When Matt Barrett and Ed Jones first came up with the concept of Goal Click, they originally intended it to document the build up to the 2014 World Cup. Former co-workers armed with a mutual passion for football and analogue photography, they settled on the idea of sending cameras and film to supporters from across the world, with the aim of chronicling their experiences ahead of the finals in Brazil. Before long, it became apparent that the project was far bigger than any one tournament.
Now, three years after they came up with the idea, Goal Click is exhibiting photographs from Mexico, Serbia, Iraq, Rwanda and beyond. What started out as a snapshot of the World Cup has become an extensive photography project, telling personal stories of local football culture in a global, international context. Whether it's an image of a single amputee footballer in post-war Sierra Leone or a picture of rich, red smoke billowing over a thousand Serbian ultras, each photograph is a thread in the impossibly intricate tapestry of world football. The project is intercontinental, yet somehow intimate; focussed on the collective, yet somehow individual. It is these paradoxes that make it so interesting, and these paradoxes which are at the protean, multifarious heart of the beautiful game.
The stated aim of the Goal Click project is this: to put a disposable analogue camera in the hands of one person from every nation in the world, and let them take photos that symbolise their country or personal story through the lens of football. The cameras are then sent back to headquarters, and the best pictures are selected for public display. Some of the participants have a background in photography, some are enthusiastic amateurs, and all of them are volunteers. There's a careful vetting process but – once the guys are sure that a potential participant is passionate about the project – the overall objective is to be as inclusive and varied as possible.
Goal Click currently has photographers in over 60 countries; people from different cultural, religious and socio-economic backgrounds, all of whom are united by a global sport. They have already received photographs from as far afield as Mexico, Russia, Peru and Iraq, while their portfolio looks set to grow continually in the coming months. Some of the photos show areas affected by conflict, and others show scenes of supreme peacefulness. Either way, football is the unifying factor.
With Goal Click having teamed up with Adidas to launch their first exhibition at BL-NK in Shoreditch earlier this month, I spoke to Matt Barrett about the motivations behind the project and the logistical difficulties of so ambitious an undertaking. Speaking about the use of disposable cameras – each of them capable of taking a mere 27 shots – Matt told me: "We like that the disposable cameras really bring a sense of equality. The participants all have the same equipment, whether they're from the USA or Sierra Leone. In the modern world, where there are continual divisions and barriers going up, we think this is quite an optimistic project.
"These photos show that everyone has something in common. Football can show off both similarities and differences, but generally there's a sort of common humanity in these pictures, and within the project as a whole."
If disposable cameras promote equality, they also encourage another rare luxury in the modern world: patience. "We want everyone participating in the project to take their time doing it," Matt told me. "We usually ask people to take a couple of months at least. It's almost a reaction against the culture of digital photography, where people take lots of photos and check against them. Here, you have 27 shots on a disposable camera, and you don't know what you've taken. That encourages an element of patience, and people really seem to have enjoyed that element of the project."
While the patience involved in analogue photography has doubtlessly improved the quality of Goal Click's photos, it's far from easy shipping disposable cameras back and forth across the globe. Nonetheless, the logistics of the project are another part of what makes it so distinctive. "Sending disposables to different parts of the world comes with its own difficulties," admitted Matt. "Post offices in certain parts of the world can be somewhat unreliable. It took us 15 months to get our camera to Zambia, and 14 months to get our camera to Azerbaijan.
"Still, the camera's journey is part of the story. Our camera that went to Iraq went through two Hezbollah checkpoints, via Turkey and Lebanon. It got to Iraq, then came back via Jordan and the States before arriving back here."
As well as sending analogue cameras abroad, Goal Click has also launched a London project, with 15 participants from different neighbourhoods in the capital. Some have chosen to cover grassroots football, others have photographed matches in their local park, while a couple of volunteers snapped Crystal Palace fans before and after the FA Cup final against Manchester United back in May. As with the global project, the creative freedom given to volunteers has resulted in hugely varied photographs. Participants have captured snapshots of both similarity and difference in London's football culture, some of which have been incorporated into the ongoing exhibition.
With well over 120 countries still to photograph and countless football cultures still to document, Goal Click has much more to do. Matt told me that it will take several years for the global project to be complete, though there's no reason to stop there. As such, the future of the project is potentially limitless. When it comes to capturing the spirit of world football, these photographs are only the beginning.