentimental place but that’s something that appeals to me. I’m not going to disguise the fact that I’m moved by it.
GB Do you think the history of the club has made the fans pull together more? It’s hard to think of Liverpool and especially Kenny Dalglish, without thinking of Hillsborough.
DS It’s a tragedy that that was ever allowed to happen. I feel it’s deeply profound, to see a group of people pull together the way they did, taking on the might of the establishment and winning. I really wish it had never come to that, but I’m astonished by those people and the panel of experts who fought for a new inquest and proved that Liverpool fans were not responsible. None of it would have been possible without the spirit of those families. It’s a strange thing for me, feeling deeply proud of it and at the same time heartbroken that it had to happen that way to prove how much inner strength those people have. And while I think the rest of the country got it, I think it took them a long time to get it. Sometimes there’s a bit of apathy towards tragedy. And I think Liverpool isn’t always everyone’s favourite place, but you’d have to have been a very hard-hearted person to have seen what eventually came out of that and not think, “My God, those people are something special.”
GB You work in quite an elitist world. Do you think football is an escape from that?
DS It’s one of a number of touchstones I have to get away from quite a tight-knit set of values in the fashion industry. I do think that fashion can be quite a welcoming and broad church to people who might not otherwise find themselves creatively or in any other way. Fashion is a home for a lot of people and it’s certainly been really good to me, but I don’t rely on it for personal growth.
GB So do you think your football shirt is a different kind of beauty from the beauty in your work – much of which is, after all, breath-takingly beautiful?
DS I think I try to reflect whatever it is that moves me. When I look at the symbolism of that shirt and especially that number, I try to report back on that to the page. Sometimes I look at my pictures and think I’m a total misfit in the fashion business and then sometimes I’m able to execute a fashion picture very well to the point that it’s very centred. I guess one goes through doubts and peaks of confidence that keep you moving forward, albeit in a slightly zigzag way. I’m not really sure about what beauty is. I’m sure about feelings and if something beautiful gives you a feeling I think it’s the feeling that’s more important. Fashion is elitist but I think people remember emotions more than just a ‘look’.
GB Do you find that editors ever talk to you about beauty?
DS I think possibly years ago, yes, and I’m not saying that people aren’t capable of those conversations now, but we’re under so much pressure and the rate at which we produce and create is so intensive that I think the depth of those conversations has become as compressed as the photograph has. And I think we’re yet to respond fully to the developments that have happened in the information age. I guess we’ll find our response to all this new technology soon and it will all become clear – but the truth is, we’re catching up all the time with this advance so we don’t have time to shape it because we’re busy responding to it.
GB Maybe people talk about beauty more in football than they do in art and fashion. It’s the beautiful game.
DS What happens in that 90 minutes is just so tangible and so real for whoever’s watching it, it employs the entire emotional range. When things do come good, and especially when you listen to the lyrics of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ – you know that really it’s about the idea of hope. I think Liverpool’s culture is rooted in the fact that there is always another day. Then the Fields of Anfield Road talks about past glory – so you pendulate through past and present and for anyone who’s a default romantic like I am, you can’t help but be swept along by it.
GB When King Kenny was wearing this shirt it was at a time when we weren’t constantly bombarded by images on the internet all the time. When you think of the shirt, is there a particular moment that comes to mind?
DS There’s one piece of football that comes back to me which is Kenny scoring against FC Bruges in the European Cup Final, but what comes back to me the most visually, is his number and the red shirt. I can remember every inch of him. When he scored his smile was so emphatic. I used to call him the man with the best eyes in football. People did used to look at me like I was in need of counseling when I said that, but I think those eyes are still there. I enjoyed him coming back as a coach even though in footballing terms it wasn’t the greatest success. That man’s got credit in the bank as far as I’m concerned and he’s brought such humanity to his role.
GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?
DS I think it has to astonish you, something that supersedes anything you’ve ever laid eyes on before. Every time I look at that particular shirt, it might sound like an exaggeration, but it never ceases to amaze me.