The 31/7 email logotype in purple and orange
Hey guys,

Welcome to another Tuesday edition of 31/7. This week I have been speaking to Cheshire based illustrator Millie Chesters, who has done loads of football drawings for such cool people as the Guardian, MUNDIAL, and the National Football Museum. I wanted to know what it is like to create an image of your heroes and how you can capture historic, fleeting moments with paper and pen.

You can read a bit about our conversation below! I hope you like it.

Cheers :)

Two Hands for your Colours

All her life, Millie Chesters has nurtured the affection for football and Manchester United that she learned from her late dad from a young age. But weeks after she graduated from Liverpool John Moores University with a degree in Graphic Design and Illustration, the 2018 Men’s World Cup gave her a fresh enthusiasm, a new way of looking at a lifelong love.
"It was a really poignant one for me," she said. "I had graduated uni that year, so that's the summer where you're slightly confused about your future, but also just really enjoying that you're free. So I was really excited that the World Cup was on.

"All the different kits really drew me in…. all these different colours… I've said before that football is kind of begging to be drawn by people. There's just so many colours and angles and so much energy happening.

"I found myself absolutely glued to the screen and I thought, 'alright, I wanna draw this'."

Jason Derulo felt the same. Providing the tournament's official anthem, the American singer told us: "Hands up for your colors, One hand, two hands for your colors, Show your true colors." Football is obsessed with colours and allegiance, and as Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Ashley Young were flying the flag for Millie's beloved Manchester United as they competed at their first World Cup, she got the bug. Even Phil Jones, with the Three Lions on his chest, could make you proud.
And as England reached the final four for the first time in nearly thirty years, Millie started sharing sketches of her favourite players online, and soon The Grassroots Post offered her her first work in football illustration.

Fast forward a few years and Millie’s relationship to the beautiful game changed again. Another summer, another major tournament, with England in the frame to win big — in a way that no one had ever seen before. Millie had never been into women’s football, but Lioness fever made her pencils twitch, inspiring her to sketch all 23 of the players Sarina Wiegman selected for her Euros squad, including the manager herself.

“I was completely part of that Lioness hysteria,” she remembered. “Everyone was all for the Lionesses, weren't they?”

“I thought ‘I need to draw this’. It was so inspiring to me.

“When you've got a team that large to draw it's intimidating. It's hard enough drawing portraits. It's so difficult to capture a likeness of someone. I reckon I've put portraits out there and decided after a while, ‘oh my god, I actually don't think I want anyone to see this’ and I've took it down. Because I don't know, it just is hard getting a likeness of someone — especially when that person’s really, really famous. You either get it in the first go or you get it after the 50th try.

“So when you've got a whole bunch of them to draw, it's intense. But I literally did that in about two days.”
31/7 inspired lots of people in lots of ways, but the fanatic energy which almost took the arch off Wembley Stadium didn’t burn out overnight. Eighteen months on, Etsy orders for Millie's risograph print of the European Champions keep rolling in. Football fans never tire of their oldest fondest memories. Wasn’t that final brilliant? What happened to that slow fella with the huge tash who used to play at left-back? Remember the lad who threw his hot dog at the referee, mustard and all?

And for a large portion of Wiegman’s disciples, 31/7 is their first emotional memory of football fandom. If England had lifted the 2023 World Cup, that wouldn’t have changed, and a 2025 defence of the European Championship could never supplant the nostalgia of the first taste.

But how do you capture it? These days, memory is governed by the humongous digital footprint which any international sporting event inevitably leaves behind. This week, I relived it all on my Twitter timeline as someone I followed watched the Euros final back for the first time, live posting as they went. If I wanted to, I could do the same thing, right now. Or see hundreds of photos, or more, from the side of the pitch, outside the stadium, inside the tunnel, out in the stands. But none of them bear any resemblance to my experience of seeing it and feeling it for the first time.

Illustrations make space for this. When it comes to capturing the zeitgeist, Millie likes to return to the fans who felt it first for inspiration.
“If someone scores an amazing goal, does something amazing on the pitch or whatever and that's been photographed — we all as illustrators are buzzing to draw it, right?” Millie said.

“And you've got to kind of find a way to represent it in your own way, then.

“That is the beauty of it, everyone's going to have their own interpretation of it.”

“The chants that are sung to these players often helps. What imagery comes into your head when you say these chants? A really basic one would be like ‘this player's on fire’.
Or it is quite fun to draw United players as well, because they're like red devils, so any devil imagery is really quite fun to draw with them.

“And then when Mary [Earps] was the world's best, there were lots of cool interpretations that people had of that as well.”

The swagger, the talent, there’s just something about her”. It’s hard not to fall for England’s no.1, and Millie was hooked before she even learned that, after the Euro dream faded, Mearps would return to the colours of her cherished Man Utd. Then, nothing could keep Millie from Leigh Sports Village where the likes of Nikita Parris and Lucia Garcia soon joined Earps in her affections.
“You just kind of watch the players week in week out and you totally fall in love with them,” Millie said. “It's inevitable.

“It's like the inner child is reaching out to them.

“I think my favourite player was Wayne Rooney growing up, and I loved Cristiano Ronaldo as well — not so much now — but I did as a kid. It wasn't on that big a stage was it, women's football? I knew of it, but it wasn't really on telly.

“But now — look at the Panini stickers selling out. That's probably mostly adults.

“And I think that's brilliant because we are kind of all looking at our inner child — what we missed out on.”

“There’s just something about her”. It’s not always easy to explain your love of certain players. It’s in the memories they give you, the work they do off the pitch, sometimes it’s just the way they run or the sheepish look they have as they wait with the fourth official on the touchline. Drawing Earps was simple, though. When Mary Queen of Stops prevented Jenni Hermoso doubling Spain’s lead from the spot in the World Cup final, celebrating with yet another iconic tournament final expletive, Millie’s Mum had one word for her: warrior.

It might not be pleasant watching Earps donning her shield and sword for Arsenal in the near future, but even as players switch colours, you never forget the people who drew you into a exciting new world.
You can follow Millie on Instagram or Twitter, see more of her work on her website and even buy some of it here 🤠

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31/7 logotype in purple and orange