The Independent on Sunday

September 16th, 2000
They think it’s all over…

By Simmy Richman
Before Wembley Stadium is demolished, photographer Ori Gersht realised every fan’s dream, walking out on to the hallowed turf to capture the big-match atmosphere. Simmy Richman reports from the touch line.

It is minutes before the penultimate England game to he played at Wembley Stadium. Within six months, the ground will he demolished, twin towers and all. In the centre of the pitch, Ori Gersht is checking his camera and praying that the fluctuating weather will hold for the eight seconds it will take to capture a 360-degree, 17-metre-long portrait of this doomed icon.

The weather is not the only thing that proves to be on Gersht’s side. As the England and Brazil teams line up on 27 May, the scoreboard reads: “Kevin Keegan and the England team ask you to respect the national anthems of both teams. Gersht’s work – which includes pictures of war- ravaged buildings in Sarajevo and the train journey from Krakow to Auschwitz – is, generally speaking, an examination of the paradox of national identity. “It has an obvious negative side which is shown by, say, the war in Bosnia, but there is also something beautiful about a group of people gathering together in a celebration of community; says the 33-year-old photographer.

So did Gersht time his picture so that the message, urging respect for another country’s national anthem, was on the scoreboard? “That was just one of those real-time coincidences, he laughs. Gersht had dreamt of Wembley since he was a small boy in Israel. “We had two sports broadcasts on television when I was growing up, he says. “One was Israeli sport, the other – on Thursday nights at 8pm – was English football. We would watch the games and then go outside and pretend to be English footballers playing at the national stadium.” 

Although he his lived in London for the past 12 years, Gersht still feels like an outsider in both his homelands. He knows that there is no easy answer to complex political situations. “The media always likes to have an opinion. The Palestinians are right here. The Israelis are right there. But there is no right and wrong. These are complex, tragic, deadlocked situations.” Like the England/Brazil football match, which finished a 1-1 draw.

‘Pitch’ (pictured above in full) by Ori Gersht will be on display from 23 September to 29 October at the Chisenhale GaIlery, 64 Chisenhale Road, London