Ed Gray Art

 

 


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The Adoration at the Lion's Den, Zampa Road, Millwall FC (Dockers' Stand)

Mixed media on canvas,  140cm x110 cm

Millwall FC

 

Matchday in Zampa Road Bermondsey SE16 and the faithful make their way towards the famous Lions' Den, towards the Dockers Stand.

This area has a proud history of connections to maritime activity. Millwall football club began life as a workers' team for the canned preserved goods firm JR Morton in 1885, making tinned goods that could be easily transported across the oceans of the Empire. The club eventually relocated to South London in 1910.The nearby Surrey Docks received an influx of commercial goods from the British empire as well as tinder from Scandinavia and the Baltic and gave employment to many. Deal porters in particular were famed for their ability to carry heavy loads. 

 

During the Second World War the Surrey Docks and its people suffered the most extensive bomb damage of any dock system in Britain. By 1969 the eventual decline of the docks due to their unsuitability for larger vessels led to most being filled in. As the livelihoods of dockworkers drained away local communities were left to take care of themselves. The Den was moved again and proudly reopened in 1993 amidst some fears that the revamp would change the spirit of the team. This area and these people have withstood much change over the years. New rumours are afoot of land sales and further gentrification. 'No one likes us, and we don't care'. The sentiment is keenly felt.

My painting is a celebration of a team and its fans. I wanted to capture the optimism and hope of the Lion's fans struggling to avoid relegation. In the surging bodies pushing forward towards The Den feet first I began to feel that the space in the painting was like a football pitch and the arch of the railway bridge was the goal post. 

Three fans from different generations stop to share banter about the team's progress. One clutches a Southwark News with the headline 'Lions' Spirit  Wins the Day' and 'Woodford keeps faith'. Faith and spirit are what is needed. On his arm are the tattooed words 'Millwall til I die'.  It is pure coincidence that I notice a  raggedly dressed man with a oversized wooden crucifix , seeming to pray for salvation as he shambles past the African Church against the oblivious tide of fans. Two suedeheads enter the scene and catch my eye. Smartly dressed and in full get up, I sketch as fast as I can do them justice. A Blackburn fan's scarf brushes past me. Their latin motto 'arte et labore,' 'by skill and labour,' is a vestige of another ancient empire that sailed oceans and travelled up the Thames to rule these lands. As a motto it applies as much to painting as it does to football.

 

Mending and healing is required on all fronts. A young girl slips by me on crutches and a elderly lioness with a stick supports her frail partner. Behind her the spider-web cracked screen of a dented car awaits surgery at the African garage. In amongst the white faces of the fans and the  white background of the badge seller's St George crosses there is much of Africa to be found here. From the many lions that adorn the t shirts and badges to the African woman leaving church and the Senegal T shirt of the mechanic- a reference to Senegal Fields, site of The Den.
I wonder whether Senegal Fields got its name from the ground nut and palm oil produce brought into the docks from the furthest reaches of the British Empire. I paint a small opened empty tin can on the ground in memory of Mr Morton, as if all the mighty chaos of history that led to this scene had poured forth from it onto the pavement of Zampa road. The past preserved in the present.

And then I begin to think about the word Zampa. An Italian word that I discover means 'paw,' like the paw of a lion. The faithful, proud lion that I hear roaring from my flat in the jungle of the city most nights when a match is on at the Den.  

 

Ed Gray Rotherhithe 2014