“He was only spared because the president of his club was also a militia leader” – Interview with Goal Click co-founder Matthew Barrett
RealSport chats to Matthew Barrett, co-founder of a new media company that is taking the football world by storm.
Children train in Hokkaido, Japan. (Photo credit: Goal Click/Ryu Voelkel)
For a man who has recently quit his job, Matthew Barrett is remarkably relaxed. We have met for breakfast in a coffee shop in the London Bridge area that has a non-specific verbal name—Press or Grind or something: I forget what. While I am decidedly underdressed given the Cath Kidston false reminiscence of the establishment, Matthew has clearly pitched the dress code perfectly, sitting neat but not too tidy across from me across the table. But this, as he is quick to remind me, is not about him. After exchanging the pleasantries that gently lubricate a conversation between two recent acquaintances, I turn to the topic at hand: ‘We should talk about you.’ ‘Yes, we should,’ he intones before quickly backtracking. ‘Well no, let’s talk about Goal Click.’
Goal Click is the project that Matthew has quit his job for. According to their website, Goal Click ‘shares stories from the world of the beautiful game’. Their mission, they assure the reader, is simple: ‘We give people all over the world a chance to show what football means to them. How? By sending analogue cameras to people around the globe so they can capture the game as they see it.’ Analogue cameras, for those of you like me who aren’t ITK, is the market name for those old-school cameras which produce films which require processing. Goal Click goes one further than this: the cameras which are used to tell global stories about football are all disposable.
The results, as the mission statement on the website goes on to admit, are ‘glorious in their imperfections’. Page after page of stunning pictures taken by indigenous photographers from around the world capturing events and individuals which would be inaccessible to the majority of us. Alongside each set of photographs, there is a wonderfully pared down Question and Answer interview with the photographer which lays out the context behind these pictures. The two in tandem—photographs and interview—offer a striking medium through which the photographer can recount their stories about the beautiful game.
I push Matthew further on the production processes. Having found a photographer with a tale to tell, Goal Click ‘send out a camera. We give the photographer a very minimal brief with some recommendations along the lines of “Try and take photographs in the daylight. Try to get close to your subject. Don’t take loads of wide landscape shots. Be patient because it’s a disposable camera with only 24 shots and then really think about what would be unique to say about your country: what would make it stand out and what is a story about your country that you want to tell through football or your own personal story.” And that’s it really.’ And yet, it is not quite that simple. Behind the process, there is a much more developed idea operating: about what football is, about how it functions within society and about the effect that it can have on each and every one of us.
‘The project,’ which Matthew created with his friend and co-founder Edward Jones, ‘started with our intention of finding one person from every single country in the world. That is still an ambition and I don’t think the project will ever completely finish. I think that specific goal could finish. It would be quite exciting to get around 200 countries and get into the final ones to find. We’ve identified 250 countries, territories and disputed states that we’d like to get a photographer from. So that is a global project that we’ll continue.’ There is an internationalism here, then, that breaks through everything that Goal Click is about. Not, it must be said, the sort of internationalism that breeds globalisation—the slow creep of capitalism into the world of football—but its exact opposite: the realisation that, for most of the participants who engage in the beautiful game, football is not a vehicle for money but, rather, a vehicle for something much more important—meaning itself.
It’s there in the mission statement on the website: Goal Click exists to ‘help people understand one another through football’ and ‘to give people all over the world a chance to show what football means to them.’ It is a conduit through which narrative can be tapped. On this point, Matthew is clear. Goal Click offers a medium through which stories about football and, through them, deeper truths about what it is to be a human being, can be articulated.
But there is also a desire here for immediacy, for an authenticity in which Goal Click doesn’t get in the way of the story. ‘I think people really like the purity of the Goal Click stance on the words describing the photos coming directly from the photographer,’ Matthew explains. ‘That is a really central part of what we’re doing and I think that makes us different from the vast majority of media projects. I think there is a growing trend toward people both wanting and being able to tell their stories in their own words without it going through and editor. Our only goal is to make it readable and so literally we’re changing spelling mistakes and commas mainly and making sure that it presents what they want to say in the best possible light.’
That is not to say that the medium fades entirely into the background. This is not The Players Tribune in which the intermediary element is airbrushed out to add to the perceived ‘authenticity’ of the product. ‘We recognise the importance of the Qs as well as the As,’ Matthew says, pronouncing Q and A as letters rather than words. ‘We don’t pretend that this is an organic self-policing project. We are finding the stories and we are publishing them but our visible presence in the communications is as merely as questions.’ Goal Click, then, is honest about its role in the whole process. ‘We are, I guess, leading them to tell us certain things but the questions are left as open as possible for them to… I mean you’ll see the variants between what people talk about in answer to the questions is quite massive. Which is really just giving them the chance to tell their own story.’
