Despite being called ‘the beautiful game’, football is not usually associated with art. However, the sport features in the paintings of many artists. Even Picasso got stuck in. The first item visitors see at the National Football Museum in Manchester is one of his ceramics called Footballeur. 

Here, Kevin Moore, Director of the Museum, selects some of his personal favourites from its rich art collection.


Bobby Charlton

Bobby Charlton 1991

Peter Douglas Edwards (b.1955)

National Football Museum

Sir Bobby Charlton is one of the greatest ever British footballers. His glittering career includes scoring a record 49 goals for England and captaining Manchester United to European Cup victory in 1968. 

He was also part of the England team that won the FIFA World Cup in 1966, and is now President of the National Football Museum. 

This work is a companion piece to Peter Edward’s other portrait of Sir Bobby in the National Portrait Gallery in London.


The Goalkeeper

The Goalkeeper c.1930s

J. Petts

National Football Museum

The goalkeeper is somehow a figure apart, even in a stadium with thousands of fans. 

This work brilliantly captures his isolation, separated from the 10 other members of his team. 

Perhaps this is why the great French existentialist novelist Albert Camus was a goalkeeper! He was born in Algeria and played for his university there. The Outsider, his most famous book, focuses on the alienation of a young man.


Jimmy Hill

Jimmy Hill

John Randall Bratby (1928–1992)

National Football Museum

Jimmy Hill was a famous footballer in the 1950s, and over the next 40 years went on to be a manager, a club chairman and a football pundit.

Unlike today, when six-figure weekly salaries can be earned, in 1961 the maximum wage for a footballer was £20 a week. As Chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association, Hill played a key role in the abolition of this cap.

John Randall Bratby painted this portrait of Hill. His other celebrity portraits include Sir Paul McCartney, Michael Foot and Lady Antonia Fraser.

Bratby also founded the Kitchen Sink style of art that was influential in the late 1950s. The movement used everyday objects as subjects, including rubbish bins and beer bottles.


Watford Dressing Room

Watford Dressing Room 1953

Hubert Andrew Freeth (1912–1986)

National Football Museum

In 1953, Watford was in the Third Division South of the Football League. 

This picture may not portray the star players of the time, but all those who appear are heroes to their many thousands of fans.

Hubert Andrew Freeth was an acclaimed portrait painter and etcher. A large number of his works are in the National Portrait Gallery. 


Phew! What a Scorcher

Phew! What a Scorcher 1994

Chris Holwell (b.1967)

National Football Museum

This work is very popular with visitors to the Museum. 

An Argentinian player on the left of the picture (perhaps Diego Maradona?) beats a goalkeeper with a powerful shot. 

However, Chris Holwell, the artist, says that he had no particular player in mind, hence the lack of a head. He has said, ‘It was more about the shirt colours as some sort of heraldic shield’. 


Clapham Common

Clapham Common c.1953

Daphne Chart (c.1910–2006)

National Football Museum

In 1953, an exhibition called ‘Football and the Fine Arts’ toured the country. It was organised by the Arts Council and the Football Association (FA), and this painting was part of it. 

The exhibition marked the 90th anniversary of the FA, which was founded in 1863. The exhibition opened in London and then successfully toured galleries across the UK. 

The artist vividly captures the drama found in physical challenges in the game – in this case a grassroots-level match on Clapham Common in London.



Footballers c.1955

Cecil Walter Hardy Beaton (1904–1980)

National Football Museum

Cecil Beaton was a very famous English fashion, portrait and war photographer. 

He was also a painter, interior designer and an award-winning stage and costume designer for films and theatre. 

But as an artist he turned his attention to football in the 1950s, producing this and at least one other work. 

Given the date it was made, it could have been prompted by the 1953 ‘Football and the Fine Arts’ exhibition. 


A Soccer Match

A Soccer Match 1920

Gaston Vaudou (1891–1957)

National Football Museum

Gaston Vaudou was a successful French artist known primarily for his landscapes. This painting is essentially a landscape with footballers. 

The game is overshadowed by the threatening sky. It’s not a football stand in the background but a barn. 

Unlike English artists of this period who placed football in an urban setting, this is a rural, though not idyllic, scene.


Boots (They Were Christopher's)

Boots (They Were Christopher's)

Doris Brand

National Football Museum

This work is in the Museum's ‘Discovery Zone’, a gallery for use by children aged under 5, and their parents and carers. 

The Museum is in the centre of Manchester and free to visit. Please note not all of these works are on currently on display.

Kevin Moore, Director, National Football Museum

Editor's note: This story first appeared on the BBC Arts website. The BBC is an Art UK project partner.

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