I woke up at 5am UK time today. I had lots to do. Sort out todays shoots for the snappers back home and send them caption templates.
Copy old games on to hard drives. Sort out schedules for the next two weeks.
The hotel sauna and pool was calling but so was today’s match – Kuwait v China.
The transport has been OK but sometimes in Doha it takes literally 15 minutes to get to the stadium where as others it takes an hour. I had not received any notification of gaining a pass for this fixture so professionalism prevaled over holidaying and I gathered my belongings and headed for the media bus stop outside of my hotel. Even though it was a 16.15 kick off, I needed to be there three hours before and so a 11am departure seemed warranted.
That was before I read the Gulf Times. Tonight for one night only the majestic Bayern Munich were playing a local team somewhere in Doha.
I got to the media centre with once again the Qatari people showing that they would lost 14-0 in a time efficiency contest against the Swiss or Japanese. All media get a free lunch voucher every day but alas there was no one to give them out. Some hungry Chinese journalists and myself helped ourselves to a voucher each and headed for the canteen.
Yum yum, they had vine leaves and hummas again. My other plate was filled with carrots, pasta and some beef. Whilst eating lunch, or breakfast in my case, thanks to some intense research on my iPhone, I found out the Bayern game was in a stadium 40km away.
Then Karma came and paid me back! Yesterday a German photographer had to return to his hotel but was not on the list to receive a pass for the game. After we found a photocopier I handed in a copy of his accreditation and ‘demanded’ that he got a ticket from some of the Asian AFC media people that I have got to know over the past 10-15 years.
Markus got his pass and some quick thinking in assuming that he would be going to the Bayern game being German proved right and as a thank you to yesterday I secured myself with a lift as he had a car and a driver. Result!
We moaned together for 20 minutes about the terrible state of our beloved industry but like true warriors went to todays game full of hope and optimism.
Todays encounter was at the Al Gharafa Stadium in the North-ish of Doha.
A 15 minute ride from the ‘main’ stadium where the media centre is based.
Reading in todays newspaper, Bayern Munich coach Louis van Gaal stated that Qatar was the perfect place to be in for his team’s winter break. The climate is warm here – yes – but the sun is not strong like an Englishman experiences when on holiday in Spain in the European summer. For photographers the light is fantastic but for sunbathers, its not the best!
The pitches are thick and lush and nice and spongey. For those who marvel at the pitches at Arsenal and Aston Villa at the start of the season they should have a look here – simply perfect.
Unlike the European Championships fans from the Middle East do not travel. There was only 7,000 for this encounter. Kuwait bringing slightly more fans, contrasted against a very conservative and polite Chinese crowd, but equally as vocal.
China won 2-0 but we left with about 15 minutes to go and made our driver floor it up the ‘1’ road to Al Khor. Even though it was dark the four laned motorway gave me an insight into this country.
Before 2021, the Qatari state want to build an underground train system that will carry fans to and from the stadiums. Of course an over ground train in sandy desert conditions in heat will buckle and cause mechanical problems. Markus thought that ground hoppers could possibly attend EVERY World Cup game because of this amazing train system. They even plan to tunnel into Saudi Arabia too.
Fort-like Arabian buildings were scattered on the landscape on the perfectly laid tarmac highway that any Formula One driver would have loved to have driven on… alas the speed limit was 80km in parts but Markus’ mouth was watering reflecting on how lucky he is to drive as fast as he wants on the Autobahn.
Al Wakrah were letting in fans for free for the Bayern Munich friendly. We just got there before the big surge from the locals wanting to attend.
A colossal amount of TV equipment from German broadcasters surrounded the pitch beaming the game back to Europe.
The main focal point was the return of Arjan Robben and Franck Ribery.
Taking pictures of them ‘just’ in action was not good enough. The fact that Bayern were in Qatar was important. Luckily Bayern had about 7 corners in the first 20 minutes and Robben was busy passing me carrying the ball to the corner flag so I was able to get a stadium shot.
The wifi was not as good as the Asian Cup stadiums that I have encountered so far but with yet again amazing floodlights lighting up the arena, I managed to send five images to Holland and Germany whilst struggling to come to terms with the fact that Shrewsbury Town were losing 0-3 to Morecambe 😦
Ribery was magnificent.
OK his opposition was not the best but not someone who usually even bothers about the merits of where I get to sit to take pictures of football, today was one of those rare days where I felt humble in my position in seeing a great footballer close up.
For the record Bayern won 3-0 but should and could have scored about 11 if not for hitting the post half a dozen times.
If Peter Gabriel had of been here, he would have signed up the Al Wakrah fans singing and playing drums. Upon reflection my lasting memory of this game and stadium was of the Qatar fans supporting their team. I should have taken some footage and sound on my iPhone but I was too busy concentrating on the game in front of me.
The trip home was spent discussing the merits of having the World Cup in Qatar. Markus has worked for FIFA for a number of years and travels around a lot and sees the world from a more open perspective I feel. Stay tuned, I will communicate my thoughts later on!
Todays double billing resulted in a romantic Cesar Salad for one in my hotel room whilst spending Saturday night editing about 3,000 pictures. I swear a blink lasted for 20 minutes as I nodded off but I finished at just before 2am but that could have been to do with watching Arsenal v Leeds on one of the nine sports channels here.
I like to go to sleep with nothing on the ‘to do’ list the next day. My ‘to do’ list is now empty. Apart from charging my batteries up for tomorrow, I have nothing to do or worry about.
I feel myself getting in to a tournament rhythm. These two weeks or so are a prime opportunity for me to practice my Japanese but equally I want to pick up Arabic. I may forsake my Japanese on this occasion as I don’t want my brain to fry. I understand the Arabic numerals, although I can not say the words I recognise and can speak the letters in English. I have only been here three days.