The big day is here.
Training yesterday was terrible. It’s not even worth posting a blog about it!
WORLD CUP FINAL 2010 – NETHERLANDS v SPAIN
There is no doubt I want the Netherlands to win. Nothing against Spain but I have followed the Orange Mob through the rounds and have some great Dutch friends.
We all wake up and want to be in the car waiting for the Germans – Alas, it does not happen! Even though they did the 3/4 Play off the previous day, they are still alive and kicking and raring to go. I leave the lodge at 0715am – TAKE NOTE – kick off is 2030pm!
After over a month of losing keys, not being organised, on the house table we leave three sets of car keys and three parking passes for Soccer City. I pick up the Silver VW and head off around the Western ByPass for one last time.
The wide open 4 and 5 lane motorway roads ensure a quick journey. With no rush hour, simple things please simple minds and I could be quite content to floor it around the Johannesburg ring road all day. We arrive too early for security so I park up next to a satellite dish compound which saves me about a 20 yard walk if I had of gone in the media car park.
Upon arrival, there is already a queue for the distribution of photographers tickets. As normal the Japanese lay out their monopods equidistant. Brazilians push in claiming they are with ‘friends’.
It is 0830h. We get hot chocolate and chocolate brownies. Food in the media centre is not the best. There is simply no other option other than to have taken along some cornflakes for breakfast! My first task is to clear my desktop on my computer.
It is not a necessity. I am like a coiled spring and ready to go. But I have near 12 hours to kill. I have to do something! I put all my weeks work on the hard drive and then back it up once more. I get interviewed by South African Radio. I keep it quiet as the others will mock me and will no doubt want to listen. Its all journalist mumbo jumbo nonsense so I try to paint a clearer picture in telling it how it is. When asked “….being away from home for 6 weeks, what do you miss most…” I answered . .. I miss the The Late Show with Ian Collins! Every evening match, Ian is with me in my car providing humour and thoughtful debate. Even when travelling around Europe, especially when the legendary Piers Hernu was with him, Collins keeps me sane! That reminds me, I must watch “Banged Up Abroad” once again, the story of Piers Hernu being locked up for drugs smuggling.
A couple of episodes of Family Guy keeps the clock ticking.
It is then time to collect our tickets. Lives are changed upon such decisions. Destiny’s are formed from the hand of fate. Which end will a photographer sit? Which way will the teams play? From which side of the penalty box will the winning goal be scored from?
All that matters in this game is recording the winning goal. Every kick of the ball can result in a deflection and history being made. This is not park football, this is not Premier League, it is not even European football, it is the World Cup Final. However, being honest, my mind goes into “I don’t care mode.” If I think I start to worry. I see the characters of other photographers changing. Fellow photographers will probably make fun of me saying this but today I do not care it is the World Cup Final. It is just another game of football – but a nice gold trophy presented at the end, and I have done plenty of trophy presentations in my time. However, as I said on another blog, if a close friend asked me to shoot them in an amateur game or something I would be cacking myself at the thought of HAVING to provide top quality images to someone who I know.
I let Cath get my ticket. The lady giving them out is a magnet of confrontation for me. I just want to sit in the same place I have done all the other World Cup Finals and thats it.
I am given position 22. A place very near where I photographed Ronaldo scoring against Germany in Tokyo in 2002. Stock pictures do not matter for this game. It is near where Zidane scored 2 goals for France also. Action pictures go down the pecking order too. All that matters today is to document history. A famous football match is taking place and it is my job to record it for ever more. I have a quiet clam inside knowing I have this position. My stomach thinks otherwise.
I go for one last time to the media canteen and pay 110 Rand (just under £11) for spinach, lamb, potatoes and some salad.
I put off doing expenses, working out car rental prices for the other guys and go outside.
I am amazed. I am happy. A football match is taking place. Real fans are out in numbers. No false theatre goers with vuvuzelas. The atmosphere is not ‘electric’ or ‘special’ but it is a welcome relief. I feel for the first time that I am at least at an international game and not a friendly or exhibition match. The fact that something special riding on this fixture can be felt in the air.
