Leeds photographer’s archive of footballing history unearthed

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Amid unprecedented security and in a climate of political hostility, the eyes of the football world will be on Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Thursday.

But the discovery in Leeds of a cache of photographs has thrown the spotlight back to a more innocent age – when a sly backhander, a cod German accent and a knitted armband was all it took to get a canny operator into the heart of the action.

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John Varley, a photographer who for 30 years was the Daily Mirror’s prism through which Yorkshire was seen, kept an archive that takes in some of football’s most defining moments from five World Cups, including the memorable victory lap at Wembley in 1966.

Mr Varley’s son, Andrew, himself a veteran photographer, unearthed the material after an approach from a football magazine in London, which published a selection of images.

They include the landmark picture of Bobby Moore and Pele swapping jerseys after Brazil had beaten England at the Mexico finals in 1970.

The shot captures the respect in which the two players held each other – their beaming faces telling a story of sportsmanship that cut across national and racial divides. But Varley’s craftiness in getting the picture was a story in itself.

“He made his own luck. He became a bit of a master at juggling the security armbands or bibs around,” said his son.

“The system was that each photographer was allowed on the pitch for only half of the game – so for the rest of the time they would have to be on a gantry, which isn’t ideal.

“But by getting my mother to knit armbands and bibs in different colours he found he could remain on the pitch at all times.” At his first World Cup in 1966, eight years after he joined the Mirror, he pretended to be German to get better access, Andrew Varley said.

“At the final at Wembley, he slipped a few quid to a steward to borrow his armband,” he said. “He had been in Germany after the war when he did his National Service, so he knew a few phrases of the language. He pretended he’d been to the loo and kept talking German until the steward got fed up and let him on to the pitch.” Mr Varley died in 2010, aged 76.


Bobby Moore regarded the picture of himself with Pele as his favourite, despite the fact that it marked the end of England’s World Cup run in 1970.

Pele perhaps the most celebrated player in history, also considered the photograph a defining moment in his life.

The Times credited the image with helping to break down the racial prejudice of the time.