The rapid growth of women’s football is opening avenues to people who otherwise may never have found a connection with the game. One such person is Jess Kohl, a creative mind who likes to put the focus on those who may not usually garner such attention.

Recently rekindling a love she had previously forgotten, Jess was in attendance at the Women’s Champions League final between Lyon and Barcelona in Budapest recently. Following the match, we sat down with her to discuss her unique perspective along with her new found admiration for the game, despite there not being a bagel in sight...

As a creative from outside the world of football, what did you imagine about what a Women’s Champions League Final might look like?

As a kid I’d attend Arsenal games with my dad and brother. It always felt quite inaccessible, seeing men kicking a ball around the pitch. I fell out of love with the sport a bit, probably because I couldn’t see myself reflected in at all. In the end I was mainly going along for the bagels at half time! With the emergence of women’s football, I’ve found a new love for the game – I’m interested in documenting underrepresented communities and individuals, a space that women’s football occupies. Attending the Women’s Champions League Final was an amazing experience because the sport is starting to get the recognition it deserves. It’s an exciting time to be involved! 


The support for the women’s game has grown emphatically, what was the atmosphere like around Budapest?

There was definitely a sense of hype around the city. You drive past the stadium on your way from the airport, so you could feel the presence of the game as soon as you arrived. We were staying at the same hotel as the Barcelona team, so there was a real air of excitement around the hotel too – on the morning of the game, fans were hanging out outside to cheer the players on. It’s interesting to see how the culture of Budapest integrated with the game too, how the city embraced it. 

What caught your eye about the location, the build up and the feeling towards the final?

The stadium was huge – 20,000 seats – and pretty full. I was particularly interested in the fans – given that women’s football is still relatively niche, I was excited to see the demographic that the final would attract. I walked around outside the stadium before the game to photograph the atmosphere and people. The fringes of activity outside were interesting – older Hungarian women selling knock off flags and scarves - they didn’t want to be photographed, understandably! 

There was a lot of support for Barcelona, the underdog – a lot of people attending the game wanted to see them do well against such stiff competition. It was a shame to see the game lean so heavily in Lyon’s favour – but the energy coming from the fans as Lyon started scoring goal after goal was pretty immense!


From your perspective, can you tell us about your work – what do you look for in an image and how would you define your style?

I spent most of the game walking around the stands seeking out moments to capture. Light is an important element for me to look for when photographing in this environment. I got lucky as there was a beautiful golden hour on the evening of the game. The last of the sun was hitting the highest few rows of the stadium, and that was were I captured my favourite shots of the day. I was looking for moments where fans were really in the moment, fully immersed in the game. I was also looking out for moments which reveal the relationships between people at the game – fathers and daughters, friends, lovers. My work focuses on human experiences and those on the fringes of society – so I was looking out for people whose love for the game was coming through visually.

What images from your experience of the Women’s Champions League Final stand out for you?

One image that really stands out for me is of a young girl in the stands with a Lyon flag around her neck. She’s looking just past the camera at the pitch, really immersed in what’s happening in the game. The evening sun is setting, so she and the people around her are soaked in a golden glow. There’s a man sitting next to her who I imagine to be her father. To me, she represents the moment that’s happening in women’s football right now – a time where young girls can see themselves reflected in the sport, who can attend a game that has the same level of excitement and anticipation as the male equivalent. It feels quite significant.


Has it given you an appetite to document more of this side of the game?

Definitely. I’m always interested in the underdog, which women’s football by it’s nature fits into. The level of skill of the players is incredible to watch. There’s a real sense of community too, of women who care deeply about the sport and have been rooting for it for a long time, and are now seeing a public shift of interest. This creates a really special atmosphere which I love translating into images. 

Nike have clearly taken a strategic decision to help raise the profile of the women’s game, could you get a sense of that?

It was amazing to see how much attention Nike are giving to women’s game right now. Having the support of such an influential brand is really helping elevate the game and bring it into public consciousness. It was cool to see how Nike are supporting not only the bigger names in the game, but also the creative community on the fringes of the sport – strong women who run zines and blogs, and photographers like myself. 

A full stadium and two enormous names from the world of football – were there many people decked out in the respective kits?

There were lots of people donning their respective kits! The Lyon fans were more present and kitted out, which makes sense given the history of the team. I really enjoyed seeing not only younger girls and women, but also boys and men who had showed up to enjoy and support the game.


What struck you about the occasion, does it feel like it shows how much positive swell there is around the women’s game?

For sure. It feels like a really important moment for women’s football right now, and a really exciting time to be documenting the sport and the fringes of it. The atmosphere was different to a men’s game – there was a lightheartedness celebratory feel to it. In half time there was a carnival style band playing with fans really going for it dancing which I’ve never seen at football game before. Perhaps less importance is placed on who's winning – everyone there was just excited to see the game happening, that it’s starting to gain the attention that it deserves.

How much do you think a game like this can build anticipation towards the Women’s World Cup?

I think the a game like this is a great way to build anticipation to the Women’s World Cup and get a sense of the atmosphere that we have to look forward to. The excitement around the game shows how much of an appetite there is for it, and gets fans hyped up for the tournament.  

What does your summer look like and how will you consume the tournament?

I’m planning to shoot a personal documentary project in Italy this summer, which will fall at the same time as the tournament, so I’ll be consuming the tournament remotely. I’ll be turning to social media to watch it unfold – I find that the atmosphere really comes through from the dedicated fans on the ground at the match. 


To find out more about Jess and to see more of her work, head here.