Our spotlight this time shines down brightly on Barnsley FC's official club artist, the one and only Ben Mosley, as he tells us how he fell in love with the beautiful game.
Ben explains how he fell in love with football, how he became an artist and how those two passions merged...
People often say that football is only a game. For me, it’s always been a bit more than that. It’s a way of life to many - myself included. Football has always been a huge part of my culture and upbringing from a very young age. My Dad tells me that my first word was “ball”. With Dad being football mad himself, it probably stemmed from him in some way. Football has always been the backbone of our friendship and our father/son relationship.
We have both been extremely fortunate that football has played a major factor in this. Dad is from Cudworth, or ‘Cuddeth’ as it’s properly known to Barnsley folk, and we are both huge fans of Barnsley Football Club. In fact, since the club formed, all of my Dad’s family have been Barnsley supporters. In the late 60’s, early 70’s after completing his teacher training, Dad got a rush of blood to the head and moved down south to Hertfordshire where he has been ever since and I was born in 1981. When Dad moved down south, I became the first person on his side of the family to be born outside of Yorkshire. It causes me quite an identity crisis at times, but it has enabled me to see the way of life from a northern and southern perspective and grow to appreciate both. I would ultimately have to sadly concede that I am Southern, but can happily say I have northern values. Mick Wadsworth when he was coach at Barnsley once told me I’m not bad for a southerner, so I guess I can take that.
Because my Grandma and Grandpa stayed in Cuddeth all their lives, it became my second home. At least once a month we would travel up to see them both and go and watch the Reds at Oakwell. Even though Dad was heavily involved in non-league football when I was growing up, we would still get up to Oakwell to watch as much as we possibly could. My first season as a Barnsley fan was under Allan Clarke in his second spell as Reds manager. We had a good side back then with the likes of David Currie and Steve Cooper. Soon after, Mel Machin took over, followed by Viv Anderson and Danny Wilson and we had crowd favourites such as Gerry Taggart and a certain Neil Redfearn, who obviously went on to become one of our greatest ever players.
I fell in love with Oakwell back in 1987 when I saw them play Hull City. After that, since the age of seven, I’ve had a fierce love and pride for Barnsley FC, the town, and the people, which I hope comes across in my mural in the Ponty End.
So I mention that football is more than just a game and to me it is, it helped to build me as a person and influenced my decisions and choices later in life, no more so when painting about it in my final year of my Fine Art degree at the University of Liverpool. This formed the basis of my artistic practise and I have been painting about football ever since. Football helped me to see the northern way of life and a different way of life to where I was from in the south and how important it is to the community. Barnsley is a red town and I became part of that through my love of the club. Had it not been for football and the club, I don’t know how much I would have come to Cuddeth as a youngster. I would have obviously come back to see my Grandparents regularly, but maybe not as frequently as I did at a young age if there wasn’t the carrot of watching the Reds at Oakwell.
When Dad was non-league manager of Baldock Town, a small country town in North Hertfordshire in the early to mid 90’s I’d travel around the country with him watching his football team. I was always known down south as Barnsley Ben, being the only Barnsley fan in the area other than my dad that we knew of, or other people knew of. In fact, I saw another Barnsley fan once when I went to Worcester City to watch Baldock play. I was about 12 at the time and I used to watch the Baldock games with two attractive girls that used to go as well, as one of their dads was a director of the club, they were about 14 at the time. At non-league grounds you can change ends at half time, so on my way to the other end to stand behind the goal, I saw this other Barnsley fan. I walked up to him and said “Hi, I’m a Barnsley fan too.” The girls I was with walked off really fast pretending not to know me. I’d embarrassed them I think. At that time, I’d never seen another Barnsley fan outside of Barnsley before, so it was kind of special to see another one. I think he thought I was joking or pulling his leg, cause he just looked at me and said nothing.
