19 June 2011 – Captiol City

After having only three hours sleep – my mind was festering on an idea on how to improve our syndication system, I achieved the mandate of getting it to work faster but only by 0.7 seconds and when I woke up at 6am I was tired and regretted not having a proper sleep and questioned if my endeavour was worth it!

I drove to Washington DC from my base in Newark NJ. In the land of milk and honey where they were advertising T-shirts on TV showing Navy Seals 1-0 Bin Laden I took the Turnpike south on what was a quite boring road trip.

Some took flights to Washington, I was the only one who drove. But in my defence I would have had to spend 30 minutes checking my hire car back in, wait for at least an hour for the flight, then spend an hour flying, wait for my luggage, find a hire car company or take a big hit on the expense of getting a taxi cab to the stadium. The three and a half hour drive in the comfort of being in charge and being able to do my own thing won hands down in my opinion and had a very relaxing morning driving south.

I arrived at the RFK Stadium after passing through Baltimore. It looked a welcoming place. I do not get in some cities that feeling of magnetic exploration but Baltimore looked like a place worth looking at – however I had to get to Washington. No time to stop.

No crazy $25 car parking here today, the people were welcoming and friendly towards the media here. This was an old stadium. It used to be the home of the Washington Redskins before they build their new mega stadium. It was showing its age but oozed character like Chesterfield’s old Saltergate but in contrast their new stadium is modern, safe but unlike a new hotel or house just lacks character.

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Unlike yesterday where I saw more signs and information to the media not to approach players and get autographs I was in the inner sanctum of the stadium and found myself amongst the US players walking to their locker room. At the back was a certain Marcus Hahnemann. After his grilling on why was I here, he chatted about the prospects of his future after being released by Wolverhampton Wanderers.

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He expressed an interest to stay in the West Midlands and enthused about his son being a left-handed spin bowler and playing cricket at Shifnal in my home county of Shropshire. It may seem glamorous being an international footballer but in just over one month he may be living in a different culture in a city which by choice he may not actually want to be in.

One thing about the USA  is that soccer is still not a country-wide recognised sport. Jenny’s friends explained how on TV they stated that the city of Boston had only four professional sports teams – spectacularly missing out the MLS franchise of the New England Revolution. Only NHL, NFL and Baseball counted. Not soccer.

Heading South on the turnpike I was driving amongst cars with fans flying their flags of El Salvador, Jamaica and even Panama. I did not see one US flag.

This was the home nation playing in the Gold Cup. In any other continent the buzz would have been extraordinary. Even in the Asian Cup, the support behind the home nation of little Qatar was nothing short of phenomenal.  Nothing against those who are into their soccer but the country of the USA is a long way behind.

I smiled as I heard some songs in English sung with melodies heard in the J-League but there was no anger or the passion seen by most other footballing nations when it was announced that their top player Landon Donovan was on the subs bench after he had returned to the squad after being at his sister’s wedding.

Don’t get me wrong, those into their ‘soccer’ are deeply into it. They know everything but the masses are simply not. A cult sport hardly gets close to describing it. However some of the fans attending are a bit more attractive than us English photographers get to see in the Premier League!

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The first half was a bore 0-0 draw. It took me 35 minutes to get my first picture. The American photographer working for AP sitting next to me was amazed when I said that if I was doing English Premier League of the Italian Serie A then by now I would have taken 500 shots taken on my camera and not the current 80.

The second half started as the first had finished. BORING! Then suddenly and amazing strike by Jermaine Jones put the Yanks 0-1 up.

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Then Donovan came on. If this was Rooney then all the photographers lenses would have been focussed on the coach giving him last instructions before coming on but these guys who normally shoot NFL and Baseball were blissfully unaware on the story and relevance of the substitution.

True to form the USA resembled the team I saw at the FIFA World Cup last year.

A comfortable 0-2 victory in the end but it was hard work. I took most of my pictures in the last 20 minutes. I could have had a lie in!

The second game was a breath of fresh air. The stadium came alive with a sea of blue and white as El Salvador took to the field. I had almost forgotten what it was like to hear a roar that made the hairs on your neck stand on end. Even the small amount of Panama supporters made the spectacle that bit more interesting.

