This Art Director Wants You to See Football Differently

“It’s an inescapable presence that follows you everywhere.”

artdirector mobile
Nathen McVittie

Growing up in the Lake District in North West England, art director and photographer Nathen McVittie always dreamed of living and working in the United States. He moved to New York City at 22 to pursue a BFA in Design and Technology from Parsons The New School for Design. When the cost of living in arguably the world’s most expensive city fused with the cost of student fees, Nathen ditched the certificate and started working for himself.

Now at 30, Nathen has made a name for himself in the world of football, and it all started with the hashtag #WhereIsFootball. In 2009, he worked alongside his friends Eric Beard, Jordi Beard, and Dominic Viera to create A Football Report, a blog focused on independent storytelling around football. Eventually, the blog expanded to Tumblr and Instagram and followers began tagging their photos and stories with #WhereIsFootball. The hashtag grew into a community of its own and A Football Report was rebranded to fit the audiences needs.

When scrolling through the Where Is Football feed, you won’t find end-game results or news surrounding soccer. You will find stories about people playing football in Haiti and Iranian women traveling to Russia to see their team play because of the ban on women’s entry to sport stadiums. You’ll immediately feel the presence of a community that shares an immense love for the sport. The platform uses soccer as the lens to tell human stories. Currently, the hashtag has over 50,000 posts on Instagram of people all over the world sharing their experiences and personal connection to the game.

img 5316
Nathen McVittie

Once Where Is Football started to gain traffic, Nathen saw an opportunity to own the work he once freelanced. Common Goal, a creative agency specializing in sport, became an outlet for Nathen and his partner, Zack Goldman, to showcase their projects and collaborations on a greater scale. With a tagline like “A creative house that exists to empower”, the agency offers branding, creative strategy, and marketing services and has worked with top brands like Nike, adidas, and Under Armour. 

We sat down with Nathen to pick his brain on all things football, being a founder, and running two businesses, at the same damn time. 

ONE37pm: What’s your relationship with football? When did you first discover it?

Nathen: Growing up in England, football was always culturally present. It’s an inescapable presence that follows you everywhere. Even if someone doesn’t enjoy sport, football in England is everything. For me, football really came later in life. As a child, I grew up obsessed with players and teams—like a lot of other kids my age. Though once I discovered music and MySpace in my teens, everything changed.

In the UK, it felt impossible to attach myself to both rock/alternative music and also football. In my teenage moment, you were either a “mosher” (a derogatory term used to describe those interested in rock music) or a “chav” (those dressing stereotypically in tracksuits, loving football). Every generation of youth has had their own sparring demographics, but I felt inclined to take a break from what I perceived to be a pretty awful cross-section of pop culture football fandom and attach myself to American alternative music and a burgeoning emo scene. It was only later in life—my late teens and early 20s that I came back full circle to enjoying football on my own terms, filled with newfound self-confidence, and was able to enjoy the game in a way I hadn’t been able to before. That manifested in enjoying football through a lens of culture, community and creativity, not so much the way I thought of football previously which was toxic masculinity, aggressive behavior and alcohol.

ONE37pm: Favorite team?

Nathen: My fandom of a singular team took a pretty hard turn at the crossroads of my relationship to football. I committed a cardinal sin in the eyes of a lot of people and fairly heavily switched the team I followed. For context, I grew up in the North of England, in Cumbria— the Lake District. People where I was from typically supported Carlisle United (the only professional team in my county), or they went further afield (likely Newcastle United as the closest ‘big team).

I was a Newcastle fan.

As a ‘90s kid, Newcastle [was] flying high and vying for Premiership titles with the biggest names and most attractive football on offer. Though, once my fandom of football waned, so did my love of Newcastle. When I came back around to football, it was pretty quickly a profession and not just a fandom. I worked for a few teams and was very lucky to be around some great moments in sporting history.

