Jan 15 : Iran v North Korea

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Today I was back at the Qatar Sports Club in Doha. The nearest that I have been to the actual ‘city’ of the Qatari capital. I mended my computer lead so my early morning attempt at going shopping was cancelled and instead spent watching rubbish American films.

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Luckily being at the ‘central’ media hotel, fate meant that as soon as I entered into the outside world today a bus came! And it was not one to the media centre, it was a direct one to the stadium.

Today there was little traffic and we got there in no time. I ate some more Arabian food that I still have no idea what it is and chatted to my colleagues until we could get out on to the pitch. One Japanese photographer had told me about the North Korean fans, but I was not prepared for what I was about to see.

After yesterdays ‘loving’ of the India fans, I was aware that I was getting too caught up in all the cultures that I was seeing and perhaps the blog was becoming like a stuck record. Sorry folks, but today outshone anything I had seen. Probably ever.

Forget your moaning lower league fans! Forget your Inter Milan ultras holding flares on Curva Nord in the San Siro. Forget your “you will never walk alone” Liverpool fans. Even forget the excited Indian fans that I experienced yesterday.

This was stunning. Marvellous – yet crazily scary.

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I had shot North Korea at the World Cup in South Africa. When I was growing up the world’s fears were over Ronald Regan in Washington DC and Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow. (And yes I still miss Spitting Image)

Today I ‘think’ one of the world’s biggest fears is the secrecy of North Korea. They lose 7-0 to Portugal and the ‘official line’ is that they drew 0-0. There are internet rumours that they actually defeated Brazil 1-0 also.

I’m not here to judge, only comment on what I see. It was 2-1 and I was there at Ellis Park.

Here in the Qatar Sports Club, Iran fans were scattered all over the stadium with a large number of the congregated together on the side opposite the TV cameras.

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The North Koreans however only occupied one block of seats. They were all wearing shirts and ties. All sat upright they were mostly motionless until a chap at the front wearing a black baseball cap holding some A4 paper notes began conducting them.

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They did some kind of wave and chorus where one side shouted one thing, echoed by the other. Everyone was transfixed. TV crews came out of the stands to film them. AFC officials walked past and got their pocket cameras out to snap them. Myself and other snapped literally gigabytes of pictures.

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On the pitch North Korea were like they were at the World Cup – a team of battlers. But eventually the strongest team scored.

 

Karim Ansarifard getting the winning goal midway in the second half. Luckily I still had a short lens on my third camera after documenting a terrific sunset and got a different celebration picture to the normal full frame on a 400mm lens.

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The final whistle provoked mass celebrations for the Iranians. The North Korean fans went quiet. The players lay on the pitch dejected.

However after composing themselves, the North Koreans in a rather triumphant fashion ‘celebrated’ in front of the men in shirts and ties as though they had won. They then turned around and walked back dejected.

An Iranian photographer who I was sitting beside turned around and asked if Iran had actually won.

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He had blocked me on a really nice tackle picture in the first half and in the second half my enthusiasm for capturing a floodlight sunset picture meant that I got my own back and we were at 1-1 as I too had blocked him on a shot.

We got on but there was still an edge. Not the friendly best matey attitude that I share with other photographers working here.

Then suddenly his phone rang. His ring tone was the telephone tones in 24!

I said “TWENTY FOUR” – he did not understand. He got a bit more angry as he wanted to answer the call but I was interrupting him. “JACK BAUER” I shouted. He smiled and rabbited in Arabic for about 5 minutes.

He then ended the call, put down his Canon camera and said, “I love Rennee Walker”. I started laughing. “You love her too?” he asked. Suddenly his English came alive. I said it was a sad day when Michelle Dessler was shot dead.

He smiled!

I then rather worryingly recalled Jack Bauer stopping the Iranians in one of the series. I decide to quit the chat and take some stadium views. A cop-out I know but the last thing I wanted as a lecture in real life Middle Eastern politics.

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I edited a few of my pictures including a half time special of a fan from North Korea next to a fan from South Korea.

Not quite a front cover of Time Magazine or NewsWeek, but you never know!

I raced back to my hotel to see the final moments of Wolves lose 4-3 at Manchester City. As soon as that game had finished they were showing another Premier League game. After ten minutes of channel flicking I realised that I had access to every single Premier League game. Another Arabic TV Channel was speaking about Borussia Dortmund but I could not understand. My desire for information resulted in me using the internet to find the scored in the Bundesliga. I was thankful that I was not in the UAE. A month ago it was very hard getting internet access as most sites were blocked. I turned it off when I found out that Shrewsbury Town had only managed a draw away to Barnet.

I could have done the second game of the day, UAE against Iraq but I only have the United Arab Emirates to shoot now and I will have covered all 16 teams in the tournament. I will do them next time around.

Then the business end of the tournament starts – though still two weeks before I think about finding the passport and returning to the airport.

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