32 Days to Go : Last Day of the Season

Today I woke up wide awake wanting to take on the world at 0630h. I should be sleeping. I have a tough 48 hours in front of me. After the final day of the Premier League I have to photograph a football club’s Player of the Year awards ceremony which will no doubt finish at 2am, and then head off to Germany for the UEFA Cup Final.

But it is all good practice as in four weeks today we will in the sky flying to Johannesburg – the FIFA World Cup is certainly not something that grants sleep.

Today however, is the last day of the season. And to be honest I’m glad.

Some may be surprised to learn that I have only ever once photographed the winners of the Premier League receiving their trophy. Therefore I am not that bothered that today I am not at Stamford Bridge anticipating Chelsea winning the Barclays Premier League. It is something that I do not yearn for and something that I will not miss.

© MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Most of my professional career has been either covering tournaments or documenting the beautiful game. Covering League titles do not really rock my boat. I kind of feel that I do not have the right to be at a trophy ceremony when during the season I have been elsewhere in the world. Attending European or other National cup competitions or tournaments in a remote corner of the world is more of a magnetic to my desire to work.

Shooting tournament trophy presentations after covering the Pan-Pacific Championships in Hawaii is more my cup of tea!

Whilst some photographers quite rightly want to document the celebrations of a team winning the league after a long hard season, I am normally the one looking forward to the following season or documenting the goings on at the other end of the table.

Relegations seem to mean more to me. Its the ultimate knockout. The contrast between dejection and being over joyed is great to photograph. Zombie like fans turn into amazing subjects with elation, anger and usually lots of tears. Players trying to control emotions knowing hitting the post in a random Tuesday night away game was a contribution to the demise of their football club.

Yesterday I was at Burton Albion to cover Grimsby Town getting relegated out of the Football League. I started the season at Burton to document them making their historical appearance in the Football League having been promoted from the Conference the previous season, so it was fitting that I ended it there!

And without wanting to introduce more tedious links my first memory of thinking that I do not want to do this job any more was at Grimsby Town in the early 90’s. Grimsby’s stadium is on the East coast and when the wind blows, the wind blows. The rain was lashing it down. I could not shelter and could not hide from the elements. The floodlights are and were terrible and I did not want to be there.

The big question of  ‘What am I doing here?‘ is quite frequently run through a photographers brain, but this was my first. Over time, you learn that it is something you have to endure. Karma will one day return the favour resulting in days in great locations that you will never want to end.

There are lots of difficult things required to be a football photographer but one of the most difficult is shooting with a numb brain and having no emotion – be it your favourite team winning a cup or your favorite team getting relegated.

You simply have to shoot as if you don’t care and just be professional. You just stand back and document the goings on. I find when I care, my pictures are more weak. I kind of care about Grimsby Town and my pictures yesterday were nothing special.

The Juventus photographer who I am friends with supports them, Grimsby are one of the clubs who nearly went bankrupt when the ITV Digital TV channel closed down resulting in Football League clubs losing out on big promised payments. Given the choice I would choose other clubs that I believe deserve to be in non-league football, but over the season Grimsby Town were not good enough.

Like any fan, I mock and make fun of teams who slide down the league, but dropping out of the league is a different matter. You get the feeling that you really are recording history as quite simply some clubs never come back.

Some fans vent their anger on the photographer, one of my colleagues yesterday at Burton Albion was covered in spit from Grimsby Town fans. Other fans are so entranced on what has happened to their team that they are oblivious to the photographer snapping them mourning the demise of their team.

In tournaments however these type of games happen every day after only two games of the group stages. After two rounds of group games in a World Cup the final round, a country can go home. Then there are the knockout games – my favourite part of the tournament. Victory rewards progression, defeat results in a exit back home.

Not so frequent in World Cups but when I have been covering Asian Cups or other continental tournaments, it is quite possible to have most of the games result in penalty shoot outs. Again this is another discipline the football photographer has to have in his armoury.

© MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Come the semi-finals you have had an intense week of instinctively knowing to focus on the goalkeeper or kicker and are ready for anything come the final. (More about finals another time!)

The Last Day of the Season it may be, but today for the picture agency is the start of the new one.

Questioning my decision on going to Burton Albion yesterday, I’m regretting not documenting Saltergate the home of Chesterfield and Christie Park the hole of Morecambe. Both these stadiums saw their last ever football match yesterday.

Perhaps before I fly off to South Africa I may do some documentary photography in properly recording these grounds as from next season Chesterfield and Morecambe will play in new stadiums. In years to come, apart from personal memories, it is the role of the photographer to remind those what football was like in the past.

Just like my first Barclays Premier League game this season was at Wolverhampton Wanderers, today my last game is also at Molineux. they face Sunderland, but today I just care about Wolves in their new kit.

Today is all about capturing images of players that I have been following all season all over again, but this time in their new kit. That’s the fun of this job. It never gives you any rest. All the work I have done over the past 9 months is now redundant. I have to start over.

© MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Today is the day that I have to produce enough material to keep clients happy during the off-season. As the coaching staff argue the importance of the three points to the players, the new fashions and new branding are the key to the marketing and commercial men who run football. Club websites and printed matter require the new look.

Today is almost one of many pre-tournament practice matches for me.

I have not shot much stock photography recently and at the World Cup I want to return with at least one image of every player that has played in the FIFA 2010 World Cup. After all that is what photography is all about, recording something for prosperity – Grimsby Town’s last match in the Football League or an unknown left back for a team who in later life may become a sought after coach or a defunct football stadium.

Trophies are important for the picture library, just as they are important for any football club’s trophy cabinet – but so is team work. Today I’m happy being a left winger applying my trade whilst others have the glory in scoring the goals and having the glory.

What’s more scary is come the UEFA Cup there will be less than 30 days to go until the opening game. Lots to sort out. Lots of bills to pay and lots to explain in later blogs!

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