THIS is a time of plague and agitation. The prophets of doom scour the land. They preach that empty football stadiums are soulless. They are heretics. They blaspheme.

First, there was the word. But the truth is in the image. They are stark, beautiful and undeniable. The worth of a football stadium has been captured by a lens and it remains as relevant, even spiritual, without the necessity to add a human being.

The stadium roars of community without the accompaniment of a male or female chorus. This truth can be glimpsed, perhaps even gently worshipped, in the work of Brian Sweeney.

“The stadium is the new church. The bigger ones can be cathedrals of sounds over the weekend. But when they are empty there is an eeriness but also a presence,” says Sweeney.

The 50-year-old from Cumbernauld made his considerable reputation as a music photographer, picturing such as Eminem and Missy Elliot in the studio or touring with such as Super Furry Animals.

But football has always been a passion. The cynical might say an early immersion to life as an Albion Rovers lent him an early predisposition to the beauty of empty stadiums. But the epiphany came in 1998 when he was living in Iceland.

“I saw this bleak stand. It was weird and wonderful. I had to photograph it. I learned that an empty stadium could tell you things. You would know all the major industries in town from the signage, you would know that it was central to the community, too,” says Sweeney.

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There were also the compelling tales. “One stadium in Iceland looked like a submarine. The guy who built the stadium was a massive fan of the Beatles and Yellow Submarine was his favourite song so ... Now I don’t know if this is a true story but I want it to be.”

The photographs formed the bulk of a successful exhibition staged in London in 2002 and Sweeney has added to his

collection since. They were scheduled to be unveiled this year at an exhibition in the Sogo Arts gallery in Glasgow but coronavirus has intervened and the plan now is to stage it to coincide with the European Championships next year.

The aficionado will appreciate the influence of the Dusseldorf School on this aspect of Sweeney’s work. “Yes, it’s all about the beauty of the object itself, its invisible but inherent good,” says the photographer.

But punters will marvel at the emotions that the work produces. “When they first appeared, people from all over sent me photographs of empty stadiums,” he says. Sweeney’s brilliance produces a stark art but one that has the power to create a sense of powerful attraction in the viewer.

His work has taken him to stadiums in Prague, on Eriskay, on Lewis and Harris, and the Faroes.

This football family is closely related by the sense of community and the hospitality offered to Sweeney.

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“Only one club wasn’t really interested in what I was doing but the rest were wonderful.

‘‘In Turriff. I just walked in and was taking pictures when a wee women asked what I was doing.

‘‘I told her and she said: ‘Would you no be better with the floodlights on?’. She sat me down with a cup of tea and 15 minutes later a guy turns up to turn them on.”

On Eriskay, a crowd followed him all the way to the pitch, intrigued about how and why a photographer would come to the island to photograph a football pitch. In Prague, he was inspired by the Half Man Half Biscuit song, All I want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Strip.

“I think I was on tour with a band and had a couple of hours before a flight so I told a taxi driver to take me to the stadium. It actually was the Sparta Prague stadium he dropped me at but I was able to just go in and photograph it. Wide open. Beautiful.”

His first and enduring love, of course, is Cliftonhill – the home of Albion Rovers. “I suppose all the work is a testimony to the importance of grassroots football and that feeling of community,” he says. “There is a sense of belonging that comes to me whenever I go there. That is what it is all about.”

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The empty stadiums still echo with the strength of that notion, but Sweeney also embraces what can be produced when people enter a ground. “I once took a friend to Cliftonhill because he was wondering about what I got from it. We scored two goals in the last 10 minutes and he was going mental. He told me later he had fallen in love with Rovers. I had somehow transferred this love to him. That’s wonderful. That is why I love football.’’