This October is Black History Month, the theme of which this year is 'Proud to Be', with black people throughout the United Kingdom being invited to share what they are proud of about themselves, their history and their achievements.
At Southampton Football Club, we have been speaking to some of our very own staff members, who are sharing the stories of their own journeys into sport, with the hope this can inspire more black people to consider and pursue a career in football.
Our final feature is with Matt Watson, Senior Club Photographer…
Tell us about your journey and how you go into your position now?
I first began picking up a camera in my teenage years. I was a keen BMX rider at the time and the sport provided a great opportunity to capture action, this is what I enjoyed most – freezing moments of movement and action. I went on to study photography at college and then continued this into university, where I graduated from Southampton Solent. I began my journey as a professional photographer as a trainee at the Southern Daily Echo Newspaper. I spent six years at the newspaper progressing to a senior position, during that time covering a vast variety of subjects including news, lifestyle, travel and most importantly to me – sport. During my time at the newspaper, I covered many regional sports teams, but the most prominent was Southampton FC. This is when I began to realise that sport photography and more specifically, football photography was where I wanted my career to be.
Given that I wasn’t put off by some extremely challenging environments during the League One days, I was sure that this was what I wanted to be doing and hoped to progress as far as possible in. When I decided to move on from my role at the Daily Echo, I joined a company called Osprey – one of the worlds leading backpack and outdoor brands. Their European headquarters is based in Poole, which was conveniently located two minutes from my closest indoor skatepark - where I spent many a lunchbreak during my time there! I loved this role, given my link with extreme sports and a love for getting outside, it was a welcome and refreshing change from what I was used to. However, within a couple of months of being there, I already missed the buzz of covering football matches.
I decided to join a sports photography agency called SportImage. I began shooting football matches for them at the weekend along with my role at Osprey. I even snuck in a Champions League semi-final at Stamford Bridge when Chelsea were beaten by Atlético Madrid one midweek evening – only just making kick-off due to travelling straight from Poole after a normal day of work. I started to realise that it was going to be tough to juggle the two.
Tell us about your current role?
This leads me into my current role – after only six months at Osprey, the opportunity came up to join Saints as their Club Photographer in August 2014. To be a club photographer at a Premier League football club was always a goal of mine and one that I hadn’t expected to achieve relatively early on in my career. So it was a no-brainer! Switching from the outside world of the football club to the inside was a steep learning curve. Photographing things in a completely different way and becoming part of the ins and outs of the club. It’s not just about taking photos, it's so important to build relationships and gain the trust of those around you in order to make the most of the exclusive access that you get as a club photographer, to tell the story of the club through photography from the inside. It’s been a rollercoaster of a journey so far and I’m sure that will continue, but ultimately I feel very lucky and grateful to be where I am right now.
Which part of your current role do you enjoy the most?
There are so many elements of my current role that I enjoy. I like being part of a group all pulling in the same direction, which is what is unique about being a Club Photographer – you are part of the family, part of the group striving for success, so it’s a great feeling to be able to capture that success and document it for the group. The buzz of the match day atmosphere, especially now that we are starting to feel that atmosphere in stadiums again, is something that I always enjoy and something that I think is slightly addictive. It’s hard to replicate the emotion of a 90 minute elite level football match when you are that close to the action, capturing moments that matter to thousands of people and also while being so invested in the result and outcome. I enjoy being able to capture those positive moments and then see them being engaged with and used in way that I can see it has an effect on people. Producing imagery that people look at and have an emotional reaction to is probably what I enjoy the most.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Or someone looking to follow in similar footsteps?
When it comes to giving advice to my younger self or someone looking to follow a similar path, I would just say keep it simple and try not to over-complicate things. It’s so easy to try and do too much, in many aspects of life, not just photography! Be creative, but always know what you are trying to achieve. Keeping your head down, staying focused on your work and doing your best is so important, even when it feels like you aren’t really getting anywhere, which I certainly felt at times in my early stages of my career. I knew I wasn’t the most talented photographer in the industry, not by a mile, but I was willing to do the unglamorous stuff - which there was and is a lot of - when required and prove to my boss, seniors and peers that I could be relied upon and be dependable. Working hard is so important, especially at the early stages of your career, though I often think sometimes I worked too hard when I was trying to prove myself, nearly burning out on many occasions. Be mindful of this, as it can often lead to being unproductive. I now try to live by the mantra ‘work smart, not hard’.
As part of Black History month, we are exploring 2021’s theme ‘Proud to be’ – what is your proudest moment to date? Both career wise and personal life?
I am extremely proud to be a photographer for a Premier League football club, even more so at my hometown club, Southampton. I am one of very few black sports photographers that circulate covering Premier League football matches, this is something that I take great pride in. I also hope to see more black photographers working at Premier League matches as diversity in football clubs and the Premier League in general increases.
Why would you say diversity is important to businesses?
I believe diversity is important to businesses as it can help broaden creativity; it can help to approach operations, tasks and challenges that may have become stale or one-dimensional in a different way. Being a photographer, creativity is one of the most important skills you need to possess in order to constantly evolve and develop. Within a business environment, I think it is sometimes easy to forget that you have to be creative and sometimes you have to think differently and not just do what has always been done – be different, and don’t be afraid to be different. Sometimes, having a lack of diversity can cause you to be scared of what’s different.