The amazing pics of football fans in the early 90s

Two girls in Oldham Athletic shirts, denim flares and matching Kickers sit back against a wall outside Boundary Park.

It’s the summer of 1991 and English football is on the cusp of huge changes.

The Premier League and the Champions League are just a year away.

Rave culture and ecstasy are sweeping the UK and spilling out onto the terraces.

And, buoyed by England’s run to the semi-finals of the previous year’s World Cup, the game is enjoying a resurgence in popularity following the dark days of the 1980s.

It was, according to photographer Richard Davis, a ‘glorious period’.

Richard spent much of the season taking pictures of Manchester United, Manchester City, Oldham Athletic, Liverpool and Everton fans for the book Football with Attitude.

Written by the author Steve Redhead, who had earlier documented the rise of Acid House in The End-of-the-century party: Youth, pop and the rise of Madchester, it looked at the links between youth culture, fashion, football and music.

City fans outside Maine Road in March 1991

And now Richard’s photographs have been republished in a new book entitled Football Fans.

Richard, who in May 1991 followed United fans to Rotterdam for the European Cup Winners Cup final against Barcelona, said: “What happened was going to football became less violent in the late 80s.

“I think that was down to music, nightclub culture and rave culture and ecstasy.

“The idea for the project was is the ‘new football fan’ out there? Was there a crossover? And there was.

“However when I was doing it, it wasn’t all about the new football fan.

“It was also about the fans that were anything but, it was also about the traditional working class fan.

Two United fans pose for the camera outside Old Trafford in March 1991

“1991 caught that period of time and Manchester was at the heart of it.

“I was in the right place at the right time. It was glorious period.”

Richard, best-known for photographs of Hulme Crescents, says the pictures have become particularly poignant in a year which saw fans not allowed into grounds during the pandemic and widespread protests at the now scrapped European Super League proposals.

United fans in home and away kits and matching curtains hairstyles

He said: “Over the last year we have realised just how important fans are to the game.

“Could you imagine two years ago going to a football game behind closed doors with no fans?

“Or having a whole season with no fans apart from the last game?

Manchester United fans in Rotterdam before the European Cup Winners Cup final

“It’s extraordinary.

“Then out of all this came the European Super League, when we are all struggling with life and lockdown. When our day-to-day lives have been turned upside down.

“For some people football is everything and to have that denied to them for 18 months, then having the owners come up with this idea…

City fans watch the match at Maine Road from behind the security fencing

“The problem is the timing of what they did was an absolute disgrace.”

Looking back now Richard says the photos highlight just how much the game – and the people who go to matches – have changed.

A young United fan selling the United We Stand fanzine outside Old Trafford

He said: “The impression I get from the photos now is how, dare I say it, how working -class they look.

“If I was to do that 30 years on, it would look completely different.

“This is where the Premier League, money and the stadium improvements have changed football massively.

“But it’s only by looking at the photos you realise just how much has changed.

Manchester United fans in Rotterdam

“Young lads have been priced out of the game. Over the 30 years football has become less of a working-class hobby. The culture of going to football has changed.

“It’s what Roy Keane said about the prawn sandwich brigade – he was right, you know.

“30 years on they have become powerful images because of how the game has changed.

“And we have realised over the last year just how important fans are to the game.”

Football Fans by Richard Davis is available to buy from Cafe Royal Books.