This week Ian Steele, the winner of the SWiS photography competition, tells us about his life working to develop female sport and how he got into the world of sports photography.

Ian Steele-1It was just a normal day in the office in mid-October of last year when I received a call on my mobile from someone at the Daily Record- "Hi Ian its Pamela from the Daily Record.” At this point my heart immediately upped its pace a bit as memories of entering the SWiS photo competition, with a few photos I was fortunate enough to take during the Commonwealth Games, came flooding back. “I’m pleased to say that you have won the action category, congratulations.” I was so surprised and excited all at the same time, particularly because I had never entered a photography competition before.   “Don’t tell anyone”, says Pamela. . I don’t know if you could keep it to yourself, but I couldn’t wait tell someone…anyone, and I also thought, how did this even happen?

I am no stranger to women in sport, having been involved in some capacity for the past 22 years. Leaving school at 16, I worked as an Asda warehouse employee until I was 27 years of age. By this point I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life and I decided I wanted to pursue my real ambition, so I went to college age 29 to complete a course which would allow me to “get into sport”. After an 18 month stint working  as a youth worker with Hamilton District Council in 1992 I was asked to take on the development of three sports throughout the district; Basketball, Volleyball and Girls football. Unknowingly to me at the time, this was to become the beginning of long and continuing link and passion for most thing relating to opportunities for girls & women in sport.

In those early years, it really was about improving opportunities for girls and young women to play football. However, being the sole male in this, and up against comments such as ‘why are the pony tails on park’ from other male coaches, I made it a priority to recruit female coaches and set a policy of ‘no males allowed.’ It was clear at this point, that girl’s football needed role models for young women to aspire to. Donna Cheyne became the first of a stream female coaches that I recruited and working in partnership with the usual suspects (Sportscotland and SFA) the Hamilton district programme grew to levels never seen before.

In particular, 1995 was an important year for the continuing growth of the club. Hamilton Girls GFC was entered into the West of Scotland football league (U16). I roped Magi Hamilton into coaching and the team just grew and grew. It is now Hamilton Accies SWPL and a club with a player pathway from 9 years old to adulthood.

My next professional milestone came in 1999 when, the then South Lanarkshire Council, committed to a football academy and I was appointed Girls and Women’s football Development Officer. I was tasked with raising the profile of the game; continuing to develop and provide opportunities at grassroots; developing clubs; training club coaches and working closely with the SFA and their player pathway. I had a personal goal too; I wanted the ‘why are pony tails are on the park’ attitude to change. I continued to openly recruit female only coaches into what was the largest and successful girls programme in the country. During this time I continued to coach and support the other volunteers of the Hamilton SWPL team, as well as the development of the club. I was also fortunate, and very proud, to be invited to assist the national team U16 and U19s as Goalkeeping coach. Another first was that I persuaded my bosses to allow me to produce a quarterly newsletter, which I creatively called “The Other Half”. This was another way I attempted to explore ways of raising the profile and positive images of girls and women in Sport.


Other Half-1By 2006/7, changes were on going for me. I was starting to need a change professionally and helping to care for my mother with dementia meant I had to take a step back a bit from coaching and the club. I did return to coaching briefly to coach Hamilton reserves 2008/09, but it was clear that I couldn’t fully commit to the level that the players and club required due to my own circumstances. Although I continued to assist and advise at the club, I took a back seat. However, I saw this as a positive opportunity to allow new blood into the club and for me to transition professionally. I was seconded to become the Coach and Volunteers Development Officer at South Lanarkshire Leisure & Culture, which is still my current role.

It was in February 2010 when my interest in taking pictures began.  I was attending an international Netball match and I bumped into one of my colleagues, who was taking some pictures with a decent looking camera. Having been involved for so long in women’s football, and knowing there was a lack of images of grass roots football, I knew what I wanted to do, what I HAD to do; I would take photos for the club and help profile it in the new(ish) social media and local newspaper.  I found out who and where my friend got his ‘kit’ from – "Robs Store in New York. Ebay”– and you can guess where my first proper DSLR came from….."Robs Store, New York. Ebay”! Two days after, I was out with the Accies Reserve in Carluke snapping photos and I was instantly hooked. I think the players quietly enjoyed seeing the images start to appear online and with match reports. It was the least I could do for these committed players and volunteers. I decided that I should invest some time at college, and spent two twelve weeks at UWS learning camera control and editing. I managed to pass aged 50+ and over 20 years since sitting any academic course! As my confidence grew and my bank balance diminished with each new camera or lens I purchased, more opportunities came around.


15s Fin 51My work colleagues were never slow to ask if I could take photos, and being someone who is always happy to help, I soon found myself photographing events. Very quickly word was out that I was available, and cheap (free) and before I knew it I was asked to take some photos at the World Youth Netball championships at the recently opened Emirates, by Netball Scotland. It was my first official accreditation and working closely with the athletes was a great experience; I loved every minute.