I worked for the New York Cosmos in 2013/14 when they came back out of hiatus and won a Championship in their first season playing in 30+ years, and then, somehow, I found myself at Leicester City during the greatest story in the history of professional sports anywhere in the world. I worked for Leicester for two seasons, 2014/15 and 2015/16— the latter going down in history. Needless to say, I now have two Leicester tattoos and an unbreakable bond with the Foxes.

ONE37pm: What’s your goal for Where Is Football?

Nathen: It was always designed to bring people together, deliberately or not. We wanted to tell stories and showcase the world through the lens of football. The established cliche of “we're more alike than we are different” feels especially true when talking about football and how we all watch and understand the game; the Where Is Football project was always meant to highlight that. In that vein, the goal has never really changed.

I will say that our creative ability has grown hugely over the years and we are more competent than we've ever been with how we service those stories. I think while our aim to tell human stories and connect people has never changed, our passion to tell them with different creative mediums has.

ONE37pm: How does the culture surrounding football differ in America and the UK?

Nathen: This is a question that could never finish being answered. The differences often seem never-ending, but at the same time football culture is so globally similar that it translates very naturally. I think a lot of the differences stem from the larger cultural differences between the two countries.

A lot of soccer culture in America in the late 1800s and early 1900s was so similar to (and often more developed than) Europe because of mass immigration. This history-focused approach is often forgotten about in lieu of a divisive and competitive mentality, though.

I think now that we have a solid 50-year history of highly-competitive domestic American soccer, we're seeing the fruits. Teams and players being competitive on a global scale, America winning World Cups, celebrities being born from the game and more. All of the awareness is now contributing to a worldwide acceptance of, and respect towards, American soccer in a way that wasn't often admitted even ten years ago. This is something other countries (and the UK) have had for a long time, so football culture can only grow, especially with soccer’s place being more established in the American sporting landscape.

Nathen McVittie

ONE37pm: How do you take your coffee?

Nathen: Iced, almond milk. It gets the job done. Plus it's warm in LA, so...

ONE37pm: Tell us about the time in your career when you felt the most “stuck.”

Nathen: Two things come to mind. Firstly, any time where I feel unsure about my life, in a problematic place mentally or frustrated with my personal progression. The same type of happiness and professional issues everyone has. I feel those acutely and they often bleed over into career frustration.

Secondly, and from a more objective business point of view, any time where we're not landing work is frustrating. It's awful and hard not to take personally. Any time you are responsible for your own business and livelihood, the buck stops at you. Being creative and working for yourself is a challenge that never ends. You continue to grow and learn daily. Learning to be better at certain things and be a better businessperson is an uphill battle and one that you have to always focus on. Working in football and sport while being creative is immensely challenging because there are so many more variables than the average industry. In a sport such as soccer, those nuances and challenges are even more heightened and prevalent because creative is so traditional and established. Winning work and convincing people what you do will be a benefit for them is difficult in the space, and living with that when it doesn't go your way is tough.

ONE37pm: What advice would you give to anyone looking to launch a business?

Nathen: There's a million and one things I could offer up, but the catch-all that feels most applicable is for you to be flexible. Flexible in admitting your own faults and weaknesses, flexible in goals, flexible in workload and flexible in deviating from whatever you thought you were originally building. It's incredibly rare that everything works according to how you planned it originally and being able to roll with those punches, enjoying the ride; all the while folding in your own personal growth and having the tenacity and openness to keep moving forward is something I wish I was told early on in this adventure.

ONE37pm: Describe your brand building strategy in one sentence.

Nathen: Inject yourself into the community and sphere you're trying to build around so that you can most genuinely reflect what they want to see.

ONE37pm: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a founder?

Nathen: I've learned a thousand lessons about myself. I've learned that I work in order to enjoy my life and enjoy the time I have on Earth. I am a creative person, so unless I'm making things with regularity, my happiness suffers. As long as I am creating and living my life in a way I enjoy, nothing else matters. Feeling comfortable with my own balance of self, work and creativity is paramount, and for me that is so much more possible while being “independent” and a founder/self-employed.

Read more: The 5 Social Media Accounts All Soccer Fans Need to Be Following

Did you like this article?
Thumbs Up
Thumbs Down