Day 19 : Paraguay v Japan

I awoke well before the alarm once again. I felt alive. Perhaps I sleep too much at home.

The others were up too, all anxious to get to the stadium to get on the waiting list and hope we got tickets for the Paraguay v Japan fixture

© Matthew Ashton / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

I discussed tactics with Ito one of our Japanese photographers. We collaborate with 2 Japanese photographers and as a trio provide images to the JFA (Japanese Football Association) and other clients in the far east.

Being a veteran of being on the waiting lists at other world cups, we decided to play safe and opt for a tribune seat for myself.

I had not shot from the tribune this tournament and perhaps it would make a creative change to the endless Groundhog Day lifestyle that I was now accustomed too.

I put my name down as soon as we had completed the short 45 minute journey from our lodge.

We were assured that there was plenty of space and no one need worry.

With some Japanese photographers arriving at the stadium at 7am (for a 4pm kick off), many Japanese TV journalists in attendance, space was already limited in the media centre.

I took a seat with our Japanese photographers, but there were no LAN cables for my computer.

I tried the wifi, but with what seemed like hundreds of working professionals sitting in every seat available, sitting with laptops in the restaurant area and many more working from the media centre floor, the wifi simply packed up.

Most of the morning was spent playing with Kazu’s iPhone and him playing with mine. He was amazed at some of the things a British person has on their phone. I was equally impressed with his collection of apps.

We decided to take some holiday snaps with our iPhones. We both discussed that we had not made some fun pictures.

© Matthew Ashton / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Kazu had a burger and chips.

© Matthew Ashton / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Ito got me my now staple diet of stadium food.

Chicken and spinach and potato was todays offering.

The spinach being the outstanding yummy part of the dish.

Then out of the blue, I had no concept of time there was an announcement regarding photographers and waiting lists.

I joined what seemed like 20 other photographers. I decided to keep patient. There were only four spaces on the field. FIFA decided to give the passes to the global agencies who in my view unfairly had already 4-5 snappers on the pitch in the first place.

Then it was my ticketing round – the tribune. Tribune being a French word for what English people call the stand. At 99% of other football matches, photographers sit pitch side to apply their trade. At World Cups, photographers are let into the stands alongside TV cameras to capture the goings on, usually on the front row of the journalists seating section.

An announcement was made if any Japanese or Paraguay photographers were in attendance. The group of snappers kept quiet. I piped up that I was working for Japanese clients but was told in no certain terms that I was deemed to be from Great Britain as it said so on my pass. One English photographer who had obtained a tournament pass under a German agency took one ticket. A couple of Africans got two more. My instinct told me that there were too many photographers for the amount of available seats.

With the pack of photographers now starting to shout to the French media man trying to control things, some South Africans joined in. One person I know is a portrait photographer in South Africa. Fair play to them for getting a World Cup tournament pass, but I knew my needs to get a ticket were greater than theirs. In my best French I got the attention of the FIFA gentleman. He stated he did not know me and if I was working for the JFA then I should have got a pass from them.

I went in search of Kato.

Mr Kato was a media man once upon a time, who worked for the J-League. Being a blue-eyed Englishman at J-League matches, I stuck out like a sore thumb. Although some Japanese photographers complained about Kato in the past, Kato is a legend in my eyes, allowing me to do anything I wanted to achieve great pictures and ALWAYS coming up to me before and after games in Japan checking that I was OK.

Like a Biblical scene, it seemed Kato had appeared to drop out of the sky. There were about 4,000 people in the media centre. I walked straight towards him. I did a mini bow, a polite greeting in Japan and in my terrible Japanese said hello, asked how he was and excused myself for troubling him. He smiled. I had his attention. I very briefly explained the situation. I was an Englishman wanting to shoot a game involving a team from Asia and a team from South America. In the pecking order I had no chance of gaining a ticket.

Kato relieved my fears when he explained that he had gone through the list and had recommended that on this occasion I was number one choice for a pass from the lengthy waiting list. I thanked him in my best possible Japanese.

I walked back to the pack of photographers. It was dog eats dog. Another English photographer who towered above the others was given another tribune pass. I feared that there would be no more. The FIFA officer held the paper work containing all the names of the snappers on the waiting list. I had a ONE next to my name. Everyone had a TWO. I steamed in. With 15 English voices, in French I got the FIFA mans attention once more and said I had just spoke to Kato and he had said I should get a ticket. I pointed to my name on the list and he saw Kato’s writing indicating that I was first choice.

Moments later a hand appeared through the pack of photographers from another man and I ticket was placed in my hand.

Some of my housemates were in the pack and I wanted them to get in too. If it had Holland v Slovakia the day before then I would have offered to go a half each, but on this occasion, I needed to shoot Japan!

© Matthew Ashton / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

I went back to my desk and saw Ito. He was pleased I had got a pass and went to the pitch himself. I packed up my belongings and left too. There had been no more tickets handed out after mine. Apparently I was the last one.

I dared to think of what it would be like being on the waiting list at the Final and being refused. So far we had covered a game every day.

I had personally driven over 6,000KM.

However it gave me no right to get into this contest.

My ticket was issued because I had sussed out that the FIFA official was French and got his attention in his mother tongue.

If the man had been from another nationality then I would have been going home in one of our cars too.

© Matthew Ashton / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

The game was a let down. Both teams had chances but it was not a classic. Luckily I had 120 minutes instead of the regulation 90 to get some material.

Penalties awaited.

Yuichi Komano hitting the bar gave a passage to the next round to Paraguay. Sorry Japanese tried to keep face as inside they cried. Paraguay scored the winning penalty in the shoot out leaving the dejection images of the Japanese quite possibly the final chapter of our book project.

© Matthew Ashton / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

I had about 9 killer images. The rest were token gestures. We decided to leave early and get some food and watch Spain v Portugal, a game taking place in Cape Town.

© Matthew Ashton / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Ito told us his travel plans as myself and Chris planned a road trip to cover the Quarter Finals in 2 days time. Up until the final whistle we had no definite destiny planned.

We dropped off our cameras, lenses and laptops and headed for a pub type restaurant up the road. It was jam-packed. 200 white people watching the game on giant screens with the voice of John Helm as loud as any music in a deafening night club.

Steak and chips followed as we met up with the photographers who had not made it into the game. After initial “sorry’s” to Ito and Kaz, they slated the game saying it was terrible. We knew. We had been there. I had not realised but our Big Brother house would face an eviction tomorrow. Steve was heading back to Brighton. The drinks flowed and we left at 1230 to take the Japanese back to the lodge to finish off their work. The others stayed out until 0630am. This was a small window of opportunity to party. The days ahead would get tougher and the games more important.

I finished off editing at 2am.

Valeria and Cath were due back at 5am from a night flight back from Cape Town. The rest of the drinkers rolled in at six thirty. The final straggler at seven-thirty!

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