Day 18 : Holland v Slovakia

I woke up in the middle of nowhere. Dave had quite rightly had enough of driving. It was about 3am. Our “make it up as we go along” attitude which had resulted in a steak meal, had resorted to TomTom predicting an arrival time of 6.25am which was still too early but still better than getting there at midday and having to abide by the directions of the Durban traffic authorities

Dave went into the back of the VW and too over the reins of driving. Despite being pitch black, we could see heavy clouds in the sky. Luckily the further we got south the clouds cleared which was a relief – when it rain in the winter in Durban, it rains hard, like a monsoon.

With 50KM to our destination we stopped for some drinks and decided to park up for a few hours.

With the driver’s seat pushed back I shut my eyes. Like always I went to sleep very quickly!

At 0830h all four of us in the car were awake and without any hesitation Dave took over in the driver’s seat once again and completed the final leg.

Was I tired or was I seeing things? George and myself were chatting about all sorts. I completely changed the subject of conversation and asked if he too had seen an aeroplane parked up on the motorway hard shoulder. He had! I was not going mad!

At 0930h it was 27c. Durban prides itself on sunshine and it was nice to feel that we had left the wintery climate of Johannesburg behind.

© Matthew Ashton / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Our plan had worked, the Police had not yet arrived at their checkpoints and we drove into the stadium car park adjacent to the Rugby Union stadium of Kings Park.

Once again we marvelled at this sporting theatre and although I have worked in their before, in some respects I wished that this fixture of Holland v Slovakia was taking place there instead of the Moses Mabhida Stadium.

The others went inside. I opted for a few more hours sleep on the back seat. My return leg behind the wheel was an important one through twisty roads. The back seat seemed like a King sized bed compared to the front seat.
I snuggled up and quickly nodded off!

I woke up at 1130h. I was so pleased that I had opened all the windows slightly to let in fresh air as it was really warm outside. I gathered my belongings and got a photo ticket from the media centre.

There were not the numbers of photographers at this game, unlike the stadiums in and around Johannesburg.

I got my camera and headed out in a bid to finally secure some feature pictures of fans arriving at the stadium. Joe and Dave had left the stadium and had headed for the beach.

Later they would return with the same opinion as me in that there was literally nothing to shoot. Once again, if I had of hired a photographer to undertake such an assignment, I would have certainly had stern words and quite possibly sacked off the shooter for the lack of images, but it was reassuring when speaking to Joe who had experienced a tough time also.

© Matthew Ashton / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

I returned to the media centre and gathered my belongings from the stadium lockers. I quickly checked my emails.

I still have about 15 emails to reply to – I just have not had the time to reply – it sounds crazy but I do not know where the time goes covering this world cup.

I then had a heart dropping moment – my application for tomorrows epic fixture, Paraguay v Japan had been refused and I was put on the waiting list.

This meant no lie in tomorrow and another enforced early start to get to the stadium in Pretoria.

The stadium in Pretoria is about the same distance from my house to Aston Villa back home. For any fixture at Villa Park, even battling with the terrible traffic on the M6, I usually arrive no sooner than 90 minutes before kick off.

In this world cup we seem to be arriving at games earlier each day, yet still there is simply not enough time to do things.

If I could turn the clock back, I would have got some picture editors in to edit our library pictures. During the World Cup in Germany, we travelled by train and in a comfy German train with electricity provided, it was easy to get through a couple of hours of editing and then get a couple of hours sleep en route to such places like Berlin and Munich. In this World Cup, we are responsible for transportation and everything is in our hands.

Time defeats us every time. However, like every other issue and happening that questions your ability to work, everyone else seems to be in the same boat. It’s not idea for clients or your own self-imposed deadlines but sharing and discussing issues with everyone massages your soul and you do not feel too bad.

The other heart stopping moment was when I discovered that my prized 14-24mm lens was a near write off. Yesterday at the Germany v England game, I had placed this lens down safely by my feet in anticipation of a stadium view in the second half where I was guaranteed to get an amazing sky set against the floodlights to create a postcard picture of the fixture. During the second half, Germany were pressing for a goal. Instinct told me to put down my 400mm lens and use my second body with a 70-200mm lens on it

It was an accident. I did not vent my spleen at the guy sitting next to me, but as all the lenses behind the goal moved in unison following the action, he knocked his lens which in true domino style knocked my lens over. It hit the wide-angle lens on the floor in a Laurel and Hardy moment. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but for the past two weeks I had got by using the wide-angle lens for postcard views and crammed together with other photographers behind the goal, there was no option to keep it in my bag situated behind my seat, and in front of me, on the floor seemed a suitable place to keep it.

At the time I thought nothing of it and accepted the photographers sincere apologies sitting next to me as Germany banged in two more goals against a sorry England team.

