Lowry's paintings from the 1940s are amongst his most fruitful and imaginative works. In the present composition, the artist depicts the excitement of a Saturday afternoon football match, resulting in one of the finest known examples of the combination of the artist's two most popular subjects: the industrial landscape and the working man at play. An extensive panorama presents the onlooker with a cityscape peppered with rooftops; chimneys full of billowing smoke; spires; houses and street scenes with incidental domestic moments, including children at play, and mothers pushing prams, all held in thrall to the compulsion of the crowd who surge to catch the action of the game. This juxtaposition of the tension of the crowd watching the game, and the slow pace of the individuals who stroll around the multi-layered streets and wastelands beyond, is captured by the artist who towers over the action pulling the viewer over the rooftops and beyond into the drama below.
Lowry was a football supporter himself, his team was Manchester City, and he spent many afternoons watching them play. He was also known for his uncanny understanding of the mood of the crowd - the critic Mervyn Levy reported that Lowry once astonished him with a comment about a crowd that they had witnessed, 'They've lost, you know - you can tell' (see S. Rohde, L.S. Lowry A Biography, Salford, 1999, p. 350) - no doubt developed from personal experience of the importance of the result to the supporters who have gathered. However, this love of the game does not often translate into subject matter for his painting. He did explore the subject of going to, or being at a football match, several times, and hitherto his most famous sporting work, Going to the Match, 1953 (Professional Football Association) does not include any element of the playing of the game itself, depicting instead the converging crowds and the stadium. No other known work provides such an engaging panoramic birds-eye view deep in to the action on the pitch, through such extensive crowds, with the greater, highly detailed context of the homes and factories, flanking all four sides of the pitch, which are central to the livelihood of the supporters depicted.
Lowry's aim is to capture the jubilance of a post-war afternoon in England, and many of the large format, celebratory canvases from this decade are in public collections. The Park, 1946 (fig. 1, Arts Council of Great Britain) shows a crowd massing around a bandstand with a vast industrial panaroma beyond. However, the common theme in many such landscapes is that Lowry's people can never quite escape the industrialisation that surrounds them. As Michael Howard (Lowry A Visionary Artist, Salford, 2000, pp. 135-36) has pointed out, 'Lowry's reduction of his living figures to the role of automata suggests a lot about his own private impulses; at the same time his puppets offer a well-worn but effective metaphor for the de-humanising effects of the industrial process. His doll-like forms, his stage-like settings, the very artifice of his artistic practice and his calculated distance as the maker of these images are the very reasons surely that Lowry's canvases are so powerful and evocative of the factory worker's lot. Even outside their working hours, Lowry seems to say, on their way to or from the mill, they cannot escape the industrial system which during working hours controls their bodies and restricts their freedom of mind'.
Nevertheless, the composition is imbued with a warmth of feeling for his fellow man, as Edwin Mullins remarks in his introduction to the Lowry pictures in this sale, 'At first glance, a Lowry painting of crowds may seem impersonal and cold. But on closer acquaintance it is the opposite: it is full of quirky humour, affection and it is rich in sentiment - even when, as in The Football Match, his figures are so tiny they are little more than an army of ants. The sentiment is still there - the feeling that this is the heartland of real people - just as it is with the bleak industrial landscape beyond which he was so proud at having put on the painter's map. Here was the hard battleground of human life'.