The story behind the ‘broken Britain’ New Year’s Eve picture that went viral

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Covering New Year’s Eve as a photographer always generates something different. Rather than the usual misery, there’s a feeling of genuine joy and energy. A good shot comes from juxtaposing two things within the same frame. It could be someone throwing up in one corner and a couple kissing in another – different people, different stories.

That night, in December 2015, I had been busy photographing the NYE fireworks in front of Manchester Town Hall and, after sitting in my car editing and filing photos, I decided to head back out. I pitched up outside Printworks, a nightclub and music venue near Dantzic Street. It was busier than previous years, with coppers on every street corner. Moments before this shot was taken, a fight broke out, two lads having a scrap in the middle of the street. People were screaming and trying to pull them off one another.

When I took this photo, at 2.25am on 1 January 2016, I had only been in the spot for five minutes – sidestepping on to the pavement and crouching a tiny bit in order to fit the street sign in. The man in navy, to the left of the image, had spun around, clipping one of the officers, and had fallen over, rather like how actors are taught to fall. This Rubenesque reclining figure was lying in the road with a bottle of lager next to his head. In the foreground three officers had wrestled a man to the ground; he was all wound up and waving his arms aggressively. The police threw cuffs on him, while the woman in the fur coat asked, ‘Why are you doing that?’ Meanwhile, a crowd had formed on the opposite street corner, eating their chips and pizzas, watching the action.

I knew I had taken a decent picture, but I had no concept of the response it would get. After heading home and spending the next couple of hours editing, I filed to my agency, London News Pictures, and went to bed. But I awoke to a deluge of Twitter notifications after a BBC producer, Roland Hughes, had tweeted my photograph on the Manchester Evening News’s picture gallery, describing it as ‘like a beautiful painting’.

It had been shared over 25,000 times – bonkers. Then came the memes – someone had drawn a Fibonacci spiral over it; there was one with the man in blue [later identified as Mike Deveney] rotated 90 degrees, holding the beer bottle skywards like the Statue of Liberty’s torch; in another, he’s dressed as Superman, fist punching forward as he flies through the air.

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