I took the lens and my 400mm lens to be checked at the camera service centre point for photographers inside the stadium. The opinion of two technicians, one from Germany and one from Japan was that the lens was unrepairable. I would have to fork out a fair few hundred pounds, possibly near a thousand and that I should consider buying a replacement. If that was bad enough, the force of gravity had completely immobilized any manual focus feature on my big lens which costs in the region of £5,000.00

I felt sick. It seemed some of my World Cup profits, all the hours of work I had put in over this hard tournament would have to be put into new camera purchase budgets.

I got my head together, put all the money worries behind me and went pitch side.

© Matthew Ashton / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Woo hoo!! Lots of space for this one. I had plenty of space to put my equipment and cameras. I felt like I was back at Bolton Wanderers for a Premier League fixture.

No shoulder rubbing, no banging of lenses, no arguments about lens hoods blocking other photographers views. I was able to work in a familiar more relaxing way.

As in our journey down here where team work played a vital role in a smooth journey with different drivers taking over, the Dutch team showed excellent team work.

Working for each other, they moved with style and it was no surprise that they were 1-0 up at half time.

The second half saw their stars get close to the penalty box many times. This was great for action pictures and when Holland scored their second, I got a great picture of Dirk Kuyt picking up the scorer, Wesley Sneijder.

After a more than a fair few matches of mind numbing boring action pictures, my instinctive brain leapt into action and I had the image sent around the world in less than one minute using my computer attached to a FIFA provided LAN cable connected to the internet.

© Matthew Ashton / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

I logged on to one of our clients, the Japan football site and saw it proudly appearing on their front page. I had beaten AFP and Reuters which made me feel humble. Suddenly this World Cup seemed a great place to be once again.

© Matthew Ashton / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Although Slovakia got a goal back, there was only going to be one winner. The Netherlands applauded their amazing Orange fans – fans dressed in nothing but orange clothing.

Editing this game was easy. The great pictures really stood out and it was easy to select, crop and caption.

In what seemed a very short space of time, I had edited a total of 79 images.

We all then realised that we had a minor issue to over come for tomorrows game. None of us had a car park pass. We had all been placed on the waiting list or had been refused parking passes.

This was the first time in the tournament and we were unsure on what to do.

Like clockwork, we all worked as a team, and although working for rival companies, joined together to put a case to a FIFA official who in fairness listened and completely acknowledged our concerns of not being able to park at the Pretoria stadium. We got what we wanted and left feeling happy with ourselves that we had secured a car parking pass between us.

Dave decided to drive the first leg. Myself and Joe enthused about a motorway service station that we had visited on the Durban to Johannesburg road days earlier. The others were getting hungry and impatient as 200KM clocked to 300KM as we headed north. Then, out of the darkness it appeared. Being honest I assumed that it was situated further south, but it was nice to hear Dave and George say how nice the food was once we had collected our order.

I went shopping for more orange juice, I hope my healthy eating continues when I return home! I then out of the corner of my eye saw the local newspaper. The front page was awash of a story about a pilot who encountered propeller problems and had opted to do an emergency landing on the main motorway with hundreds of cars on it. He made a safe landing and it all made sense as to why I had seen an aeroplane parked up earlier.

I took over the final leg and overtaking what seemed to be a remake of the Convoy movie, we rolled back into the lodge at just past 2am.

I put the local newspaper for the others to read and discovered that another house mate had purchased another local newspaper. No story had beaten the epic tale of a South African wife and daughter killing the head of the household after a huge conflict had erupted. The wife and daughter of the man wanted to watch a religious programme on TV. The poor man had already watched one football match from the World Cup and wanted to watch another.

According to the newspaper, they murdered him!

This other newspaper had some great stories in. Apart from the Police shooting dead four men on the front page, one particular story inside caught my attention. There had been something like 164 arrests relating to the World Cup. The Police had caught three men who had mugged the Japanese man in the opening week. This was proper justice – unlike what we see back home in the UK. The three men were sentenced to three years in prison. Other criminals had been fined large amounts of money for theft and robbery cases. More had been sentenced to prison for long periods of time. Some were hotel workers stealing from World Cup tourists. Some were opportunists stealing cars of foreigners caught off guard.

No wishy-washy liberal attitudes were evident in South Africa. All were put away promptly or fined large sums of money which would take a few years to pay back by anyones living standards.

Knowing we had an early start the next day, my camera batteries were put on charge and I headed off to my room for another nights dreamless but solid sleep.

I was fuming about my broken equipment. Only a few days before I had thought on how well serviced, clean and good my current selection of cameras and lenses were working. However these things come to test you. Back at home I would have probably gone into a bad mood for a week, let depression kick in and walk around with black clouds above my head. However like covering all tournaments, there is hardly anytime to think and I just put it behind me and moved on.

It was now June 29th. I had missed my fathers birthday. I had not responded to some important emails. I had not written a nice note to a friend moving to Sydney in a few days time. One of our Wolverhamton Wanderers photographers had covered a new signing, I had not even looked to see who it was.

June 29th was the last day of the Round 16 games. As always, no faffing. No channel hopping on the addictive satellite TV receiver in our lodge. No midnight snacks. Just straight to bed!

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