One of my favourite shots of Saff Jarvis’ Man’s Game is a pile of stuff on Elida Gibbs, a recreation ground tucked between rows of houses by Burley allotments. Balls, bottles and trainers, coat sleeves, boot bags, plastic bags and unzipped rucksacks are barely distinguishable, players’ personal items subsumed into a single dark cluster of belonging.
It’s familiar to anyone who’s ever been to a training session, or had enough pals to throw a kick about in the park — in the careless, spontaneous placement of possessions you can see relief of the act of putting things to the side for a while, while you play.
For women today, it really is that simple. But historically access to the joy of football has been complicated for women, as Saff’s grandparents recall in her seven-minute long video comprising photography, poetry, and phone call recordings that document her experience of joining Leeds Hyde Park Women+, a football team founded 99 years after the FA first banned women’s football in 1921.
“Man’s Game was inspired by my long-delayed move to start playing football again,” Saff told me in an email. “It’s about doing what you love and forgetting to think about what’s stopping you.
“On a deeper level, it speaks of conscious and unconscious biases. With the film starting with shots of legs, hiding the gender of the players, I wanted to catch sexism in the act.”
“My art is about anecdotes. I want it to be sporadic, romantic and characterful. I’ve been making art all my life but only after lockdown did I make the kinda stuff I do now — it became a mission to get myself back out in the world. My art forces me to get out there and meet people, which is something I love doing but sometimes we need a push.
“It’s as much about learning about the lives of others as it is revealing mine.”
See more of Saff’s art at @saffjarvis.art on Instagram. ⬢
(This article is free to read from TSB magazine 2023/24 issue 02. To buy paper copies or read more, click here)