I made my return to a stadium that I first went to in 1996 when I covered the Asian Cup. Those were the days! Still living at home, staff job, no cares in the world.
Thats when I first saw the likes of Ali Daei and Khodadad Azizi playing for Iran and understood that EVERY country has great players – not just Brazil and Argentina.
The Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi was the final for that tournament where Saudi Arabia defeated the UAE. Any more info and Ill have to cheat and look it up – should I actually be able to look it up!
Lets say there are some ‘restrictions’ that prevent normal everyday use of the internet. I can not get access to manage the AMA archive, I’ll have to come up with a fix as I am back in this part of the world in three weeks.
Today was a double headed contest.
I stocked up on Coke Zero. Doing two games gets you tired!
Representing CONCACAF – thats North America – were Club de Futbol Pachuca from Mexico.
I recognised some of their players from this tournament two years ago. I guess Manso is the Mexican Ryan Giggs.
They played Al-Wahda Sports Club with Austrian manager Josef Hickersberger so at least there was a line of sale to my Austrian clients before a ball was kicked.
After last nights meal bill I need to step up my game! Not that it was that expensive but 10% service charge, Tourism tax and then a final 6% sales tax makes the final bill a bit more than what was advertised on the menu.
Saying that the local taxi drivers are all complaining about the increased fuel costs. A litre of fuel now costs them 27p! I told him the price of fuel in the UK and he said he did not understand my English. So I told him again in French. He then replied he did understand me in English but assumed I was discussing something else as he could not comprehend how could fuel be approaching 8 Dirham in local money!
The Pachuca goalkeeper had nothing to do in the second half except drink an exceptional amount of mineral water which resulted in at least 10 empty bottles in his goalmouth my the end of the game. Did he want to tinkle though? NO! He spat most of it out!
For the record Al-Wahda went 0-2 up then Pachuca came back to make it 2-2.
Agony for the local side as they lost on penalties.
I was going through the motions on this one to be honest.
Although the lights were stunning – I was at 1/1200 sec at f4 at 2000 ISO – apart from Mr Goalkeeper spitting there was not much to tell or show photographically apart from producing about 100 library images should anyone ever want the likes of Abdulraheem Jumma.
And so onto the main event. The stadium filled up and all the FIFA signage was covered up with banners normally reserved for the Curva Nord in the San Siro.
If another worker in my hotel greets me with the words of “Have a safe flight home” when I’m walking out with my THINK TANK photo bag on wheels (I kind of look like an air steward I guess) I’ll go crazy – but the sincere friendliness of this nation was certainly extended to those in the stadium. All the local photographers were friendly and certainly did not have the attitude of “who the hell is that over there…?” which you do kind of experience in Europe!
They were all excited on seeing Inter. My lens met up with Rafael Benitez again. Anyone following Jose Mourinho has a tough act to follow but it’s true to say that Inter are not the team of last season.
I can shoot Inter whenever I so wish but I don’t normally have the opportunity to cover the AFC Champions, Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma FC from South Korea.
Inter came out guns blazing and were 0-2 up in next to no time. They then went to sleep.
However for me doing the Koreans attacking first half, I filled my boots with a Kim, a Hong, two Choi’s and a Cho.
Sending pictures to Italy, half time was interrupted internet chatting to a good mate of mine stuck in Frankfurt trying to get a connection to cover Manchester City. I then spotted a flag of the home town of another good friend but this time from Italy so I ran behind the goal to snap it for him.
On my way back to my trusted place behind the goal I spotted some local Arabian girls.
I could see them chatting and something magical happened when one of them revealed an Inter Milan shirt underneath her Abaya (thats a black Muslim style dress).
Milito who won the UEFA Champions League for Inter back in May in Madrid – seems only like last week – got on the scoresheet once more.
Inter were in the final to face the Africans. It should be an interesting contest.
Needing to be eagle eyed and supplying images that show Inter are not playing in Italy, my final image that was syndicated out was of the captain Zanetti applauding the fans. Luck was on my side, the Abu Dhabi host city name on the LED advertising boards changing to the Arabic version as he went past.
No epic 14 drive back for me tonight. Just a brief stroll back on to the main highway and remain patient until a free taxi came along. It was by now 2330h. It was dark and I was very alone. I was in no rush to get back. no deadlines to meet, no one to see, in fact nothing to do. When some people I know would be in a panic worrying themselves stupid about being stuck in the middle of no where, I found the 8 minute wait until a taxi appeared out of the darkness to be a very relaxing time.
Upon handing over more Dirhams to more local taxi drivers, more x-ray checks upon entering buildings, I was back in my room. I edited 80+ pictures from the Inter game and sent them out to magazines and clients. It was now 3am local time. For once I decided not to finish all my editing before I slept.
Before I know it I will be back in the UK and walking around my home town in sub zero temperatures. I have not been here for a decade at least. I’m more of a Dubai fan rather than an Abu Dhabi lover. Its like Glasgow and Edinburgh to me! I can’t stand Edinburgh but love Glasgow. Saying that that does not stop me walking and exploring around the capital city of Scotland.
Tonight I had another taxi driver from Jordan drive me back. I asked him the same question that I had asked the other two.
“Can you drive from Jordan to here?”
I got the same reply. “Just under 3000 km Sir”. I smiled. For the second time today my brain began to conjure up plans for a ROAD TRIP!! The UK to the Middle East. Drive to Qatar for the 2018 World Cup. London to Istanbul – over the bridge into Asia, down into Jordan and according to the taxi drivers, Jordan to the UAE is simple – you just need a 3 day driving permit obtainable at any Embassy. After ‘Facebooking’ Carl stuck in Frankfurt trying to get to Turin to cover Manchester City, I sent a message to one of the best photographers in the UK whom I met when all the snappers who were taught my Mr Paul Delmar at Photojournalism school came from all four corners of the country and some even crossed borders to give their farewells.
Bethany’s words of “ROAD TRIP and Japan is awesome” made me smile.
I want to get up early though and see how Abu Dhabi has changed first though.
Tesbeheen Ala Khayr …. I think that is correct! I understand more Japanese characters than Arabic.