Dad managed Baldock Town when they were in the Doctor Martens Premier Division in the 1994/95 season, which was one below the current national league, which at the time was known as the Vauxhall Conference. The town had a population of about 9,000 people and Dad won promotion with a squad of 15 players and a physio for his assistant. The Doctor Martens Premier Division was an extremely good level of football to reach for a club and town of Baldock’s size. The ground, which was called Norton Road, was small but compact and you could fit about 2-3,000 people in the ground when big games came along. Obviously Baldock didn’t get anywhere near that in attendance regularly, with gates of around 300 most weeks. They would play sides like Burton Albion, Crawley Town, Cheltenham Town, and Stevenage Borough and when sides like Rushden and Diamonds turned up that’s when Norton Road hit the dizzy heights of those 2-3,000 gates. All the sides mentioned above are sides that the Super Reds have played against in the last 20 years or so.
At that time Baldock’s most famous player was Kevin Phillips. Kevin, who was 18 when he first joined Baldock came from Southampton as a right back. Being from Stevenage, Baldock wasn’t far away from home for Kevin and when he arrived, ex-Arsenal player Ian Allinson was manager. Kevin initially struggled to get into Baldock’s first team as a right back, and it wasn’t until he was moved up front as a striker by Ian and my Dad that he found his perfect position and his career took off. He was absolutely deadly in front of goal and by Christmas of 1994 he had scored something like 25 goals in 23 games. Watford came calling and signed Kevin for £10,000. An absolute steal considering how good he went on to be. Kevin is a great man and he stayed in touch with us long after he turned professional. He got Dad and I tickets to see Barnsley beat them 3-2 at Watford, and also at Sunderland when we also won 3-2, when Bruce Dyer single-handedly destroyed the Sunderland defence in one of the best individual striking performances I have ever seen from a Barnsley striker.
As I got older and started to play football myself at a reasonable level, Dad would come and watch me play as well. I was club captain and a team captain for my University team, which was a difficult role as you had to pick the team from your peers and fellow students with no outside coach to help you choose whom to play. Obviously people would hate you if you dropped them or weren’t picking them to play and it made it difficult in the Student Union at times. Socially, being a team captain at University was quite a big role, and you left yourself wide open for criticism all the time. At the age of 19 and 20 that was really difficult. I would never have taken this role on had it not been for Dad’s influence on me as a football manager. Because I played for the University Football team and my art tutors could see my passion for the game, they said why don’t you paint about football? It was a green light and the first time anyone related to art in my life had taken football seriously enough as a subject matter to paint about. I finally found a subject matter that I loved and could passionately relate to and it’s taken me on a great adventure so far.
Being the official artist for Barnsley FC means everything to me and I will continue to cherish every moment of it. Football brings people together in celebration from all walks of life and cultures. I feel it’s becoming even more popular culturally worldwide and there seems to be a lot more films and documentaries about it. I think that’s a brilliant thing. If you ever get chance to watch the Stanley Matthews film or Fever Pitch, they show you why football is so important in terms of what it brings to people’s lives both directly and indirectly in my opinion.
I think it is also really inspiring and brilliant to see what Jordan Henderson has done with his initiative to help the NHS with the other Premier League captains. Like everyone else my work has been heavily affected by the Coronavirus. Financially it has been tough as I’m self-employed and rely a lot on my live painting and sales of work through exhibitions to bring in a living. Part of my role as a live painter is my commitment to help charities through the sales of my artwork, having raised close to £750,000 so far over the last decade. One of my favourite charities I work with is Marie Curie. I will always support them and continue to do so once we are back to normal. It was a terrific honour to be named an official artist for Team GB and to be heading out to Japan for the Olympics later this year, and I’m really glad that I will have the opportunity to go again next year and paint about the success of Team GB in Japan in 2021.
In the meantime, the absolute priority is everyone’s health and safety and the NHS and all the key workers are doing a truly tremendous job of keeping us all safe, and fed. They are real, real heroes and if there is a way I can support the NHS through my artwork in the future then I will definitely look into it. Obviously, when lockdown is finally over, as I’m sure many Reds fans are doing as well, I’ll be really looking forward to getting back to Oakwell to see the boys in action. I really envy the Barnsley player that scores the first goal when we get back to Oakwell. It will be emotional for sure and what a celebration it will be. It’s a way of life, football, and I can’t wait to get back to it in its full entirety.
Keep safe and well,
To see more of Ben’s work.....