One of BE RED's most popular and long-serving contributors, a prolific writer and painter of all things Barnsley FC, today we caught up with Neil Richardson to get the lowdown on what he's up to during these unprecedented times...
Just a couple of weeks ago, the Barnsley FC communications team received an email from Neil Richardson. He'd seen the 'Wallpaper Wednesday' graphics on our social media channels and had an idea for us.
"I'll paint current players in some classic shirts."
It was something he'd been working on for a while but he felt that with the outbreak of the Coronavirus and everyone looking towards the football club and its staff to help take people's minds off the worrying events he could release them in this fashion.
And so he did.
Brad Collins wearing Dave Watson's 1997/98 Premier League kit? Sorted. Michael Sollbauer in a vintage Allan Clarke-era home strip? Happy days. We've Patrick Schmidt rocking the white and green, Conor Chaplin celebrating the fact his shirt now has stars on it and Jacob Brown looks lovely in the 1996/97 away number...
The original oil paintings (seen below) and a mountain of other Reds-related pieces of art are available to purchase via Neil's facebook page HERE
When did you first get into football?
Like most people I speak to when asked to put their love of football into words, they often speak of first experiences. I, like a lot of folk talk about the old cliché, but it’s 100% true.
My grandad took me to a pre-season friendly in 1989 against Lincoln City, we lost 1-0, I think. The stars kit hadn’t been released by then, so they played in the all red Lyon’s Cakes kit they’d had the previous season. As we walked from the Courthouse car park the new floodlights, inadvertently bought by John Beresford, were casting a huge glow into the summer night sky. Then, as an eight-year-old, that view from the top of Bala Street looking down and seeing the huge white ‘John Smiths’ writing on the top of the Brewery Stand was breathtaking.
David Currie’s mullet was streaming behind him, 60% of the players had a tash and drove Ford Capri’s, old blokes were swearing and the flask of Bovril was hot when I got a shiver. What’s not to love?
And then the love becomes unconditional, it’s similar to becoming a dad. It’s impossible to turn it off. There are frustrations, anxieties and ultimately it can skint you…but your club will always be there.
When did your artistic side show itself?
My school teachers recognised that I was good at art long before I did. I used to frustrate the hell out of Mrs Bly, she took me to one side on multiple occasions to angrily ask why I wasn’t applying myself as I should have been. The answer is, I suppose, that I’m not that interested in art as such. I enjoy painting and creating things but I could count on one hand the amount of galleries I’ve been to, and maybe only one or two where I haven’t spent the experience walking around chuntering to myself about how some of the sculptures and blobs of oil on a board dare to even call itself art.
I can’t tell you about Gouache, about Rembrandt or the best way to capture light reflecting upon the meadow. I certainly have never painted a banana in a fruit bowl. I simply enjoy creating things.
I got a D in my art GCSE and never went to college to study art. I am self-taught and even now, I feel I still improve and practice all the time. I certainly am not naturally gifted, it’s taken hard graft, many failures and plenty of hours plugging away to finally get somewhere with it in my late 30’s.
When and how did football and your art marry each other?
Football and art go together like bangers and mash or fishcake and mushy peas. Both take effort, practice, passion and emotion. People also like looking at both football and art. But for me, when you love both things, then matching them together and creating things that other people want to see then it’s just a win-win situation.
I’m lucky that my art has taken me places professionally too. As well as Barnsley, which is always where my heart lies, I’ve done works for many players from Barnsley and beyond. I’ve painted live at Chatsworth House for Sheffield United’s end of season ball, I’ve stood with Gazza and signed autographs and I was featured on the cover of the programme for Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur last year. The community piece I presided over of Rimmo that stands proudly on the wall in the East Stand is up there as one of my proudest moments though.
How and when/why did you get involved with the club?
When I was asked if I’d like to be involved with a new fanzine that was to be released in 2013, my first thought was “What’s a fanzine”? Liam Dyson had the idea and was on the lookout for people to fill specific roles and someone suggested me to do cartoons, and to write articles about my own experiences, anecdotes and topical issues.
In 2016, a few weeks after Wembley, I was sat in a hotel in Dublin when Rob Davies who was then the Media & Marketing Manager at Oakwell messaged me and asked if I’d like to contribute some writing for the programme. Initially I approached it with a bit of trepidation as it seemed like a big deal at the time, but I quickly found my feet and the writing flowed out. Shortly afterwards I got a personal message from Patrick Cryne, who knew my ongoing association with West Stand Bogs and somewhat sternly told me I had to go one way or the other as it could be viewed as a conflict of interest. I chose Barnsley Football Club and haven’t looked back. Now my work is on official merchandise and I can claim a staff discount.
I remember joking with my mates after I was invited to a club function; Adam Hammill, Adi Moses, Martin Devaney, Darren Sheridan and Bobby Hassell walk into a bar and say “Alright Neil”… I have never lived that one down!
What are your thoughts on the current situation?
We are witnessing unprecedented things at the moment. I do think that football stadiums will be amongst the last places to reopen. A lot of pundits have spoken about the season playing out behind closed doors and even carrying it on into next season. When the country is going through what it is and people are losing loved ones, we need strong leadership and I feel that by taking a firm stance, the FA would send out a message that nothing comes before the lives of people. We need to make the sacrifices in order to fight this pandemic.