Combining Football and Art: An interview with Barry Masterson

By Dylan Kerrigan

Dylan Kerrigan talks with illustrator Barry Masterson about his career and work to date.

Image Courtesy of Pixabay

If you recently attended the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup qualifier versus Portugal, the under-21 European Championship qualifier versus Italy, the FAI Women’s Cup Final or Women’s World Cup qualifier versus Slovakia, you may have picked up a matchday programme booklet with impressive pieces of artwork on the front cover.

This work was carried out by Barry Masterson – a freelance illustrator who runs his own print shop and produces content such as football matchday programme covers, book covers and other online content.

Describing his early interest in art, Masterson said “I started drawing as a kid with no real plans about what to do. When it came to choosing what to do for college, that is a tough time as a kid particularly if you don’t know what to do and I certainly didn’t. I took a year out and decided to do a portfolio course because to get into art college you have to do a portfolio. I then fell into a fine art degree and that was a good experience.”

Masterson described sport as his biggest interest growing up and tried to find a way to incorporate it with art. Following a break from the art scene due to other work commitments he said: “It took a few years to start drawing again and I began posting things online. The sports art scene wasn’t as big back then. Social media was still relatively new, but people liked my work and they shared it around. I made a lot of League of Ireland work and people were excited to see it. People engaged in that because it meant something to them.”

To create his work Masterson uses a digital drawing tablet and photoshop, where you “basically draw directly onto the screen.”

He said: “It is kind of the same as using paper or paint but it’s digital. It is the same process and gives you a lot of flexibility. In college there was a lot of printmaking and a lot of traditional ways of making images like carving into wood and when you leave college you don’t really have those materials anymore, so using the digital stuff made a lot more sense. I taught myself how to do that and I am still learning.”

The last game of the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup qualifying campaign came against Portugal just two weeks ago – the first time the Aviva Stadium had been sold out since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. The ‘Limited Edition Souvenir programme’ cover illustrated by Masterson featured a goal scored by Ray Houghton at the World Cup in 1994. To get to the stage where his work was on display to thousands of people on matchdays, Masterson said that “it took a few years because when you are learning from scratch it takes a while to decide what images you want to make and why. I also kept on tagging the FAI (Football Association of Ireland) in my posts, hoping they would see it. I then got an email from the Communications manager and did the artwork for a book called ‘The Greatest League in the World’ and that went down quite well, so I got to do the programmes for the Nations League in 2018.”    

Many football matchday programme covers that have been illustrated by Masterson have a particular theme, with the programmes illustrated for the men’s 2022 World Cup Qualifying campaign aiming to capture past World Cup moments. For example, the programme illustration for the home game against Luxembourg in March featured Alan McLoughlin’s goal versus Northern Ireland in the 1994 World Cup qualifying campaign. The match against Azerbaijan featured the penalty shootout versus Romania at ‘Italia 90’ and the following illustration for the game against Serbia saw Robbie Keane’s goal and celebration at the World Cup in 2002 as the front cover. Other work for other campaigns such as the Euro 2020 qualifying game with Denmark featured “the idea of a child aspiring to play for Ireland.” 

The League of Ireland is associated with a lot of Masterson’s work, and he is aiming to illustrate every stadium in the League. Dalymount Park, Tolka Park, The Showgrounds, Richmond Park, Finn Park and The Markets Field stadium are some examples. Masterson describes these drawings as “the ones that probably took the most work. “

“They take a lot of time, and they can be tough on your wrist after a while. But they are spaces I love, and they have so much life and character because so much has happened there,” he said. There are features that all football fans recognise when visiting grounds like Dalymount Park, such as the floodlights and the alleyway entrance to the ground, which are both featured on Masterson’s website.

Other work displayed on Masterson’s website include Serie A portraits of players such as Andrea Pirlo and Francesco Totti, illustrations for books like ‘Heart and Spirit: A footballing history of the Republic of Ireland’, portraits of League of Ireland players as well as other Irish sporting faces like Katie Taylor and much more.

All of Barry’s work and shop is available by following the link:

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