Fast forward to October 2013 and with support from friends and colleagues at Scottish Hockey I successfully gained accreditation as a sports photographer. I was happy and excited for the busy time ahead.


The opportunity to mix in the media area was a real insight and I have a new found admiration for the photographers and media guys. A real highlight came when I realised that I could borrow equipment; cue several loans of £5000 and £9000 lenses…just wow. But to be honest, the best moments for me were being able to get close to the action and watch some of our best Scottish female athletes on the hockey fields and netball court. I was overwhelmingly impressed by these athletes and their passion and commitment, as well as the respect they showed to their team mates and opponents. There was more than one occasion where I found myself watching through the viewfinder, but not pressing the button to get the picture, instead the inner Scotland fan and coach was taking over.

S v Wal 17S v I 14During and after the Games, each governing body received their photos. Then I saw the SWiS Tweet re the Daily Record sponsored photo competition. I had never entered any competition until this point and thought, "why not”, "nothing ventured” etc. I remember selecting the photos, and in particular the winning photo with Scottish Thistle Fiona Theman – a true athlete at the top of her game. I felt this photo fully captured the determination, the athleticism, competitiveness, and dynamics that captivate netball. I know Netball Scotland are as proud of this photo as I am and it hangs proudly in their office.


Since the awards evening, my bank balance has diminished yet again and I have taken (unusually) photos for a colleagues wedding. 2014 will definitely be a hard year to beat, but it just shows you, you can never predict what can happen…perhaps I will make it to the Women’s football World Cup in Canada…I will keep dreaming on that one, whilst more than likely, I will continue to take photos of the women’s game domestically, but either way I love taking pictures and I can’t wait for the new season to begin.

Sco v TT 17Sco v TT 16

Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • Vincent Bryson says:

    A great blog Ian (but we know the world calls you Steeley!).

    It’s been great to know you for a number of years and see the quality of your photos. They are truly inspirational and your contribution to sport is unmatched in my eyes, but I am a bit biased.

    Hopefully this is merely “the end of the beginning”… Keep up the fabulous work.


  • Ian Steele says:

    Cheers Vinny,

    Just try where I can to help the guys at the club where i can. Its always great if someone likes the photos too.


  • Scott Maclean says:

    A fantastic award for someone who has brought so much to sport through not only his photography but through coaching, mentoring of others and club development expertise. For me it’s a combination of his passion for sport and understanding of the impacts it can make in people’s lives that allows him to capture so many inspirational moments.


  • Fantastic news, well done Ian!

    I first met Ian when we were both taking photographs at a Scottish Hockey event. We got talking and found that we also had another common interest, Women’s Football. Ian regularly took photographs for his local women’s club, Hamilton Accies, while I had done the same at Hibs Ladies, for whom my eldest daughter played.

    After the event, we continued our exchanges for a while in the car park. It centred around the development of Girls and Women’s football. Ian’s in depth knowledge of the game was obvious. We talked about our concerns regarding the future of the women’s game. At international level, the women’s game was on the up, and there was a great deal to look forward to. However, there was little publicity in the media. The men’s game, as we all know, gets most of the coverage in the sports pages. Even other sports struggle to get any coverage. As Ian stated in the blog, too many men fail to appreciate the women’s game. How many have even watched women’s football? Unfortunately, like many other sports, it’s mostly family members that turn out to watch the women play.

    How can we change the attitude to women’s sport? Well, Maureen and her group are certainly up for the battle, making a big effort with a great deal of hard work. Both Ian and I are trying hard to give support by giving of our time, for FREE. We both take photographs and post these on Flickr for anyone to view. You can view my contribution across a number of sports at If you would like some photographic coverage, drop me an email This is not a business advert. I really enjoy sports photography and would be happy to help out if I can. While on this topic, I have to take this opportunity to say that some clubs and governing bodies of sport, do little to help themselves. I personally, have waited over a year for one national body to process a PVG form, which will allow me to photograph at their youth events. Some don’t even bother to respond to requests. When there is a lack of coverage for the majority of sports, this really does surprise me. Some appear happy to have even the odd blurred camera phone image on social media. Maybe better photos would gather greater interest? I know when I have covered some clubs matches that the views on my website are well into the thousands of hits. There is interest out there, all it takes is a little effort.

    Let me finish by apologising , especially to Ian. This started out as praise for his photography, but I digressed.

    Once again, my congratulations to you, Ian, on your success . From our short periods of contact, I see you as a really nice guy, who has devoted a great deal of his life to help others in sport.

    Keep up the good work Ian. I hope our paths cross again in the very near future.

    John Williamson

    • Scottish Women in Sport says:

      Great to hear both John and Ians passion for capturing the beauty of women in sport. Lets do all we can to help them – its for our benefit in the long run.

  • Ian Steele says:

    Thanks John for those nice comments, and no worries re the digression…i get it. Also, Scott thanks so much too.

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