And what of the stories themselves, which are the real reason for the existence of Goal Click? They are, almost invariably, powerful, moving and offer an incredible insight into the way that football functions outside the narrow confines of the hyper-capitalism that has come to roost within the more elite echelons of the professional game. I ask Matthew what his favourite stories are: ‘Sierra Leone is the first story we did. It remains the one with the most impact with everyone who sees it. I guess in some ways we’re very lucky that was our first story because the power of the story has continued for three-and-a-half years. The photo doesn’t get old, the story doesn’t get old. As an entry point, the Sierra Leone photos with the Single Leg Amputee Sport Association (the National amputee football side) of Sierra Leone are a perfect starting point for really communicating what Goal Click is about.’
Once he gets talking about the stories, it is hard to stop him. He regales me with tales of football in Iraq where the Goal Click photographer had to remain anonymous because they were operating close to territory controlled by the Islamic State. ‘Some of [the photographer’s] colleagues were living in IS-controlled state territory and the photos which feature female coaches and footballers less than 30 miles from that border are really, really powerful. That is the rawest interview that we did: I would definitely say that the Iraq photos and story from Spirit of Soccer – because that’s what it comes down to – are well worth looking at. The photos are incredibly powerful but it’s the stories that take it to the next level.’
There is a clear theme running beneath the surface here which extends into the next story Matthew tells me: the story of Eric Murangwa, the captain of the Rwanda National Team in 1994 when the genocide broke out. Murangwa is Tutsi and he lost 35 members of his family. The only reason he was spared was because the president of his club was also a militia leader for the Hutus, later indicted on war crimes. In the end, Murangwa was spared because he was a footballer and the president of his club wanted him to play for his team once the genocide was over. ‘Eric actually came to our exhibition opening,’ Matthew tells me. ‘He now lives in London although he does a lot of work in Rwanda. The photographer was one of his coaches in Rwanda. Eric came to the exhibition opening and delivered a 15-minute story of his life that left the entire room completely speechless. I would say that even though the photos may not be as thought-provoking as the Iraq and Sierra Leone photos the story behind it is unparalleled.’
The stories keep on coming. Goal Click are looking to run a photo series about the ‘Real Russia’ looking at what football fandom in Russia looks like behind the scenes before the global circus descends on the country for the upcoming World Cup. ‘Russia is very interesting,’ Matthew tells me. ‘Russia is a fascinating country full-stop and our photos from there are from the Ural mountains looking at a post-Soviet state of Russia and its infrastructure told through the lens of football and the photos are fantastic. That notion of the “real Russia” outside of what we hear about we tend to hear about the high-level political goings on and stories that come out of Moscow and St Petersburg. There’s a whole other Russia with a story waiting to be told.’
But these stories don’t always come from a specifically ‘football positive’ position. One of the most interesting accounts on the Goal Click website comes from Mexico. ‘Our Mexican photographer Pablo Lopez doesn’t like football,’ Matthew tells me. ‘He went to a game and was fascinated by the visible presence of the Mexican police. There’s a wonderful photo of a college band within the stadium and above it is a line of police snipers. For him, that was a real thought provoking story about Mexican society—this juxtaposition of Mexican football and celebration versus a highly militarised state.
The Goal Click website is littered with similar stories as these, coming good on its promise to ‘give people all over the world a chance to show what football means to them.’ But in giving people around the world the chance to depict what football means to them, Matthew and his colleagues at Goal Click inadvertently reveal what football means for them: a vehicle by which social development itself might proceed on the global stage. He is careful to put this social concern front and centre of Goal Click’s mission. ‘The social purpose at the heart of the project is really important to us. We believe in supporting football communities and football charities around the world, which are committed to great causes and social development through football. Goal Click works with many of these organisations, helping to tell their story to the world. Our ultimate vision is to be able to generate funds to be able to support some of the football charities that we’re working with.’
Goal Click, then, exhibits the compassionate face of the New Media. ‘Goal Click is fundamentally a media and journalistic venture but with a social mission, finding these incredible football stories and allowing the people themselves to tell them from a first person narrative perspective,’ Matthew tells me. ‘At the moment this is through analogue photography and the written word, but in time we hope to tell these stories in more ways to help people understand each other and the world through football. That could be through podcasts, documentary films, books, or partnerships with brands, sports organisations or media companies.’
Where the traditional media outlets had adopted capitalist business models by which to operate, what we are seeing now is the emergence of a new branch of media companies in which the old models of media production are being harnessed by charities and social projects in such a way as to bring societal issues to the fore in the public discourse. Goal Click have worked with adidas, the English FA and Copa90, offering value in much the same way as any media company might but motivated by a desire to support charities and communities around the world. As Matthew puts it, ‘football media is moving towards a great appreciation of social and ethical issues. We really like what streetfootballworld and Common Goal is doing and Juan Mata is the leading figure in that. It’s got some great coverage in football media and I think more of those initiatives will get increased focus going forward. I think there is a real place for a media project with a social heart.’
As far as descriptions go, this final line sums up Goal Click most completely: it is ‘a media project with a social heart’ and, as such, it exists at the cutting edge of football media.
Check out all the stories (or apply to be a photographer) on www.goal-click.com.