There are thousands of Dutch fans. I need to shoot in a style that in years will come will satisfy the needs of publishers and editors who require images to document the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final. Of course I take pictures for myself but I have to be realistic and try to earn some money too – that is what I am here for.
Soon the time starts to tick faster. The sun goes down. After sending out a selection of ‘pre-match’ images, it is time to make the final treck to the stadium. I have seen Soccer City been built. Over the past 18 months I have been to this location so many times. I like Soccer City. I hope it likes me. This is the day that this amazing stadium was built for. This is the day that in years to come people will comment that Soccer City staged the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final.
Away from the fans, the photographers are marched through an underground tunnel. Just like a rock musician walks on floorboards to a stage, we come out into the amazing football theatre that is Soccer City.
My position is on the far side of the stadium. I have to navigate myself around bird nests of TV cabling – 3D TV is here – that means more TV Cameras than ever before.
Seat 22 is my destiny! The opening ceremony starts. Myself and some Dutch photographers encounter one slight problem! The LAN cables do not work. We can not ship out pictures. What is the point of being pitchside without the facility of sending out live material in this day and age?
One kind soul from the Telecom company investigates and concludes that the Shakira concert people have probably pulled out a plug or something, however we have to endure the closing ceremony before finding out if this theory is correct.
Nelson Mandela makes an appearance. I have seen Nelson now three times. I met him and shook his hand at a South Africa cricket match, I met him at a Mandela Concert at Wembley when following Simple Minds. I don’t think for one minute he remembers me (Im joking) but he looks in great health and is still one of the iconic figures of the globe.
After dancers, people working elephants and banging drums, or more like miming to bang drums for the TV spectacle, hundreds of workers clear the pitch and make it ready for a football match. The internet kicks in. I can send my pictures out! Woo Hoo!
An extra special thing for the English photographers is that Howard Webb is the referee. Photographers are penned in like sheep. The anticipation of the teams coming out reaches boiling point as a security guard knocks out someone running onto the pitch towards the trophy gleaming in front of us.
As if nothing happens the teams come out on to the pitch – lead by Howard. For some reason I start humming the theme to Howards Way in my head…. bizarre.
I am totally blocked to shoot the team groups, but I keep telling myself that today is not the day to shoot for the library, today is a day to document.
Today I am using four cameras. One remote which I control using a foot pedal on behalf of my German agency. Little do I know but the lead is faulty.
I take a look at the Spain team and see it is basically Barcelona and Real Madrid v the Netherlands.
The game starts and the teams swap ends. Dutch photographers are sent into a panic. The Netherlands nearly score in the opening 5 minutes. A stark reminder that any normal mundane bit of action can be the making of history. For most matches, I have been shooting on average 2,000 images a game, putting 100 into our online archive. Today I shoot only 1100. There are tackles flying, cards being given out by Howard which I get, but I don’t go crazy on anything else. I’m just waiting for a goal!
Hundreds of photographers around the pitch in front of advertising boards shoot the game. It is strange to think that the whole world is watching. It really is just 11 men v 11 men as extra time kicks in.
I am glad that there will be a winning goal or penalty shoot out and then a trophy presentation as this game is not a photography classic – well not from seat 22. I know it’s a good game. I know Howard Webb may get lots of stick, but he is doing a great job.
FIFA officials tell us that penalties will be down our end. I look for an exit as I want to be more out wide when that happens. On cue an Argentinian photographer I know puts his thumb up and points to his side. Photographers telepathy is great sometimes! Texts go off with people saying which end they will be at and who is to shoot the kicker and who the goalkeeper.
As the second half of extra time starts, another FIFA official comes around stating that the penalty shoot out will now be at the other end. So much for this being a lucky world cup for me. Nothing has happened my end. I have nothing!
Suddenly Andres Iniesta burst forward. I press my shutter as he is about to kick. I take 4 pictures then see him run off out of my frame. It’s a goal! I have no idea on how the ball crossed the line. I don’t know if the goalkeeper made a mistake. I don’t know if the ball hit the bar and went in – All I know is that I have captured what is quite possibly the winning goal of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The frame of when he has kicked it and the ball is in full flight towards the goal is not as good in my opinion. I like Rafael Van Der Vaart of the Netherlands off the ground – it seems more spectacular.
