2015 03 01 Girls in La Manga

One of the worst moments of my career, if not my life was covering the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. An assumed sports photographers dream. Not for me!

I was put on swimming duties. I don’t usually give up on anything, but the more I tried, the worse I got. I was all for purchasing a return ticket home as I could not handle it, but thankfully I was then assigned to women’s football and had the time of my life.

Despite photographing football for then nine years, I realised it was best to concentrate on still learning to master football photography and not be an all-rounder.

As I played ice hockey, I used to like photographing it but in the UK it was a no go sport for sales. As was rhythmic gymnastics – some of my early prizes were of rhythmic gymnastic pictures that I am still proud of this day. I loved my cricket but publication budgets were being slashed before I could start to make an impression in what is a wonderful game…  Football was in the heart, just as much as swimming was not!

The Olympic women’s football was fast, played with immensely skill, with no cheating or diving. I was there to capture it with beautiful colour in beautiful light. Happy Days.

Roll on 19 years and the psychology of trying to cope with this crazy business is starting to get me down a bit –  Whilst esteemed photographers at Action Images getting made redundant, van drivers get the nod by carefree media officers for accreditation for certain FA Cup glamour games over professionals who have followed the competing Premier League team on four continents on Planet Earth.

Meanwhile, even though I am no businessman, idiots sell awful football imagery to national newspapers for 30% of the going rate – it sometimes feels like a race to the bottom.

Then there were suddenly 18 enthusiastic travellers wanting to cover Chelsea playing away at Paris St Germain. None were not to be seen in any of the UEFA Champions League group stages, not that is my problem, but those who had attended the previous UCL Chelsea group games away, stood little change of going to the French capital – it is fair to say I needed a change of scenery!

A call from Japan resulted in the no brainer decision of accepting a commission to cover the Nadeshiko – the Japan Womens Team.

The U23 team were taking part in a tournament in La Manga, Spain.

One of the best purchases of the year, the renewal of an EasyJet Plus card ensured a safe and smooth passage through a very busy Luton Airport. The two gents behind me on the aeroplane were sincerely lucky not to get a punch in the head for their constant nattering. All I wanted to do was sleep.  How could two grown men talk so loud at silly o’clock!? My just 3 hours of sleep was telling, I was very grumpy!

There were more issues to contend with at the other end when the lady behind the car rental desk insisted that I had booked a Vauxhall Corsa when I knew I had paid for a VW Golf.

Such things are important to argue, but not when there are a trio of football matches to be done 100 miles south with the clock ticking.

Apart from the obvious stalling the rental car, I’m used to driving an automatic in the States and in the UK… the further I drove south from Alicante Airport, my woes disappeared as I appreciated the smooth road, blue skies and lack of bad drivers back home on the M6. Even the tolls were only two Euro!

Life was getting good again!

AMA01_ENGLAND_SWEDEN_U23 Driving straight the La Manga Football Centre, I covered the last 30 mins of England v Sweden. This was an Under 23 tournament. The “best of” I think were being rested for the impending Algarve Cup in Portugal next week ahead of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada in the summer. I

then discovered that the Norway v China game was off. China had not turned up. However there was no time to be disappointed as over to the field on my right was the Football Association of Norway Training Camp Pre Season Friendly of Sogndal v Tromso.

It would have been rude to turn that opportunity down! Game two of the day! AMA23_SOGNDAL_TROMSO A certain Robin Shroot playing for Sogndal. I thought he was going to be the next big thing when he played for Birmingham City.

He certainly looked the part against the much fancied Tromso.

Then finally the reason I was in Spain… USA v Japan. Or in respective local cultures – US WNT (United States Women’s National Team) v Nadeshiko. AMA24_USA_JAPAN Just another game? NO!

The Japanese are an important client. With all my built up tension and anger at the terrible industry goings on back home ….’new’ agency owners not being the gatekeeper for rogue people with cameras – I’m all for people practising and having a go, but not at a Barclays Premier League game and certainly not providing them with a lap top and information on how to syndicate images to the UK sport picture desks which has now resulted in a near 25,000 images landing on them every weekend – no wonder great pictures fail to get published any more with apologetic newspaper people contacting you the next day wanting to tear out their hair moaning about their systems being clogged up with ‘shit’.

I decided to show myself why I should continue in this field and not try my hand at something else.

This was an important international fixture and as stated an important assignment. Going to Wembley was like receiving an international cap for your profession. Sadly standards have dropped alarmingly in my eyes over recent years.

With the van drivers, driving vans, I needed to be at the top of my game for the next 90 minutes. AMA13_USA_JAPAN Sitting next to me at the game was one of the original members of Action Images – Mr Tony Henshaw. Amongst hearing about his seemingly wonderful life in Spain, he gave me some good advice – celebrate what you can do and show the world.. so I did! AMA07_USA_JAPAN I was required to get a picture of each player. Not just any old picture but a great picture – full frame, pin sharp, athletic pose… 20 of them in 90 mins under very challenging and changing light.

Then get a GREAT set of action pictures, goals, celebrations, art, features – just a normal day at the office! Oh and NO CROPPING.

Just like the old days shooting E6 or on negative film that was so poor you could not blow anything up.