I keep wanting to slag off the Americans, but I keep telling myself that I would be a fish out of water if I had the unfortunate task of shooting a baseball match. The Panama manager was Julio Valdes, a striker of PSG. Am I sad for knowing this? No – I just know my sport I guess. None of the American wire agency photographers cared who he was.

The CONCACAF tournament is in the USA obviously for the stadiums and the dollar. It relies on the support of the Latin American supporters but again the organisation was lacking like in New York due to severe cultural sport understanding in what goes on in soccer.

Yesterday I had a dispute with a security guard instructing me not to stand by the goal when there was a penalty. If those who know me and perhaps judged the incident knowing that I am sometimes a magnet to confrontation then so be it, but in the first half the El Salvador goalkeeper was taken out and it looked like he would have to be replaced.

Luckily he carried on but the cautious El Salvador goalkeeper coach warmed up his goalkeeper behind the advertising boards. This happens like EVERYWHERE… except in America so it seemed.

I don’t speak much Spanish but understand some swear words and what it means when someone calls you a “Puta!”

The goalkeeper coach volleyed abuse an American security steward who insisting that he went and sat back on the bench!

Eventually a high up CONCACAF official dressed in a blue suit branding a walkie-talkie gave him the thumbs up leaving the blue t-shirted steward bemused spouting F-You under his breath.

After a two minute intense training session leaving the goalkeeper dripping with sweat I turned around to the goalkeeper coach and smiled then gestured to the uneducated American and shook my head.

The coach spoke fast Spanish to me that I could not understand – “Soy Ingles…” I said. Pointing to the security man, I continued “stupido…” The coach smiled lots, spoke to the goalkeeper who came and patted me on the back! I would never expect this to happen anywhere else so the cultural difference made a nice moment knowing that it was not just me having a hard time in this country who speak the same language but don’t operate under the language of soccer.

I know it’s a cultural difference but it’s just very frustrating.

El Salvador players were going down like flys as Panama went in hard. This enraged the fans whose anger added to the increasing atmosphere.

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Panama had defeated the USA and were a strong outfit. El Salvador went 1-0 up which resulted in celebration of epic proportions.

The front row of Chicas from El Salvador were not happy though as Panama never gave up and scored a last-minute equaliser which took the game into extra time.

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The crowd got restless resulting in bottles and object raining down from the stands on to the green pitch. This truly was a great spectacle.

So it was penalties. I promised myself not to argue today. Not to get into any confrontation but in a crazy fashion photographers were banned from covering the penalty shoot out like we normally do in any other part of the world.

It was not even the final and I convinced myself not to care. To be fair one of the MLS officials who I have got to know sincerely apologised and vented his spleen on how they were trying to run the tournament like a European or Asian one.

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Panama won 5-4 on penalties with myself and a Mexican photographer being mentors for the Americans unsure as how to caption their soccer images. I was happy to help. It was early morning in Europe. No one would want my images at this hour.

After saying my goodbyes to my new American photo friends – one who had covered President Clinton at the D-Day celebrations – I made by way back ‘home’. They questioned my sanity but I just said that it was the same distance as it was from my house to Glasgow which is ‘just up the road’ compared to some of the journeys I make.

The boring trip home was made bearable by listening to a radio station who had four people living in some sort of vehicle. The last to leave winning it.

Eventually I passed the turning to Jenny’s house then got back to civilisation passing the Elizabeth Shopping Centre with me smiling at thinking of the Wolverhampton expression of Toys R Us as Toys Am We.

I have only been here a few days but noticed some of the huge advertisements on the highway had changed. One was for a U2 concert in New Jersey – I saw the words June 20th on it. That was today. Sadly on reaching my motel U2 dot com told me it was advertising a concert on June 20th 2012! I would not be seeing The Edge.

I got to bed at 5am. I was very tired indeed. I had just shot Panama qualify for the semi final of the Gold Cup. It was a Sunday night / Monday morning. The world’s media would not be wanting my pictures. There was no demand compared to a Dutch match in a World Cup.

Tomorrow would be OK for my edit. To be fair probably next month.

Fox TV proclaiming that the USA was the freest country on planet earth because they hold a constitution that states, “In God We Trust” and that rival network NBC had omitted it from the pledge of allegiance was not enticing me to stay up. I may speak English but I am in a foreign country here. I watch endless hours of TV in Japan but for most of the time the TV stays switched off when I am in the USA.

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