When Kieran Trippier’s free kick in the Luzhniki Stadium hit the back of the Croatian net five minutes into a World Cup semi-final it was difficult for any Englishman to not believe that a place in the final had become their destiny.

For the few thousand fans in Moscow that night like myself, all the expense of being there, all the fears about travelling to a hostile country with little tolerance for anyone of a different race or sexual orientation were rendered insignificant as the investments we had made in a squad of 23 footballers seemed to be propelling us and them towards a seat at the ultimate occasion in sport.

It is this emotion that photographer David Shaw captures in his favourite image, one of more than 120 which feature in his new book which catalogues the experience of England’s fans who travelled from Volgograd to St. Petersburg via Nizhny Novgorod, Kaliningrad, Samara and Moscow following Gareth Southgate’s team. Captured from the front of the stand it shows the open-mouthed euphoria of the England contingent, all men, arms taut with the tension of the occasion, official Budweiser beer cups flying in every direction.

“That moment of elation - it turned out we didn’t win that game but for about 20 minutes we thought we were going to the final and that moment really captured that I think”.

A Charlton Athletic fan, Shaw travelled to his first major international tournament inspired by the generations who had gone before him.

“When I was younger, I always wanted to go and see England away at a tournament, I was always super-impressed by things like the England band and watching everyone having a good time and supporting their country away. I love football culture, I’m a lot more interested in what’s going on around the pitch rather than on it. I like to meet the fans who live this football fan life day in, day out. For me, this was the biggest thing a football fans could do.”

Despite the many warnings about the dangers and difficulties of travelling to Russia, Shaw was not perturbed.

"I grew up in Salisbury where this Novichok thing happened so the poor relations between Russia and the UK were really apparent to me and my family. When I got there, I was blown away by how friendly people were. I had people just coming up to me in the streets with their phone on Google Translate and it would say ‘Don’t worry about politics, you are welcome here’, all this sort of thing. Russia was super-fun. I really, really loved my time there".

As part of the Fans For Diversity project funded by Kick It Out and The FSF, many of Shaw’s photographs attempt to highlight the diversity of England’s support, yet also stay true to what is still the core of our fanbase. One of the most striking photographs is of a shaven-headed man opening a can of beer, cigarette in mouth, belly exposed and covered in tattoos. Yet this quintessential image, seemingly so illustrative of the stereotypical England fan, is as benign and as welcoming as ones of a Sikh triumphantly walking with his arms aloft and pictures of black and white supporters embracing in the stands.

“There are certainly a lot of young, white males following England but I was equally impressed by the diversity amongst the England support. There were a lot more women that I thought there would be, a lot more people from different groups, a large LGBT contingent. These groups are growing and hopefully they’ll continue to grow, as England carry on getting better".

A member of the England Supporters Travel Club, Shaw believes being “one of their own” enabled him to acquire a unique perspective on a much-maligned group of people traditionally unwilling to trust journalists.

“I travelled as an England fan. I met people, I explained the project I was doing. If anyone ever said, ‘I don’t want to be in a picture’, I wouldn’t put them in the picture. You kind of develop this trust, as photographers like myself try and do on these projects”.

He only felt the England supporters were resistant to him in the final moments of the semi-final as he tried to capture the disintegration of their World Cup dream.

“The last 10 minutes when England got knocked out, it did get a little more hostile towards me taking pictures. I explained to people I had told the whole story up until now, this was a very important part, this was where we were exit the tournament and I had to photograph them”.

A few months on from the World Cup, another semi-final already is beckoning England fans to Portugal next June. A country far more accessible and proximate, Shaw hopes to be there but wonders if it will be the same.

"I imagine we will get a lot more people there. Hopefully loads more people from across the UK from all the different communities. We were quite small, relatively speaking, contingent of fans in Russia. I wonder if that, in a way, made it so good".

You can see David Shaw's World Cup photography exhibition, sponsored by Fans For Diversity, at The Bomb Factory Art Foundation in Archway, north London, until Wednesday 28 November from 12-7pm. Free entry.


Written by Kick It Out resident blogger Asif Burhan.