Today was going to be the best day of my world cup so far. I knew it.
After visiting all the stadiums last December, the one that caught my imagination was the one in Nelspruit.
Diving out of Johannesburg on the N4, I waited in anticipation at seeing the giraffes appearing out of the tree tops in the area of South Africa famous for its live animals.
Living in an era where nearly all the stadiums in my country of England have been ‘changed’, most are lacking in architectural inspiration. In fact most are dull and boring. I only get inspired by the likes of the Westfallen Stadion in Dortmund, some stadiums in Holland and some in Japan.
However going to Nelspruit is exciting in itself. The landscapes are stunning. Most of the time going to work is like going to work like most people – the same or familiar venue each time. Today was different.
As we approached Nelspruit the familiar yellow signs directing VIPs, Media and others told us to carry on the super highway as cars raced past each other with Chile fans leaning out of their vehicles in high spirits waving flags and singing songs in Spanish.
However everyone’s instincts including mine were different – we needed to turn right!
I could see the stadium. These amazing orange structures holding up the stadium roof were at last visable.
In true Blues Brothers film car chase mode, everyone did U-turns on the 4 lane road and headed the right way.
After more security checks I headed to the stadium. I wanted to see the pitch. When I was here 6 months earlier the pitch had been dug up a day before – for me this was good as every image I see of the stadium printed is usually mine! But football needs a good pitch and boy was the pitch at Nelspruit good.
Perfect stripes and thick white lines were encompassed by black and white seats. Not any normal black and white seats mind you – but black and white seats resembling the pattern of a zebra.
I like this stadium. Its near the national park where the animals from the jungle live.
If Stoke City had a stadium resembling clay ovens, Shrewsbury Town and Chester City resembling Tudor houses then perhaps fans would feel more loving towards their new homes. The stadium in Nelspruit is just great.
I had shot the hell out of Honduras only a few months before for preview material. My last encounter with them in Turkey when I broke ‘another’ computer in transit.
Before the game I did some great portraits of the colourful fans – pity my match action is not up to standard yet, but as any bad photographer workman who blames his tools says – you can only shoot what is in front of you.
I found a new feature too – womens toilets at world cup venues. The ladies lavs having great symbols of women kicking a ball. If I get arrested for loitering near the Ladies I have ample proof that I am doing a feature!
In true Central American style, both teams faced their respective flags making it even more difficult to shoot head shots of the participating team members. On the pitch during the National Anthems are small children – Mascots as FIFA call them. It’s all very well, but they block the smaller players.
In France 98 the photographers got FIFA to make them kneel down, nowadays no one seems to listen. I’m sure people back home don’t want to see the heads of small children as their heroes bellow out their national anthems… or do they?
I sat next to a TV reporter from Chile. All the Chile girl fans were screaming at him. I had no idea who he was but after exchanging a few glances in the first half we got chatting and he told me they had Zamorano commentating for them in the tribune and Marcelo Salas in the studio. Back in the day when I was a know it all on South American football, Zamorano and Salas were the star players of Chile.
Looking at the team list I hardly knew anyone!
The goal was the wrong end to me.
I got a few OK shots but nothing special.
But I didn’t care.
I spent most of the time photographing this epic stadium.
I am sure than some photographers will read this and severely question me!! But I like it so there!
Another day spent with the iPod on repeat. It’s quite a thing to watch footballers run around with Transglobal Underground blaring into your ear drums to drown out the now hated Vuvuzelas. The amount of times the players run to a beat or kick the ball at a strong moment in a tune is amazing!
A slight crisis at a petrol station with my LloydsTSB Credit Card not working in a small chip n pin machine resulted in lots of cash being branded about. Well not that much. It’s still less than 75p a litre here, despite the heavy World Cup tax.
We got back to Randburg mid way through the second half of the South Africa game.
I will never complain about Alan Green or any of my TalkSport mates again. The commentator of RS2000 did not have a clue.
His commentary went something like this…
<< Umm and the midfielder kicks the ball up field, who turns, looks and passes it back. The midfielder then passes to the winger – very nice, yes, yes, yes – here they go again – Pienaar, who plays for the Toffee Men in England on the ball – a Uruguay player tries to get it but – oh yes, yes, yes, very nice >>
Needless to say it was soon turned off.
Our normal eating establishment was shut and we went to a not so nice Chinese.
After dropping every one-off at their respective homes, I got my head down at 0030, hoping others returning from Pretoria would not wake me. We decided on a 7am departure tomorrow!