FPA Member Profile

Michael Steele – Getty Images
All Images © Michael Steele / SWPix / EMPICS Getty Images

Career

Highlights

  • 21982 – 1984 Art/History/Design/Photography course at Granville College, Sheffield.
  • 1984 – 1986 Degree in documentary photography at Newport College of Art studying under Magnum photographer David Hurn
  • 1986 – 1987 Freelancing for The Observer and the Independent
  • 1987 – 1989 Full-time at the Independent
  • 1989 – 1991 Full-time at the Sunday Correspondent
  • 1991 – 1997 Freelancing for The Guardian and Observer
  • 1997 – 1999 Empics
  • 1999 – Getty Images
  • FIFA World Cups (6)
  • UEFA Euro Champs (5)
  • UEFA Champions League Finals (3)
  • UEFA Europa League Cup Finals (6)
  • FA Cup Finals (15)
Q&A with Michael Steele

What came first, sport or photography?
“Sport. I played football from when I could put my boots on. Really. I remember Colin Bell coming to my school when I was seven or eight, and we had a penalty shoot out and I got one out of five, which was obviously rubbish. My Uncle Ken was a massive Man City fan and was trying to covert me, but my dad wasn’t having it.

The first match I went to was Bolton v York City in 1972. The first team I played for was the First Seedfield Methodist Cubs team, and I remember the first match I played in we lost 21-0. The other team were all about three years older, and it was on a right mud bath of a pitch. I took a perfect corner, though, so I didn’t care about the result!

I had a season ticket at Bolton Wanderers, and used to go with my grandad in the OAP stand and I used to look at the photos in the programme and wonder how they managed to get them.

All the photos in the programme were Harry McGuire’s, as were photos in the Bolton Evening News where my cousin – Eric Whitehead. – was a staff photographer. Eric used to get me into a few matches, and showed me how it all worked, then the U14 team my dad coached got to a final that was played at Oakwell – home of Barnsley FC.

That was the first time I remember taking photos of football and I used an old Praktina camera and lens. But it was magic. Then as a newspaper delivery boy I used to look at the football photos on the back pages and thought I really want to do this.”

Who did you look up to when you where young, and who has helped you most with your development?
“Eamonn McCabe, and as long as sport and photography is talked about Chris Smith’s name will be mentioned. Patrick Eagar for cricket. When I started there were very few guys out there, and they both stood out because they were the best, but also because they were the most visible.

I see more of Gerry Cranham’s photos now because of Welloffside’s Instagram feed than I ever have done before. When you think about it, what those guys produced with the limitations of the equipment was amazing, although access was far better.”

Favourite ground to work at and why?
“I thought quite a long time about this, and I have loads, but I really like Goodison Park, Everton and Roker Park, Sunderland.”

Do you have a favourite memory or anecdote from your time as a football photographer?
“Working abroad for the first time when England played Turkey in Izmir in 1987. It was in the days of black and white films, and because I was the youngest it was me who had to photograph the first 20 minutes of the match, then head off to the local paper to process and print mine and Fleet Street’s finest films, then go straight to airport to catch the return flight home with the full England team, the U21 team and all the journalists. The agency or paper I was at didn’t fix the prints properly, so they were literally fading as I was trying to send the pics on the drum machine and I couldn’t get a proper connection.

I managed to get one of my images over to the Independent, but nothing of Monty Fresco’s or Peter Jay’s got sent. I was only 22 years old, and was convinced I was going to miss the flight and be stuck in Turkey for ever. The only reason I made the flight was because Monty held it. I had to walk onto the front of the plane and walk past Bobby Robson and all the players and media having kept them all waiting.”

Favourite footballer to work with and why?
“I spent a brilliant afternoon chatting with Bruce Rioch and journalist Patrick Barclay, and also obviously photographing Rioch. He was such a nice, gentle man, and it was when he was Bolton manager, so particularly fun for me. Kevin Keegan was always very good to deal with, and made me feel very welcome when he was at Newcastle.”

Canon, Nikon or Sony?
“Canon.”

Best advice for youngsters?
“Stick to the basics to start off with and get a nice clean background. Don’t be obsessed with celebrations. They are great, but what people seem to forget about is goal pictures, which are what matters.

A goal photo tells more about the story of the match than a celebration photo.”

Biggest lesson learnt.
“Alway check your batteries. I was at Old Trafford when Eric Cantona climbed the stanchion behind the goal during his first match back after his suspension…”

Have you won any awards?
“I won SJA Sports Photographer of the Year in 1988, and a place in the World Press Photo one year.’

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