Today’s game was a 4 o’clock kick off, Match 10, in Bloemfontein.
I first went to Bloemfontein in 1996 during the England cricket tour. During the cricket tour we were unaware of the crime in Bloemfontein and thought it was a great place.
My return last year saw us encounter fans of the British Lions Rugby Team who have us countless accounts of muggings and beatings on unsuspecting Brits. We are not talking vulnerable tourists but 6 foot 6 18 stone Rugby fans in their 30’s who were hit over the head with metal bars as they were robbed of their mobile phones.
Stories like this affect how comfortable you feel about your surroundings. During the FIFA Confederations Cup we tried not to pollute our minds with the stories printed in the local newspapers.
The near four-hour drive through again wonderful landscapes was filled with chats to our resident Austrian about all sorts including the Austrian tax system, why sports photographers hate the Olympics and the merits of the Premier League. The other Brit was snoring on the back seat – though not surprising being as though he had only returned from Durban back to our lodge, 2 hours before our departure.
Upon our arrival I was greeted by Kazuaki who comes to stay with us for the remainder of the tournament. Kaz has been following the Japan National Team at their base in George in the South of the country. Stories of rain and winds were unimaginable as deep blue crisp skies were above us in the Free State Stadium.
The hullabaloo of getting car park passes and match tickets took up some of the early afternoon as the fans from both countries again wrapped up warm for the fixture. Yet again I guess many watching at home on TV find this unimaginable as sun mostly means warm temperatures.
None of us had eaten. A very pleasant lamb dish with spinach was purchased for £8 from the media center. It was so nice if we had not to pay our passage through the tolls on the way home we were close to getting seconds.
Thousands of Japanese turned out in force to support their Blue Army. I went out in vain with the Wolves shirt to find a Japanese fan. Each day for the Wolverhampton Wanderers website I have to provide a fan or group of fans holding or wearing the new Wolves shirt.
I first started this with Shrewsbury Town over 10 years ago when I went to various tournaments around the world, however the new Shrews kit is not ready so I take the Wolves kit.
The victim in question spoke good English. My Japanese was not needed. She did not of Wolves but knew of its whereabouts when I said it was close to Birmingham – and she also knew of Aston Villa.
After he questions of if I had been to Japan … Had I been to Japan!! YES 16 times! My favorite place on planet Earth! – we discussed Judy and Mary (a pop band from Japan) and she told me where she lived in Tokyo – I knew precisely where. If it had have been a Londoner I probably would have not known.
The girl was eager to get into the ground, just as I was to shoot the game and as always snapped away at the amazing fans we are seeing here.
The Japanese started well, just like they did against England a couple of weeks ago. However for us sitting on the side, the Nippon XI seemed to be only interested in playing up the right wing, thus after 20 minutes we had no pictures at all.
Comments from some photographers saying that this was a terrible game compared to the previous night’s game involving Germany were counteracted with joyous praise in that we hoped we would never again shoot a game like Algeria v Slovenia in this World Cup.
Towards the end of the first half, Honda, a yellow haired Japanese forward playing in Moscow scored what was to be the winner.
The second half saw some emotion!
Most of the game I shoot numb. Even though I sometimes want certain teams to win – especially Shrewsbury Town! – I do not celebrate and jump up and down like I used to before I started this job. However for the first time in years, the Japanese hit the post at the other end which resulted in me going “oooooooooooooooh” – I know that sounds crap but how else do you get it across in a blog!
A few moments later the restless crowd were subject to an amazing 30 yard shot from a Cameroon player which not only shook the cross bar but almost the stadium too it seemed. I can not remember such a vicious shot in a long time.
The Japanese were again attacking down the right wing, but this time towards us. As the sun set, our cameras rattled off more frames as Japan sent looking for a second.
A good game is one where the final whistle is blown when you feel only 65 minutes are on the clock. I wanted more, but the ref deemed otherwise.
After the customary end of match 2 hour edit we got back into the car picking up the other Japanese photographer in our party Ito. Ito had flown down from Johannesburg and was to accompany the now awake Brit on the back seat.
Driving in pitch black conditions, we came across another bad crash. Littered everywhere were coke bottles, Police and an Ambulance. We slowly passed a crushed white cab of a lorry, we all assumed that the driver must have been killed.
On our way down the traffic was light. It seemed more traffic, especially lorries travel on the roads at night. This lead to long periods of patient waiting for open roads to overtake. Although we wanted to get home quickly, the philosophy of getting there 10 minutes late but alive was the main goal.
Ito then got a call on his phone.
After the understandable “MUSHI MUSHI” – a Japanese telephone greeting, he went into what seemed 100MPH Japanese.
At the end of the call he told us another shocking realisation that we always had to be on our guard.
Only yards from his hotel the freelance photographer who I know who shoots for the J-League team Gamba Osaka, was held and robbed of his cameras, passport, phone and camera equipment in Bloemfontein. I knew this place was not safe!
Calls from our car were thick and fast with the JFA on the phone to Ito and calls to other photographers to warn them and remind them that they have to travel in packs. Stories last week about armed gunmen entering into the lodge containing some journalists from Portugal did not really register. I tried to dismiss them.
But when it was a photographer – one of us – it gets more closer to home.
After a great day, it was a stern reminder of the type of place we are in.
The clock struck 1.30AM as we reached our now familiar new home in Randburg. After dropping off Mexicans and Austrians, we were careful not to wake the others who had covered the other games today. Although my day was about Japan v Cameroon, I still had no idea and to be honest, no care about the Netherlands v Denmark game in Soccer City. I’m in my own little world here. I do not have time to watch or indeed catch up on other games.
As some drank wine, in the knowledge that they had a lie in, through my driving I am now lagging behind in my editing. I am here to syndicate my images out. I am a little tired of driving when others are on the back seat editing. It seems unfair, but life is unfair and I prefer to drive than edit!
Being responsible for the Japanese, I needed another early night. I need to be up and around when Kaz comes to our lodge tomorrow morning. He is now flying back tomorrow morning as we can not fit his luggage in our car! Something we experienced over a week ago now. Already the concept of time and days seem foreign. The routine of getting up, driving, shooting, driving and going to bed is kicking in now. I just need time to do more editing and respond to emails and try and run my agency from my laptop!