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The artist who learned to love football with West Brom

By Pete Madeley | West Bromwich | West Bromwich Albion | Published:

Tai Shan Schierenberg admits he had little knowledge about football before joining up with the Baggies at the club's pre-season training camp in Austria in the summer of 2017.

Artist Tai-Shan Schierenberg

The acclaimed portrait artist, whose work hangs in the National Gallery and who can include The Queen among those who have sat for him, was thrust into the cut-throat world of the Premier League for Channel 4's Artist in Residence documentary.

"I have no affiliation to one club and I'm quite interested to see what it is that makes football so addictive," Londoner Tai says at the start of the show.

Fast forward to May 5. It's stoppage time and the Baggies are drawing 0-0 against high-flying Spurs at The Hawthorns, in desperate need of a goal that would keep alive survival hopes that had appeared dead for months.

Tai, pacing up and down in the stadium, announces he is feeling sick, the nervous energy almost tangible.

Baggies players training in the Austrian mountains

One moment his head is in his hands, the next he is clutching his heart. When Jake Livermore bundles the ball over the line to give Albion a 1-0 win, the artist falls to his knees and screams in delight.

He has found his football connection, and over the course of a rollercoaster journey he's become part of the Baggies family.

It is an extraordinary documentary that does a better job than most of showing the agony and ecstasy of the beautiful game.

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It took in an ultimately doomed fight against relegation, two managerial sackings, the infamous Barcelona debacle, unrest in the stands, boardroom upheaval, and a lengthy losing streak, before hope for the future arrived in the shape of Darren Moore.

"I felt what it was like to be a fan," says Tai, who tellingly has started to refer to the club as 'we' rather than 'they' by the end of the programme.

On borrowed time – Tony Pulis

The work of award-winning documentary maker Marcus Plowright, Artist in Residence affords Tai the type of access inside a football club that journalists would never usually dream of being afforded.

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The artist's stated aim is to make a series of portraits about the key elements that make up a football club: management, players and fans.

To do this, he says, he needs to find out what makes each of these elements 'tick' before he puts brush to canvas.

Along the way he engages in in-depth chats with Tony Pulis, who he amusingly notes appears to have a 'no-nonsense style of management'.

Darren Moore – The Redeemer

He is also given access to players' Sam Field, Ben Foster and Chris Brunt. Keeper Foster, who has since left for Watford, is particularly open.

He admits that he has no love of football and speaks freely about the huge pressure that players operate under.

“I think each football club should have their own psychologist because you’re not taught to deal with the mental pressure of being a footballer,” he says.

“A lot of people just don’t know how to deal with it. I think football is more in your head than it is in our legs.

“There’s been a massive psychological problem this year. A real flaw in our season."

WATCH: First look at documentary

First Look | The Football Club: Artist in Residence

As the season progresses and the team enters freefall, Tai shares his observations on Pulis.

"Within the space of three months, he'd gone from respected gaffer to public enemy number one," he says, noting that while the boss was 'trying to be a force for good', nobody believed in him anymore.

"I got to see the man behind the manager," Tai said.

The documentary also shows the season through the eyes of Baggies fans, with a father and son's bond through football depicted in one poignant portrait.

Alan Pardew's disastrous tenure appears to baffle Tai, who notes after the Barcelona taxi scandal that Albion are immersed in a 'concentrated level of bad news that no other club is facing'.

Tellingly, Field, Foster and Brunt smirk at one another when Tai asks them if they have had a good training session with Pardew.

After Albion's relegation is confirmed, Tai shows his work for the first time at Walsall's New Art Gallery, reflecting on the fact that his season's journey has helped him to love the game.

"I love The Hawthorns. It's a lovely place to be. I think football is just the rhythm of life really," he says.

The documentary has gone down a storm with Albion fans, who have welcomed the artist as an honorary Baggie.

Baggies spokesman Martin Swain said: “Tai’s journey from a non-football fan, bemused by the national obsession for the game, to finishing the season hopelessly in love with the Baggies is a joy. As is, of course, his artwork.”

And Baggies fans are set to be given the chance to see the portraits first hand. Albion have revealed they are in talks with the artist and producers at Storyvault Films over plans for an exhibition of the work.

Artist in Residence is available to watch via: www.channel4.com/programmes/the-football-club-artist-in-residence/on-demand/66822-001

Pete Madeley

By Pete Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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