Everything had to be full frame – and dare I say, everything was full frame :)

AMA78_USA_JAPAN Every now and then, something happens that I just know it will open me up to ridicule.

Be it proclaiming places like Beirut are amazing and that everyone should visit I always fear that those with mass assumption back home just won’t understand  – I should keep quiet, but I never do!

The last football match I did was Manchester City v FC Barcelona. That involved a certain Lionel Messi. Say to people who you think he is brilliant and no one argues. Everyone says he is brilliant, and he is.

Watch him close and you do nothing but drool at his skill.

But I now have a new favourite footballer – Hanae Shibata.

She is 5 feet 1. She was Asia’s Women’s footballer of the year. I know why she is brilliant, but will others believe me? The ball was glued to her feet. She was immense. She also won the Silver Ball  at the 2012 FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup. AMA17_USA_JAPAN As the sun set, the winds got stronger and I was getting angry again with uncomfortable cold, knowing that I had left my North Face coat in the car at Luton Airport.

Six sets of floodlights giving six sets of colour balance readings. Testing times – though as always it looked marvellous on TV!

Japan lost. I then tried to find my villa in total darkness.

Spain was gorgeous in the daylight as was the area that I was staying.

A lot has to be said for selling up and living here. DSC02391 Having a superb kitchen in my villa, it was rude not to cook anything myself, despite being plenty of restaurants in the area.

Glorious prices in a glorious supermarket in glorious sunshine!

Made even more glorious when discovering a litre of diesel was 87p!

And that was in the posh part with glorious Mercedes Benz and Jaguars belonging to German and British owners being filled up by those living in the area.

The estate agents magnetically occupying the early part of the day – no golf for me as I can’t drive to save my life – I then returned to the Soccer Training Centre as golf buggies passed on the way to the three courses up the road at the La Manga Club. DSC02398 The USWNT faced Norway in the next days set of fixtures.

The European winter light still in my head as I did not quite believe the light readings in my camera. AMA01_USA_NORWAY The US over came their opponents with the coaches doing everything for US Human Resources department in order not to get fired by not only praising the strikers for their efforts at the end of each attack, but all those involved in the build up. “You too Rosemary and Samantha – Go Reds…”

It was excruciating to listen to!! The friendly Norwegians were more of my cup of tea. Laughing, joking and looking alarmingly puzzled at the USWNT’s coaching antics.

The Norwegians, however lost! Perhaps being kind does pay off!

I guess readers of this blog assume that I am in Spain, with blissful sun and having half the Norwegian Women’s team to chat to.. that I am having an easy day.. NO!

That was just the warm up. As soon as the final whistle blew, I dashed to the other pitches to do another Japanese fixture.

After a near 60 minute pre-game workout and over 2,500 frames fired off of the Nadeshiko in their training tops – from goalkeeper to forward to the whole of the playing staff, it was game time! I rarely shoot 2,000 frames in a proper blood thirsty epic encounter.

I also knew I had a big quick concise edit ahead of me.

Again EVERY picture having to be 100% pin sharp shot full frame (that means NO CROPPING) with a CLEAN background. And all players looking enthused and athletic and CLEARLY seeing their face.

Oh and when possible trying not to obscure sponsors Kirin, Adidas or the JFA logo. AMA20_JAPAN-U23-v-SWEDEN-U23 Yesterday was yesterday.

I had to start a fresh and do it all again.

Same brief, different day – different kit!

But much harder…. this was like having my hands tied behind my back. The other game was EASY!

Just like before, as the sun was setting and the colour balance was changing every 10 minutes. Shooting Japan’s home blue kit was child’s play.

This time however, Japan wore their fluorescent away uniform. Horrible to capture at the best of times! With the pitch in half sun / half shade in the first 10 minutes. I tried to get as much material as I could – knowing the light would get worse as the game progressed. AMA30_JAPAN-U23-v-SWEDEN-U23 Then the floodlights kicked in. Even with the naked eye I could see blue, magenta, yellow and white lights! AMA12_USA_JAPAN Yellows became browns and greens became yellows.  I was being tested to the full. Shooting manual, no auto anything. Total pilot control. For the photographers reading this.. did I shoot RAW?

No. I hate RAW. I’m old school. Get it right in the camera. Equally I had to transmit the images immediately after the game.

Sending over 100 files in RAW would have taken a day. I had deadlines to meet. AMA36_JAPAN-U23-v-SWEDEN-U23 The Swedes (wearing black!) went 2-0 up – the nasty wind assisting them. In the second half the Japanese fought back – Japan getting the wind in the second half. Supersub Akari Shiraki getting one back then Shibata scoring the most sublime goal ever, neither play or goal wind assisted however!

This game was being beamed back to Japan on national terrestrial Fuji TV at something like 4am. My Facebook account was lit up by my Japanese friends all wide awake watching the fixture.

Sitting next to the TV cameras, I saw 6 amazing replays of Shibata’s goal. In what was literally the last kick of the match, Sweden scored the winner.. Sweden 3-2 Japan.

I was gutted for the Japanese. The score was not a true reflection of the game. But so far it was played 2, lost 2. DSC02381 One more day of matches to go then I drive back north for an hour to the airport then drive from Luton Airport to Accrington Stanley.