I input the images into my MacBook Pro, process my RAW pictures (I shoot RAW in the final) and 35 seconds later, newspaper desks around the world and my agents have my picture.
People will ask “how I got it” but I don’t know. If I knew the answer then I would write a book and get rich. It’s an instinct. Learning to shoot football is like learning a language.
Anyway, enough waffle… Job Done!
Thank you Johannesburg and goodnight!
We then have the small matter of the trophy lift and the run around.
The presentation is in the tribune. It is a LONG way away. I use a 400mm lens and it is still a long way away. The trophy lift is fine but not the photographers behind me. A little fight takes place. A photographer backs into a local African who then kicks off. He then pushes someone else. Myself and another un-named photographer ‘have words’ and I get head butted and get told to meet outside after the game.. I can’t wait! This photographer is a prat. I look at the other guy and give a nod… When he is not looking we change his camera dials. They are on program mode setting anyway. To some this happening is very important. To others it is the end of a holiday. Everyone has to work together and abide by the unwritten rules. Some are not. It is their problem. We only have to stand and point our lenses at Uncle Sepp as we call him presenting a piece of gold to a footballer. That is all. There are times to push and shove. Now is not one of them.
In the old days, camera bodies would be opened to expose and ruin film.
As the players run around the pitch, this photographer gets kicked. I do not see him again.
I see Chris. He had blood pouring from the top of his nose. Chris likes ‘bum-fights’ as we call them. This is one hell of a bum-fight. Photographers chase the Spaniards around the pitch with the trophy. It is a game of cat and mouse. The public probably think, “bloody photographers” but this is the time we all love, getting a picture and fighting for it. Not literally, but there is lots of pushing and shoving to say the least.
I get trodden on by a football stud. Pique turns around and mutters something in Spanish! He puts my arm around me, my foot does hurt but I’m more than OK. The trophy comes towards us, he shouts to the player and turns him around to me! “GRACIAS!” I shout. He smiles, shakes my hand and runs off. The trophy is then passed around to subs who have their fun infront of the pack of snappers.
Fabregas is having his picture taken as Carles Puyol jumps on him piggy back style. This is a nice picture I think. Gerard Pique joins in… “AQUI, AQUI” I shout as the three of the gesture in front of my camera. I have never had a Spanish lesson in my life but have picked up quite a bit over the years. With the trophy elsewhere and most other photographers not around, this is my picture. I’m chuffed with it.
Driving through South Africa day and night, all those days of hard, hard work finally pay off. It is all worth it.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup was not that bad at the end of the day. I got the winning goal, some nice trophy pictures and I especially like Spanish trio picture pointing at me!
End of the day?
We edit and edit and eat junk food. We return to the lodge and back up our images. The Japanese go home first thing tomorrow. We still need to swap pictures.
I switch off the light at 4.30am. It has been another 20 hour day.
The computer is still running copying images to a funky Japanese hard drive that I so wish they would sell in the UK.
For the record, I wake up at 7, and make sure the pictures are copying. We take the Japanese to the airport, then back to Soccer City.
More eating bad bad food (and some nice chocolate brownies)
I finish at 3pm.
45 mins to do this blog and I can say goodbye to the World Cup.
No doubt over the coming weeks I will find belting images that I have missed and failed to edit because of tiredness, just missing them or in the future seeing shapes and images that did not come out to me at the time.
I have about 3 days of accounting to do. Then chase payments to newspapers who think it is OK to publish images without payment.
We have 3 days off now – but I already have to organise some photographers to cover the U20 Women’s World Cup in Germany. Pre-season friendlies are already starting. The UEFA Champions League kicks off in week or two.
I still have not learnt to fly model helicopters. My Japanese is still bad. Then there is the small matter of going and supporting a team and going to football matches that I WANT TO – Shrewsbury Town. But I have to take pictures as that is what I do!
ALL PICTURES © MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY