22 June 2011 – Semis in Houston

If you ever go to Houston – Bob Dylan…

http://www.mojvideo.com/video-bob-dylan-if-you-ever-go-to-houston/8525b913fdf3a29f8f00

A song myself and fellow photographer Chris Brunskill had on repeat for what seemed like days when we covered the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa in 2009. Alas I did not travel much with Chris during the World Cup, but when we were together this and other favorites were inserted into the hire car CD system before we had even released the hand brake.

A year on, and I’m in Houston – The immortal words…. HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM symbolised my time here.

It all started off when I dropped the hire car off in Newark Airport. If stadium organisers don’t do logistics then the airport hire car staff certainly do. If I had spent more than 20 seconds at the hire car company dropping the Dodge off then I’d be lying. As soon as I had parked up, opened my door to get out, a receipt was delivered into my hand. The world seemed to be a better place. I anticipated having a good day!

That was until I got on to the Newark Airport AirTrain. Lucky me was caught up on the metro rail link system carrying folk from terminal to terminal. When I happened to be on it, it decided to break down for 42 minutes.

I had all day to get to Houston. There was no rush. I went to the airline desk and simply said to a seemingly pleasant lady, “I was stuck on the AirTrain for 42 minutes…. I think my flight is closed” – before I could continue she turned in to a violent dragon shouting, “We are not responsible for the Port Authority Air Train…”

With my hands in the air and a big “woooow…. hold it right there, all I want to know is…” She cut me short, and continued “Flights close 30 mins before departure…” I then cut her short, “… all I want to know is when is the next flight and what do I do…”

I experienced this a week ago with my friends Lisa and Ian in Shrewsbury but in the USA it happened again – A man appeared in front of me whom I had never seen before.

As though he had been teleported out of the sky, this man suddenly appeared.

Alas he was helpful, considerate and listened to what I had to say, “what is that woman on? I’m not kicking off about the AirTrain breaking down, these things happen, I just want to know how I now get to Houston – I’m not even in a rush…”

Before I knew it I had a new ticket in my hand and was eating an American Breakfast served by the simply wonderful Kate.

Upon arriving in Houston, I continued the routine of getting a hire car. No Dodge this time, to be honest I don’t even know what it was. TomTom gave me directions to my new lodgings. I doubt I would come to Houston by choice. I did not feel enthused by Houston as a City. I was just here as I had to be here just like a rock band on a nationwide tour. Today was Houston.

I had not gone to bed and had spent the early hours editing my pictures. I needed a nap. The next thing I knew, it was 9pm and to say it was raining was an understatement. I looked at my US Phone which showed warnings of hurricanes. Any plans of exploring Houston by night were gone.

It was hurricane season. I like violent weather, but my senses have limits.

US TV tried to entertain me, but I fell asleep only to be woken up on three occasions as friends and colleagues back home called me unaware I was 6 hours west. I decided it was time to change my answerphone message!

I spent the morning finishing off editing and putting my pictures on hard drives. In the old days I’d simply put unprocessed films into FedEx boxes and then head for a Denny’s Restaurant. Not any more! I’m responsible for editing, archiving – everything. Anyone who suggests the new modern era makes like simpler needs a punch in the face!

I had a drive around the block and suddenly came face to face with the Reliant Stadium.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Now…the more I travel the less enthused I get.

Every one is different. Some men prefer blondes, some brunettes, some men prefer other men.

People who have never been to the Mestalla in Valencia conclude that I am on an ego trip like no other when I proclaim that I don’t like the Nou Camp as we are all told on how amazing it is supposed to be and those sad people who are angry at my opinion tell me in no uncertain words.

In my little world, the most important aspect of having an opinion of something is to have a great criteria to begin with. Therefore, unless you have been to the Mestalla Stadium too in Valencia, don’t make judgements about my opinons about the Nou Camp.

Preaching over and done with, but for the record up until this point in my life, the homes of Borussia Dortmund, RSC Anderlecht, Valencia, Manchester United and Shimizu S-Pulse in Japan are my favorite top five stadiums. Ill make it six and add the San Siro in Milano.

I saw this beast of a building and headed back to my hotel and go my tools of my trade for the Semi Finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. I did not care that I was four hours too early. I don’t get enthused about stadium architecture that much but for me, this stadium was in the words of Americans  – Awesome!

If only the stadium workers around it knew how it operated it would have been even better. They had no excuse, it staged the Superbowl in 2004. Three Police Officers and a steward all directed me to a car parking lot behind some huge satellite dishes. I got out of my car only to be met by another angry lady yelling that I did not have a pass for this section. This happened two more times before a another nice lady, also called Kate told me that I had to park by the NFL team’s training camp. No problem there for me, but as an out of Towner, I don’t want to be mothered but there were simply no signs and the knowledge of those working for the event / stadium was simply useless.

I just want to know where to go. Simple. Is that too much to ask? And if I am directed to the wrong place three times, I just don’t like this attitude of MOVE NOW or else we will arrest you.

America is so much more nicer when you are in Disney Land.

I spent the next two hours exploring this stadium. It reminded me of a five tiered JJB stadium with a roof on. Apparently the roof was damaged in a hurricane and had only just been repaired.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

As the journalists were given scrumptious chocolate cakes, pasta, steak and an array of yummy food, us photographers were given dry bland turkey sandwiches and a bag of BBQ crisps.

The first game was Panama v USA. Panama had already defeated the US, and I feared another repeat performance. All I can say is that if the other contest in the group stages was anything similar then I was so glad that I was not there. It may have looked good on TV but for the poor photographer it was shocking.

Many a time, my friends watch a game on Sky and enthuse how great it was, only for me to contrast their opinion and say it was utter rubbish. Equally I have come back from 0-0 bore draws with the best set of pictures ever listening to fickle fans on the radio demand the manager be sacked as the game was so rubbish.

USA won 1-0. Thats all there is to say!

On to the second semi final – Honduras v Mexico.

I don’t know what the next game was like to watch. I don’t know how it came across on TV – but being there it refueled my leaking tank for the love of soccer.

70,000 screaming Mexicans and a few Hondurans in a fantastic stadium covered by a roof in what was an end to end contest will stay with me for a long time. As a culture North Americans don’t do football. Latin Americans certainly do though.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Italian coaches and commentators would probably hang their heads in embarrassment from some of the mistakes made.  One of the reasons I love the J-League so much is a result of the impulsive play and quick reactions to when mistakes are made. This was not dis-similar.

I should have been wound up, angry – Mexico were in a BLACK kit. Just like Ajax play in red and white, Peru are all white with a red diagonal stripe, no one wants Mexico in black. Mexico are GREEN!

The emotion of the game had got the better of me.

As the Americans around me rolled their eyes and said “what a load of crap…” I simply had to confront them as the game went into extra time. I felt as though I was a passionate football disciple advocating the prophesies of soccer. “Just because it’s not 98-114 like in a Basketball match, this is REAL football. Passionate fans, super tactics, amazing saves – who cares it is 0-0.”

I had forgotten to mention the goal line clearances and strikes against the woodwork. One enthused Mexican photographer clapped his hands and gave me a thumbs up. It was like we were about to go on a roller coaster again – and boy we did!

I am very aware of my ever growing American bashing but highlight of the day was the TV cameraman behind me filming the ball going out of play and being unaware a ball boy had thrown another ball to the goalkeeper. He must have focussed on the white Nike ball for about 20 seconds before looking up to see Mexico on the attack again. Perhaps he usually films Rodeo. I am just programmed to know that in Europe only the very best TV cameramen film the games and it typified my week.

Mexico won 2-0. Honduras throwing everything at them but unable to score. Just like Wigan v West Ham from this season’s Barclays Premier League, if I even come across a DVD of this game, then I’m going to buy it.

Just before the final whistle a nice American Police Officer said that he would have to stand in front of me at the end of the game … I smiled and said it was OK and not a problem. He then asked were all soccer games like this… I said in Europe, mostly yes. Here No!

He went onto the pitch and said that he would have to watch more international soccer.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

The reaction in the Press Box was interesting. Some US press men were amazed at the atmosphere and said they had not witnessed anything like it from all the Rodeo and NFL games usually staged in the stadium.

Others still angry at having to cover a soccer match, bemoaned the fact that they were out late and that the game should have been over in 90 minutes.

I walked out back to the parking lot with an American press writer. I had some questions I needed answering.

I explained my frustration in Houston with regards to the lack of information people had for the unfamiliar out of Towner like myself.

His answer was that if you cover Houston you stay in Houston and therefore know where everything is. I understood that but this is seemingly an international tournament supposedly on par with the Euro’s, Copa America and Asian Cup let alone the African Cup of Nations why was this?

I think did my own bit of PR Spin and reasoned that because the wire agencies like AP, Reuters and Getty send their local guys to cover the games, myself and four Mexicans were the only nutters going to EVERY game it seemed.

Therefore, who would go to the expense of putting out such logistically perfect signs and providing information like UEFA and FIFA do when there are so few unaware of the surrounding area.

I keep telling myself, cultural difference. Cultural difference.

When I came here exploring Disney Land, MGM Studios, Rollercoaster parks etc the USA is a great place – but for a person here having to WORK and having to deal with Americans , its a different place entirely.

I’m beginning to reason and beginning to chill.

On leaving Houston, I encountered more problems.

The airline had issued me the wrong ticket. I was supposed to be at a different airport about an hour away. I only found out at 6am at arriving at the airport as instructed on my ticket.

The world became a better place again as I was put on a $800 ticket to LA. I sat next to ANOTHER Kate. I may as well have been on the back row in cattle class as like always I just fell asleep before we had even taken off. The third Kate in my trip to Houston was let off and did not get to hear about my philosophies of Americanism by a concerned Brit.

If you ever go to Houston – don’t ask me what it is like as I have no idea!

All I know is one five lane highway, a huge torrential thunderstorm and one amazing stadium.

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