Bannan’s balls, Adeniran antics and Stockdale sabotage - The story of a Sheffield Wednesday photographer
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But Harriet Massey’s Wednesday story starts long before snapping pictures of Barry Bannan and lending Dennis Adeniran her camera on the training ground. She’s gone from being a fan in the stands to an employee at the foot of them, and her route wasn’t much different to many of the players on the pitch.
“When I was studying I needed to do 52 hours of work experience,” she told The Star. “I wasn’t sure which route I wanted to go, but I followed Wednesday and loved football, so I got in touch and they said I could come and photograph the U18s. So I did that, did my hours, and then they asked if I’d like to photograph the U23s. Then Steve Bruce got appointed and I was involved with that – after that I went to the first team.
“I’m in my sixth season now, and I’ve basically taken the same sort of journey as what players take. I didn’t go straight in at the top level, I built through the ranks.”
It’s been time well spent, though. Harriet’s now a fully-fledged member of the first team setup, who’s constantly having to protect her gear from stray – and intentional – footballs from players she used to cheer on in the stands.
“After the play-off final at Wembley I saw Barry afterwards and had a picture with him,” she recalls. “Nowadays he’s pinging balls at my camera from 50 yards and messing about, it’s crazy. I might be out with friends and they’ll see a player’s name pop up on my phone – they’re impressed by it, but to me it’s just work.
“The other week Dennis said to me how easy it was, so I said, ‘Go on then, give it a go…’ I’d done the settings for him, and he had a great subject in Mallik (Wilks), but he was pressing the wrong button! We won’t be swapping jobs anytime soon - I definitely couldn’t run around like he does.
“Then there’s the players who just try and ruin pictures for a laugh by doing something they know means I can’t use it – David Stockdale does it every time he sees me.
“All of the players have been nothing but respectful though, and I’ve got nothing but respect for them as well. We’ve built up a really good relationship where they trust me and I trust them – apart from when they’re trying to kick balls at my camera.
“I have warned them all that they’ll be buying me a new one if they break it.”
Harriet isn’t the first to benefit from Wednesday looking within their own community, though. There have been many who have worked on the media side at S6 while studying, and she believes that they provide vital opportunities.
“The media team have been brilliant,” she says. “I couldn’t have asked for more really. In the early days in terms of feedback they were probably more polite than they should have been – and we laugh about that now.
“I think it’s really important to have that connection with the local colleges and universities, it can help people get into media jobs. People need the experience, and the club giving people like me that experience has really helped.”
It’s not always easy being a fan pitchside, maintaining your composure after a 96th-minute winner when you’ve spent years celebrating the ball hitting the net, but the desire to get ‘the shot’ takes over according to the photography graduate.
“It’s hard to describe,” Harriet explains. “Inside you’re going mental celebrating, but on the outside I’m thinking ‘Get that picture’. It happens almost in slow motion, I can see the shutter going down, but when they’re back on the centre circle I can enjoy it and have a little moment.
“I’ve worked more away games recently, but when I do go as a fan I often find myself - if there’s been a great goal or Will Vaulks is doing his gymnastics - thinking, ‘Oh man, that would’ve been such a good picture!’
“It’s nice to be in the stands, but I just want to be down there now. I’d rather be down there getting those shots now. I couldn’t think of anywhere I’d rather be on a day we go promoted than pitchside.”
She said the p-word, not us, but we’re all thinking it. Unlike legendary Wednesday snapper, Steve Ellis, Harriet’s yet to work on a promotion, but there’s growing hope that that’ll change soon.
“You think of Steve, he’s been there for so many years and got some of the most incredible photos – I’ve not done that yet. To photograph something successful is something I’d love to do.
“Some of the most iconic Wednesday photos have been taken by Steve, and I’ve got massive respect for everything he’s done at the club through the ups and downs. If that’s something I could replicate then that’d be amazing. Maybe we can do another interview in forty years?”
She may not have had one of those moments yet, but her pictures are still up in houses across Sheffield – and she admits that it’s a humbling experience being in the position she’s in.
“At Ipswich people were coming up to me and saying they were fans of my work, saying that I’m helping bring people together, and I don’t actually realise that. It’s only when somebody says it – it takes me by surprise, but it’s nice to know I’m heading in the right direction.”
There will be many more freezing nights like Wycombe Wanderers at home during the pandemic – ‘the coldest I’ve ever been at a football game’ – but if a few trophies are scattered in-between then it’ll all be worth it.