Imagine having a front row seat to the biggest game in football. Imagine being showered in confetti in the aftermath of that same game, brushing shoulders with Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappé as they soak in the feeling of being on top of the footballing world.
Robbie Barratt has lived that dream as a photographer for AMA Sports Photo Agency. He didn’t just stumble into the job though; there were many years of hard draft with little to no pay, and encounters with players far less glamorous than those of Les Bleus.
So, what does it take to make it as a football photographer? We spoke to Robbie about his career to date, his love for the game, and what he’s made of this year’s slate of kit releases.
I travel the world covering all the goings on in and around football matches. This can range from covering non-league football to FIFA World Cup finals, pre-season games in USA or China, women’s football. You name it! These images then get sent to clients around the world and news agency picture desks and get used in all kinds of publications, including billboards etc.
Q: How did you get into photography?
It started at high school, we only had one camera in the Art department at the time & the first time I picked it up, it just kinda clicked. There wasn’t a specific photography course at the time at high school like there is now, so I left to go and study a 2 year course in Photography at Bradford.
I first started shooting football by covering the open age team I was playing for at the time around the age of 17/18. (I wasn’t enjoying playing as much any more due to being kicked a lot, and I was a centre half!!). From there during my college course I got in contact with the Huddersfield Examiner, and after many emails of no response, I finally got a reply saying they’d allow me to shadow a photographer at a game.
I remember borrowing a friend's camera at the time, as all I had was film cameras…. I couldn’t afford a decent camera. Through the Examiner I got in contact with Huddersfield Town’s club photographer, John Early. We got on really well & he helped me a lot, we are still really good friends to this day. I then covered Town’s games home & away for the next 3-4 seasons, all unpaid gaining experience whilst working another full time job.
It was hard work, I had no social life at a point where I should have been out boozing and doing all that fun youthful stuff! I then got to a point where I knew I needed to progress a bit further so I tried getting in contact with some people who knew more about the industry, it's not as easy as it is now to just drop someone a ‘DM’ and you can see if they have read it or not. That’s when me & Matt of AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY crossed paths… and the rest is history. He massively took me under his wing & I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if it wasn’t for him.
A passion for football
Q: What about football, have you always loved the game or did your interest grow slowly over time?
I’ve always loved football. Football came first then photography for me, though weirdly no one in my family really seemed to have any interest in either. My parents always took me to training sessions and bought me boots and all that jazz, but that was just for me! The only person I know who was truly interested in photography was my Grandpa.
Q: How does your passion for football interact with your passion for photography?
I think they go hand in hand to be fair. As a fan, you kind of ‘get’ and feel what everyone in the stadium is feeling. It helps a huge amount to know a lot about the game when shooting. To know which way a certain player might twist or turn and shoot, it could be that knowledge that means you get a certain shot that nobody else does. I know I’m incredibly lucky to have a job that I love - even if it’s sometimes hard to remember that when you’ve done 10 games in 10 days flying around Russia on zero sleep for a World Cup.
"It helps a huge amount to know a lot about the game when shooting. To know which way a certain player might twist or turn and shoot, it could be that knowledge that means you get a certain shot that nobody else does."
Robbie Barratt Photographer, AMA Sports Photo Agency
Q: What have been some of your favourite projects to date?
As just mentioned then - the Russia FIFA World Cup 2018 was an absolute dream for me. Particularly to cover such a tournament at the age of 23, it’s what dreams are made of. 6 weeks of hard graft though, it was a long slog. But to shoot that final & obviously the England games is something that I’ll never forget. I SO nearly shot England in a World Cup final at my first attempt…just imagine. Roll on Qatar!
Kit launch perspective
Q: Have you ever been involved in a kit launch?
Racking my brains here….I don’t think I have, unless lockdown has completely killed my memory. I did however get a chance to shoot a couple of Nike’s new football boot releases many years ago. They kindly sent me a pair of their first ‘sock’ style Mercurials, the orange and black ones? And a pair of the ‘Heat Map’ Magistas. I had free license to do whatever kind of shoot I wanted with them which was cool. Hopefully I’ll get chance to do a kit shoot though!
Q: What have been some of your favourite kit launches this year, whether that's because of the shirts themselves or the accompanying photography!
This question has come in a very timely fashion. The new Nike 3rd shirts are a thing of beauty, I’m all for a wild shirt & these 3rd shirts are starting to get a little out of hand….and I’m all for that.
The new England home shirt is stunning as well..though, lets not talk about the away. But on with the shoots, Nike always seem to go with the kind of football/fashion fusion cross over vibe & I like that a lot, whether they’re shot in a studio or out on location. I think I prefer the location natural light stuff a bit more to be honest.
As a guy who likes to wear a footy shirt to the pub to sink a few craft beers it all works very well - but you’ve got to produce the shirts to pull that kind of shoot off. I really liked the Liverpool launch, kind of candid chilled scenario, not overly staged.
I used to like the way Umbro did their kit launches with the kits kind of impeccably ironed and folded over a chair in the stadium or some stairs, that clean simplified look always caught my eye. No bells and whistles, just pure shirt. I haven’t seen them do that this year? So maybe it had its time. But I found it to be a nice contrast and a breather from the ‘fashion’ shoots.
Q: What about your least favourite kits/launches?
I’l tell you what I HATE. When they Photoshop the new strips on a player, they seem to do this for most of the main kit release don’t they? Granted - whoever does them is incredibly skilled and it always looks slick and clean. But deep down, you just know its all clever photoshop skills & that bothers me.
Q: How do you think COVID has impacted this year's slate of releases?
I think it’s made it very difficult if you didn’t have the shoot done before lockdown, though I know these shirts tend to get mocked up and decided on pretty much midway into the season. But on a positive side I guess it's made clubs/brands think outside the box a bit.
A group of mates that became something bigger
Q: Tell us more about Paris St Henman.
Paris St Henman is a 6-a-side football team born out of a Zoom Quiz, which started as a result of COVID.
One of the lads Billy took it upon himself to suggest we start a football team & of course after we had sunk a few beers we wholeheartedly agreed. Things quickly spiralled out of control from that moment on. From many mocks up and drafts of an emblem, to creating different ideas for kits & speaking to many good friends about sponsoring us.
Within a month we had a fully fledged kit ready to take to the pitch. Our main sponsor, Loafers - a lovely Coffee & Record shop in the beautiful Piece Hall in Halifax then allowed us to sell our shirts on their website to raise funds for Samaritans. As we were doing all the leg work we only did a limited run of shirts, of which we sold some in the USA, Canada & Ireland & raised over £250. It all got a bit bonkers, but a brilliant kind of bonkers…it’s every football fan’s dream to create their own kit isn’t it!? Potential away shirt…..who knows!
Q: Where can we follow you on social?
You can follow me on Instagram & Twitter. Instagram - @robbiejaybarratt & Twitter - @RobbieJBarratt