June 2012: "Is That Actually a Goal?"

His pictures reveal in black and white the world of soccer in Poland and Ukraine – six months before the start of the UEFA Euro 2012. ContiSoccerWorld talked to the Ukrainian photographer Kirill Golovchenko, 37, about molehills on the touchline, goals made using branches – and a European trophy filled with vodka.

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Truth is found on the pitch: Photographer: Kirill Golovchenko. (Photo: Golovchenko)

  


ContiSoccerWorld: Mr. Golovchenko, since the end of 2011, you have been travelling with your camera through Poland and your homeland Ukraine. The pictures you took can be seen in the book of collected essays called "Totalniy Futbol", which has just been published in Germany as well. So, is winter a good time to capture the mood on soccer pitches?

Kirill Golovchenko: Yes, I think so. It must be said, though, that winter is a dreary time for a photographer who sets out with preconceived ideas in mind. Pictures that you do not actually want to take. Of course, in summer you can take any number of shots of soccer players and soccer pitches; games take place all over Poland and Ukraine, in stadiums, on the street, in the back yard. That's easy. But in winter - when the light is gray, there are no traces or flowers or green and scarcely anyone is kicking a ball around - that is the time when you see reality somewhat more clearly. You can scratch the surface and see what lies beneath. To that extent, winter is a very good time for photographers, because you see things openly and clearly.

ContiSoccerWorld: What kind of pictures did you look for?

Golovchenko: My plan was to examine whether it was possible to use soccer to draw conclusions about the political and social conditions in a society. In Ukraine, for example, the UEFA Euro 2012 is being heralded by enormous advertising posters plastered all over the country, featuring grinning soccer players. On one picture, a player is shouting at us, and alongside this there is the text "We believe". New stadiums have been constructed; gleaming palaces that look like UFOs. That is one side of the coin. I wanted to look behind the publicity banners and see what soccer has got to tell me.

ContiSoccerWorld: And what did it tell you?

Golovchenko: For me, soccer is a pure game. It is not what we see every day in newspapers, on TV, in the league tables. Soccer talks to me about a sensation, about something that you only really feel when you are on the pitch yourself and taking part in the game, whether in a stadium or your local park. That was one thing I tried to do. Another was to look at the connections between soccer and society. This includes things like the current political discussion on the relationship between the UEFA Euro 2012 event and the balance of power in Ukraine. I wanted to examine whether, and to what extent, the situation on a soccer pitch can tell me something about the status of a country.

ContiSoccerWorld: You took a picture of a grass pitch near to Wroclaw in Poland. There, it seems that the moles have got the upper hand over the groundsman…

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Golovchenko: Exactly, that is a good example! In my hotel on the evening before, I had watched a TV report about corruption in Polish soccer. Nothing major, but corruption all the same. And then I came across this soccer pitch. There are shapes breaking the surface, making a mockery of the accurately marked touchlines: the molehills are everywhere. It was almost as if the moles had permission to dig there. No-one was doing anything to stop them. Indeed, the pitch is not really playable any longer. Does that say anything about the country? I think it does. However, the photo can also be viewed more generally as an allegory that everything has a flip side. But it is important for me to emphasize the following. Although the picture I shot is indeed reality, because the pitch really did look like that, it is also my subjective reality according to the way that I put it into a certain context.

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Groundsman has downed tools: Moles near Wroclaw. (Photo: Golovchenko)

I do not by any means wish to claim that my pictures express a generally valid truth.

ContiSoccerWorld: Another picture shows soccer players on a sand pitch in Kyiv, with the goal made from three crooked branches tied together. What does this scene express for you?

Golovchenko: This is also a relevant example. It was the last picture I took before travelling back to Germany. I have called it "Soccer is everything". It shows a few amateur soccer players on the banks of the Dnieper River in Kyiv. Down by the river there, there are many sand pitches like that. During the Soviet Union, players of Dynamo Kyiv used to play soccer there in their spare time. It was forbidden for them to play soccer with amateurs, but they joined in all the same. To a certain extent, this is a place steeped in soccer history. I went there, saw this goal made from branches, and I realized that it was also a sign. A symbol that things can be made using simple constituents. Ukrainians are known for this, or at least that is how we see ourselves; namely that we can turn even irretrievable situations into something worthwhile. We have a pronounced knack for do-it-yourself. This picture shows the game, the emotions, soccer and, a strange goal. Is that actually a goal? Or is it not a goal? What is a goal?

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Goal? Or not a goal? Amateur players in a park in Kyiv (Photo: Golovchenko)


ContiSoccerWorld: When you were young, you also kicked a ball around. Did you want to become a soccer player?

Golovchenko: I certainly did! I had a book by Oleg Blochin, who is currently the manager of the Ukrainian national team. At the time, he was a player for Dynamo Kyiv, and he wrote about how to become a professional soccer player. I read it time and time again, until I almost knew it off by heart. Soccer was an all-consuming passion. I was not interested in anything else. We had a street team. On each birthday, my parents would give me a new ball; that was the extent of our equipment.

ContiSoccerWorld: And why do we speak about the photographer Golovchenko today, rather than the national player Golovchenko?

Golovchenko: (smiles) Well, you know … leaving aside the question of whether I was actually a good enough player, my priorities did start to shift away from soccer. It was difficult to combine school and soccer, because in those days we did not have the sort of cooperative training opportunities as are available in today's modern soccer academies. I simply developed other interests over time.

ContiSoccerWorld: As a photographer, you made your name with the photo book "7km – Field of Wonders", a report about a market in Odessa, which is the largest market in Europe. In your younger days, you used to have a stall there selling "Crocodile" brand belts…

Golovchenko: Oh, I see you have done your research! I am still proud of this. We invented this brand back then, based, of course, on Lacoste. But the logo did look different. Basically, it was an independently produced brand (laughs).

ContiSoccerWorld: Apparently sports articles from the brand "Addibas" were also popular on the market…

Golovchenko: Interesting, wouldn't you say? There are many other brands, such as "Pima", which is a play on the "Puma" brand name. Usually they are produced in China, and it works. People buy it.

ContiSoccerWorld: The last picture in the "Totalniy Futbol" book shows a vodka bottle in the shape of a football, with a player the stopper. Does that also come from the market in Odessa?

Golovchenko: No, from a supermarket in Kyiv. You can buy the things anywhere. I think it makes a nice souvenir for football fans. This bottle shows what kind of a country Ukraine is. It is kitschy, but it has style in its own way. It is not for nothing that the bottle the closing picture in the book. Because in some way, it reminds me of a trophy. OK, Ukraine probably will not be the European Champions. But, we do have our own trophy… (laughs)