When Martin Andersen started photographing his fellow Tottenham Hotspur fans, he tried to be inconspicuous. He shaved his head, donned a bomber jacket and huddled among fans screaming the lyrics to Barry Manilow's "Can't Smile Without You".
Over the next five years, he photographed 100-plus home and away games, travelling on trains to Europe and snapping fans as they drank cans of lukewarm larger at eight in the morning. He was regularly chased down streets, and on one occasion dodged a 50 pence coin that flew past his ear during a confrontation with police.
Andersen's book – aptly named after the Manilow song – is an insider's look at the lives of diehard Spurs fans. In it, he captures the nail-biting emotions that come with every match, as well as the highs and lows of events outside stadiums.
But the book isn't about football hooliganism, he assures me when I call him on the eve of his exhibition at Dalston's Pocko Gallery. There's a bit of violence, sure, the odd street fight, but despite the never-ending tabloid thirst to focus on fights, he frames the wider picture, including daughters and grandfathers, and heartwarming stories of generations united by their love of their team. It's about all of them: the fans.
VICE: In Can't Smile Without You, did you set out to represent a recent era in football culture, or was it something more specific?
Martin Andersen: If I'm honest, I had no agenda. I always supported Tottenham, and then in between other photo projects it was actually one of my friends who said, 'Why don't you bring your camera?' And I said, 'But then it takes the fun out of the day!' Eventually I started doing it, and I thought, 'Wow, this could be interesting.' So I said, 'Okay, I'm gonna go full in.' I decided to go to every single game for five years. It became sort of an obsessive project.
Why did the fans interest you?
I think the fans aren’t appreciated as much as they should be. Because they go to these games in generations, you know – people pass it on. And I thought it'd be nice to make a project about the fans and the loyalty that they show to the club.
Can you describe the lifestyle of a diehard Spurs fan?
There's a lot of beer, isn't there. When you travel around with a team you start to have beers in the early morning. It can get wilder than that for some people! It's quite interesting, actually, because three of the people in this book are already dead. So it's not a healthy lifestyle. Two were from heart attacks and one from cancer.
Did you sense any hostility from fans seeing you with a camera?
Yeah, in my first two years there was some hostility. Someone tried to pinch my camera, I got chased down the road outside the stadium. But it sort of made me more determined. I thought, 'Okay, I'll go full in now.' So I shaved my head, I bought a bomber jacket and just became a bit more part of it. I didn't look like an outsider, I guess – I didn't turn up in my trench coat [laughs]. At the same time, I started going to the same pubs over and over, because ultimately it's about knowing people. I didn't just want to come in like a journalist and snap someone. Everybody in the book I sort of know, except for roughly 15 people. I'd keep going to the pubs and just drink and have a chat. Sometimes I'd go and not shoot anything.
Were the Arsenal and Chelsea games especially intense to shoot?
Well, it's guaranteed to get a bit exciting when we play Chelsea, Arsenal or West Ham. They're the games that everyone looks forward to. When we play Arsenal at home it's always an early day. People meet up at eight o'clock in the morning up there, because it's the big one. And I'm not someone that's ever participated in violence, but it is really exciting. You can understand the adrenaline rush. But to be honest, I don't really see much trouble. It's not like the 70s and 80s.
Is that because of CCTV?
There’'s more policing and more CCTV.
I think there was a street fight at Stamford Bridge recently.
Yeah, that's what I saw. There is a bit – it's still there, yeah – but it's not on the mass scale that it used to be.
Was there a memorable hairy moment for you?
I nearly got knocked out big time by a 50 pence coin. There's the photo of a white horse and a guy standing there. A second after I took that picture, there was a 50 pence coin that flew right by my ear and hit the wall behind me. I thought, 'Shit, that could have hit my eye.' And I'm not a trained, journalistic photographer – I wasn't used to it. So my heart would be beating faster than normal. And when we played Arsenal or Chelsea, to run around at eight o'clock at night with a flash outside, it's not a great idea. But I wasn't interested in making a book about hooligans. It’s just one part of it. I wanted to show what it means to be a football fan.
You discovered heartwarming stories too, didn't you?
I had a message on Instagram just before Christmas, and this was the son of a granddad in one of my pictures. He just wanted to thank me; he said his whole family were completely surprised and so happy about this picture, which they must've seen published in the Guardian or one of the bigger papers, because it could be the last picture of his dad, because he passed away soon after this picture. All his family go to the games – I think there are five or seven of them who go to every single game. I think the grandad in the picture passed away at 89, and he'd gone to every game since he was nine years old. For me, I didn't know; it's just a random shot that I liked and put in the book.
It's great to see all the different sides of Spurs fans in the book, contrasting the darker stories with those heartwarming ones.
Exactly. That was really important.
So with all the highs and lows of life as a Spurs fan during the project, what was your biggest high?
To be honest, the biggest highs for me were probably when I got home and went through the pictures. But in terms of football, in the first or second season, when we beat Manchester City away, I think Eriksen scored in the last minute. There were grown men next to me crying. It was that kind of ecstatic moment, because we'd never done it before. And then suddenly we're in the Champions League, and the fortunes of the club changed. Everybody was on such a high on the way back.
Can't Smile Without You' is available to buy now.