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.
It 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.
By 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.
My 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.
During 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.