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Premier League photographer and loyal Gooner Mark Leech on legendary snapper Gerry Cranham and a stunning new photobook called This Sporting Life

Gerry Cranham was a promising young athlete and was chosen to run one of the legs with the Olympic Torch in London in 1948. When asked what that was like he replied in his normal forthright manner: “I got sunstroke – and they didn’t even give me a glass of squash.”

The injury that ended his running career was to later start his career as a sports photographer and he arrived unannounced into the sports photography scene and shook up the old guard. Photographers back then were shooting to a well tried and tested formula, often wearing a suit and tie as they might well have been off to a film premiere after the match. He had to pay to get in through the turnstiles in the early 60s and created images from an unusual angle.

Cranham challenged the lazy way that sport had been shot for the previous 30 years. His revolutionary techniques are now taken for granted included the visionary idea of using remote cameras. With slow shutter speed zoom techniques from 1964 onwards, you could portray so much more than simply a goal being scored as a point of interest. He shot punters having a pre-match drink in boozers, fans queuing to get into games, supporters packed on the terraces, goalkeepers trying to keep warm on foggy nights – everything that encapsulated the heart and soul of our game and why we love it so much.

He was one of a handful of photographers to shoot the 1966 World Cup final in colour and as Geoff Hurst was scoring the fourth goal for England, Cranham took a memorable photo of the English bench all leaping up except for the static manager, Sir Alf Ramsey. Never one for the limelight, it was always about the sportspeople and those watching them.

Football wasn’t a dominant sport for the 1960s media and so Cranham took this same passion to cover other sports including boxing, rugby, cycling, athletics and even curling on a frozen lake in Scotland.

When Cranham was chosen by the Telegraph Colour magazine to shoot the funeral of Winston Churchill in 1965, ahead of a number of renowned news photographers, the picture editor explained his choice by simply saying: ‘Cranham never misses.’

When questioned about this Gerry replied with typical modesty, ‘I couldn’t afford to, I had five kids to feed’.

With football photography once again becoming dreary and formulaic, where do we find the new Gerry Cranham?

Gooner editor Layth Yousif adds: “I’m a massive fan of the legendary Gerry Cranham (as well as Mark Leech). You’ve probably enjoyed many of Mr Cranham’s iconic shots of Arsenal and Highbury over the years without even realising it. I’ve already signed up for a copy, I think you should too.”

The Gooner emphatically recommends This Sporting Life – a stunning photobook of the work of pioneering sports photographer Gerry Cranham, currently being put together by Mark Leech and Doug Chteeseman. For more google This Sporting Life – Gerry Cranham, Photographer

Mark Leech began work as a sports photographer in 1974, formed Offside Sports Photography in 2001, then added the Gerry Cranham archive in 2007. Doug Cheeseman is a graphic designer who has worked in sports publishing for 30 years.


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