18 Days to Go : Bayern v Inter

The day finished with 7 hungry photographers pointing to Jamon and Barbeque crisps and Oreo biscuits through the window of a BP Petrol Station to a sales assistant at 3.30am.

After a 5 hour sleep, I am sitting on an aeroplane in seat 7F in Madrid with our destination being London.

We are told that there is air traffic control problems over Bilbao and we have to sit on the runway for 90 minutes.

Under pressure the mac is fired up and I have to write another blog!

After meeting a lady in our hotel lift who was on her way to a bullfight the previous night, the front pages of the Spanish newspapers are of an amazing picture of Matador Julio Aparicio having the horn of a bull thrust up under his chin and into his mouth.

The phrase, “Wish we had of got that!” echoes around!

http://www.elmundo.es/elmundo/2010/05/22/toros/1274501082.html

Yesterday started with a big 16 Euro breakfast. Rounds of Spanish bacon turned into rounds of donuts and cake washed down with fresh orange juice. After collecting our cameras time was tight so we took a taxi to the stadium instead of the previous norm of the Madrid Metro.(€1 a trip, instead of the £12.60 we paid for two people to pop into Picadilly from Wembley Stadium last Sunday on the London Underground!)

We were greeted by the sight of 40 photographers already queueing up on the pavement adjacent to the photographers entrance at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeau, the home of Real Madrid. It was 10.40h and we had to wait until at least midday before they opened the doors. As the minutes clocked by the queue got bigger. But with first come, first served, the early birds got the best seats.

There were times when we wished that we had cut short the extravagant breakfast and arrived earlier, but upon arrival received our numbered tickets as a prelude for six hours later when we could pick our positions around the pitch.

With six hours to kill, some slept, some went sightseeing, some just chatted whilst myself and others were glued to the monitor showing the Championship Play Off Final at Wembley Stadium, Blackpool v Cardiff City.

Blackpool winning 3-2 and taking the place of northern rivals Burnley in next season’s Premier League.

One of our Austrian photographers who we collaborate with was briefed about the World Cup and it was a chance to catch up with a great friend, Eric, who is the official photographer of the Netherlands National Team.

The trouble with this job is that you don’t get enough chance to spend enough time with your best friends.

We swapped stories and discussed the stadiums in South Africa. He had only just returned and had some stunning images of the Durban stadium with people bungee jumping off the giant arc overhanging the new venue.

It looked stunning but we both felt for the poor jumper who was not allowed to go on to the pitch and instead was winched back up to the jumping position. I am glued to this YOU TUBE CLIP

Shrewsbury Town was discussed and we thought about doing some features on Town’s Dutch star for the Dutch media.

Eventually six o’clock came around.

Even though I am number 28 in the first priority group, all the spaces behind the goals have been taken up. I take up a position on the corner flag instead.

Its hot in the Bernabeau. I prefer the Spanish winter when its dark and cold and we have more control of the colour balance.

© MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

I spot German tennis legend Boris Becker sporting the new Bayern shirt, he seems undeterred that I have my lens in his face.

He probably knows that once I have my pictures I will leave him alone – he looks happy, then up, to the side then down and subtly nods and I gesture a hello/thank you with my hand.

The Bernabeau is fine for La Liga football for photographers but to say it is a bit tight around the perimeter for such a final is an understatement.

Photographers are sent up into the stands and around behind a specially built wheelchair platform before dropping back down on to the pitch. It’s a rabbit run.

I go to the tunnel and shoot the teams entering the field of play.

I shoot a few frames and then spot the suspended Ribery but on this occasion, I feel my time is wasted here as there is nothing left for me to shoot once the players are on the pitch.

Both Bayern Munich and Inter Milan fans have made a huge effort in displaying banners and making each end of the stadium their own.

© MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Upon returning to my seat, I see the Bayern team do a huddle which makes a nice image due to the Inter fans dropping a gigantic flag making a more than suitable backdrop.

The high advertising boards cause problems for us snappers as the normal Real Madrid issued seats are an annoying 6 inches short and lots have problems viewing the play.

UEFA issue cushions, problem solved.

The game is OK but finals are about winning and losing. I focus on the things that will be the key moments of the game.

© MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Diego Milito breaks the deadlock and runs towards me celebrating.

I then change lenses and shoot him and Eto’o by the corner flag with a 35mm lens showing the theatre of the stadium and not just a run of the mill shot with an out of focus background.

© MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

I input the Compact Flash card in to my computer, with in 20 seconds I have one celebration picture open using Photoshop which is quickly saved and captioned and with the knowledge that our servers are working well, can only assume the picture editors around the world are now viewing my celebration picture using our AMA syndication system I call CINDYKATE.

I then input the second card, but it is unreadable. I take some more pictures on it, again it won’t read. I format it – once then twice and it still does not read.

Finally a third format and it reads, so I use Image Rescue to hunt all the pictures that are apparently trashed on the 4GB card. Using a 800Firewire Lexar input reader, I get the second set of celebration images out just before half time.

The second half sees Bayern try to get a goal back. I breath out the odd sigh of relief as efforts go wide of the goal. Any more goals mean less of a chance that my celebration is not the celebration of what is currently the winning goal. Diego Milito then scores again. At least it’s the same player and I still have a chance.

As 4 minutes of added time are shown, I leg it around the Inter fans end and try to get Mourihno celebrating. I see 2 great pictures, but I am blocked by annoying stewards and TV cameramen. We eventually get positioned in front of the main tribune and shoot the trophy presentation.

Over eager guests sitting in privileged positions stand on their seats and point their Blackberrys and iPhones towards Platini and the trophy. An Italian colleague Alberto and myself make a UEFA official aware and he runs to the area and radios his men in the vicinity and get the annoying people blocking our view to move. Thank you Andrin!

© MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

The trophy is lifted and confetti is sprayed up into the air. Mourinho is seen waving through a mist of firework smoke and the next 20 minutes are a battle of trying to see what is happening through lines of stewards – also snapping away with camera phones – to the extreme of talking with captain Zanetti and Cambiasso and getting them to pose with their medals.

I missed the goal, just like the Bayern goalkeeper – Milito feinting to shoot before scoring and in doing so sold me a dummy.

I don’t shoot like some and simply fire away like using a machine gun, I shoot what I want to take pictures of using instinct.

I did OK I feel but faced another annoying 90 minutes in finding out that the software on my computer would not process the RAW images of a new camera I had been loaned due to one going down with a broken shutter last week in Hamburg.

Never Assume Anything – the phrase I was taught and the phrase I teach on a daily basis. I assumed everything would be OK , but it wasn’t. Now it is time to think sideways, and find solutions and fast!

Downloading German software then some other applications, nothing seemed to work. It seems my credit card will have to come out very soon to extend the trial version of Adobe Photoshop 5.

It’s fitting that I started my European coverage beginning with Bayern Munich playing in a pre-season tournament and them participating in the end of season finale.

No club soccer now for a couple of months as International football takes the stage.

With many “Goodbyes” in various languages, and “see you in South Africa” we all leave at about 2am after a brief first edit.

It’s too late for newspapers to receive any more material.

I have not eaten since breakfast, we head back to the hotel and try to find something suitable to eat  – no wonder our diets are disgusting and a few of us are piling on the pounds.

Oreos are washed down with Kas Limon and it’s the end of another epic day.

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