14 December 2010 – FIFA Club World Cup

The blog is back.

I can’t publish pictures of my daily life working in England due to regulations. I would otherwise have to a pay a £1,000 licence should I want to blog the Premier League and Football League. Day trips to Germany and Belgium covering UEFA Europa League games are not that spectacular to me.

However travelling the world is. Hence the blog is back!

Last night I was up until 2am watching Manchester United v Arsenal. I awake up today for my first game; TP Mazembe Englebert v Sport Club Internacional.

© MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

It is the 2010 FIFA Club World Championships. For the second time it is being staged in the United Arab Emirates with the host city being Abu Dhabi.

Historically this is the South American / European Club Final which used to take place in Tokyo, Japan. Depending on where you live in the world, this game had different meanings.  For the football fan of Asia or South America it was probably the second most important football match on Planet Earth after the FIFA World Cup Final. In the old days it was sponsored by Toyota and often just called the Toyota Cup or the Intercontinental Cup.

Today it is still sponsored by Toyota but FIFA have encompassed the whole globe to take part. Quite simply it was the winners of the UEFA Champions League taking on the winners of the South American Copa Libertadores. Now it is the club winners of each continent competing for the title of World Cup Champions.

The way this tournament is perceived though as I have said is staggering. In South America, club rivalry goes out of the window. Country allegiance is ignored. South Americans support the team representing them in this competition. A stark contrast to the UK for example where English football fans certainly did not join together and support Manchester United when they last competed in the event and for this years contest, I guess most will not even know that Inter Milan from Italy are representing Europe, let alone care who wins.

Representing the continent of Africa are the African Cup winners TP Mazembe Englebert from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Hardly a world power horse in world football. You may see people wearing FC Barcelona shirts in countries around the world, but certainly not Mazembe!

Sport Club Internacional come from Brazil. Not such a famous name as possibly Santos or Flamenco but they are still a decent outfit containing Brazilian and Argentinian players.

© MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

The game takes place in the Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium. For stadium buffs this is a corker. In the UK some fans especially like the corners of grounds filled in. In this stadium, two huge towers over look the stadium. The lights are a photographers dream. Security is tight but the photographers have the freedom they need and love. I’m jumping over walls and mixing with the fans.

This should be how it is always should be, quite frankly if I even attempted this at any English Premier League stadium some nerd in a control tower claiming to be The Oracle of crowd safety would come up with the excuse that I could knock someone out with my lens or something else crazy and I would be instantly thrown out.

© MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

In the 20 years I have been doing this job, European fans have been watered down to the point they are just normally random people inside a stadium who have just walked off the street. Of course there is John Portsmouth and other characters but generally some wear club colours but it is still the African and Asian football fans who are the most eye catching.

The team from Congo have brought a band with them. Not the terrible brass band that follows the England team but this band is playing grooves that would have Peter Gabriel and other world music lovers licking their lips.

© MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

This is a FIFA run event. Hence it runs with clock work precision. My knowledge of Arabic does not even get into double figures. I have never been to this stadium in my life before, yet FIFA the kings of logistics, I find my way around without any problems.

The media is a powerful beast, but sadly many get sucked into comments and propaganda made by journalists and editors with a hidden agenda. This week FIFA President Sepp Blatter ‘came out’ with a comment about gay football fans. However some media organisations simply made out that Uncle Sepp had come out and said this comment to the press. Thus the unintelligent football fan or one who does not understand how these things come about, must simply have thought he comes out with these statements in Biblical proportions.

Sepp does not suddenly call a Press Conference and announce statements about gay football fans to make himself look stupid.

The way it works is this :

Sepp is at a press conference. My colleagues who have seen this themselves thankfully agree that he is a true ambassador of the world game. Sit in a conference for FOUR HOURS where he so enthusiastically talks about referees, at the end you want to stand up and give around of applause and give the man a hug. In some countries he is treated like royalty, where as in others he is despised.

The 2018 World Cup is in Qatar.

A journalist wants a story that will satisfy his sports editors hunger. Sepp coming out with amazing ideas, enthusiasm like no other, proof that he IS the man to lead FIFA are not on the agenda.

During a Q+A session he is asked about “Gay football fans going to Qatar”.

Sepp is a human being, someone with a great personality but suddenly to make a boring story good, he “sparks Qatar gay controversy “.

For crying out loud, Qatar is a muslim country. The same goes for hetrosexuals travelling to the same place, but the plucky journalist wants to make a name for himself and come up with something more juicey.

The same journalists who think FIFA’s expansion of this useless tournament are thankfully made to look fools once more.

This is a great game. Mazembe play with an attacking style that leaves the English photographer pack open eyed. If only a Liverpool or Aston Villa game was this exciting.

© MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA

Haircuts are a plenty. Who says that there are no characters left in football? If I were to purchase a football club I’d get my scouts watching Mazembe, not only because they are so gifted footballers with amazing technique but equally because the fans will adore them on a marketing level with their eye catching haircuts.

The team from Congo DR are here to cause an upset. 15,000 Brazilians have followed their team to the UAE, but many are left in tears.

Two great goals and some excellent defending ensure that an African team reaches the final for the first time ever. Those FIFA knockers will probably dismiss the tournament even more but those who have witnessed this match today want to know more about club football in Africa. Although it would be great for Inter Milan to be knocked out by the Asian Champions tomorrow, Mazembe v Inter Milan is probably a game that EA Sports did not even dream up in fantasy PlayStation games!

© MATTHEW ASHTON / AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

The Brazilians are crying. They have paid thousands of dollars to be here. I feel like crying too – my computer screen has cracked and I already have one camera down. It is Christmas when I return to the UK. When and how am I going to get these items repaired quickly?

To be honest, I’m not thinking about it. After a terrible month photographing the beautiful game in England, my much needed winter break is already enthusing me.  All my colleagues are in high spirits too.

We have just witnessed an epic. Football is Alive and Kicking again. The beautiful game is back. Whilst the English media report a bunch of Indian Chicken Farmers have sacked Sam Allardyce, the German media asking if Borussia Dortmund can with the Bundesliga, hopefully the more globally aware football fan will have taken note of today’s historic match.

Thanks to the celebrations by Mazembe goalkeeper MRr Muteba Kidiaba… perhaps this tournament will get the recognition I believe it needs.

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One response to “14 December 2010 – FIFA Club World Cup

  1. Dear Matthew — “The Indiana Jones of the Nikon D3”

    Life has been so dull without your blog

    regards

    Peter

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