25 June 2011 – Gold Cup Final – USA v Mexico

After a good nights sleep after spending the previous evening watching the ever lovely Cat Deeley present ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ on US TV – I was  alarmed that she had ditched her sweet Sandwell accent for a very posh English one.

I had spent some time facebooking my friends back home with lots of references to Depeche Mode playing at the Rose Bowl, I awoke in high spirits as today was FINAL day.

I set off to the Rose Bowl early. The predicted traffic was shocking – and not because of 90,000 Mexicans and 1,000 US soccer fans heading to Pasadena.

The 24 mile trip from my base near LAX (Los Angeles Airport) took nearly an hour.

There was not a cloud in the sky. The light was very harsh, yet bright. This was the venue of the FIFA World Cup Final in 1994 and I remembered photographers at the time complaining about the light being so awful as the kick offs were at midday to appeal to European and Asian TV.

Journalists write nice words with leaky pens to the best gadget notepads available – Us photographers only get nice pictures with nice light.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

This light was horrid.

The press box was high up. VERY high up! I anticipated issues with bad, harsh shadows. It took me back to remembering looking at superbly exposed transparency film from that final. It would certainly sort out the men from the boys.

I got a bib from a girl sitting at a table whose eyes lit up when I said “Thank You” I guess it was because of my English accent as she asked, “Where are you from?”

I thought quickly – although not technically correct, being 8,000 miles away I was not far off  – so I said the same place as Cat Deeley… She was not impressed and resumed to her sulk.

Just what have me and Cat done to the Americans?!

First up though was a press conference with Chuck Blazer. Chuck was a FIFA Committee Member until recently and is the General Secretary of CONCACAF.

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Because of the recent happenings at FIFA, I figured that it would be good to get some new material on him. Surprisingly unlike in Europe and certainly not in Asia, I was able to do some portraits of him before his press conference. He was a very hospitable man and I welcomed this opportunity. I thus only stayed for one question at the press conference after taking the view that I would not better what I had already got.

I chatted to my Mexican friends and met another US photographer who had spotted me a week ago in New York. He seemed genuinely interested in football and I showed him some of my pictures.

Suddenly I looked at my watch, I didn’t know where the time had gone – there was less than an hour until kick off.

Pitchside was like sitting next to a warm fire. Behind the goals the TV broadcasters had set up BIG stages where presenters dressed in smart suits and microphones around their chins resembling backing singers from a Madonna concert spoke into the over the top huge American TV cameras. I know a bit about TV cameras – there was no need for such beasts. The lighting sets resembled something from the movies but Hollywood was literally in the next district.

As I always say to my photographers – If you see something that makes you look, then take a picture. Just like the hundreds of times I have gone behind cameras in Italy and Germany especially to shoot the likes of Franz Beckenbauer talk on live TV I motioned around the lights.

True to form, a security man came and tried to stop me. I was in no mood for confrontation. I had made up my mind this morning that I would not get into ANY situation that would cause ANY argument. I did not want to leave the US with a bad taste in my mouth.

I asked the white T-shirted security man (when all his sub-ordinates were in yellow) if I could go around and shoot the TV production. “NO SIR YOU CAN NOT” was is reply.

Did I do the right thing in saying what I said next…? Answers on a postcard please..

… many media magazines use AMA pictures of TV broadcasts and so I assumed that it would be useful for my library to have such an image.

Sincerely – anywhere else in the world I would be considered a nutcase for even thinking such tepid thoughts…

So I said something like.. “I’m not from around here, I regularly shoot TV productions in Europe – I’m not going to be a pain…”

I assumed he feared me going in front of a TV camera or knocking down a light perhaps – but to say I was left dumbfounded was an understatement – “I SAID NO. WE DON’T FOLLOW THE RULES OF THE QUEEN, WE FOLLOW THE RULES OF THE CONSTITUTION. WE HAVE BEATEN YOU GUYS ALREADY TWICE – DO YOU WANT TO GO OUTSIDE SO WE CAN MAKE IT THREE?”

I stared at him puzzled at what was happening… My battle was lost…

“FUCK YOUR QUEEN. THIS IS AMERICA. YOU ARE IN AMERICA NOW – YOU DO WHAT WE SAY.” My mind then switched off as he went on about some battle in 18 something or other and I did not listen to the rest of his violent rant.

I walked off utterly bemused at what I had just heard.

Should I cry to mummy and tell a CONCACAF official? No. Was I witnessing a hatred of the English or simply that everyone does what they say and no one questions or wants to reason here?

I then questioned my true friendships with some Germans I know. OK I make fun of us British winning two wars and they make fun of all kind of other things. Was the security man being ‘funny’ about The Queen or was he being real?

When someone Japanese says no, they mean no – but quite often they partake in sweet loving chats about their reasoning.

I sought solstice and found a position doing the USA attack.

As per normal I went around to the dug outs to shoot some head shots during the national anthems.

I wanted a picture to show the players entering onto the pitch in the Rose Bowl. About 10 meters down from the dugouts was a lovely patch of light caused by the ever growing shadow.

I stayed there in anticipation of getting a nice shot. I was enthused for the first time this week about a picture.

However, it soon went.

I was not allowed to stand there either.

Was this week one constant Friday the Thirteenth? Had I got out of bed on the wrong side every day? Was this a giant masterplan to challenge my psychology and communication skills?

This time it was a CONCACAF representative who insisted that I stood by the rest of the other photographers.

With politeness and concise explanation at the forefront of my mind, I explained that a couple of magazines in Europe – Germany especially would adore a picture taken from here showing the elegant theatre of the final with the two teams walking out….

He was not listening. I continued to ask if CONCACAF wanted nice coverage in soccer magazines in Europe.

No response – only I had to move. This was crazy. This was someone stopping me work full stop.

In every African Nations Cup, Euro Championships, Asian Cups and indeed anywhere on the planet where I have shot international soccer, I do not think that one football photographer would argue that I was in the wrong.

I decided not to care any more and to be honest nearly walked out of the stadium and thought that spending the afternoon on Venice beach would be more constructive.

Perhaps I care more now because it is MY company that I provide pictures to. But all I want to do is take nice pictures. Is that too much to ask?

I took my mind off the situation and walked to the US bench and thought what this stadium would have looked like for the infamous 101 Depeche Mode concert.

Then Marcus Hahnemann came over and in pre-game ritual shook my hand. His association with Wolverhampton Wanderers helped me forget this nonsense that I was experiencing. Any shrink would have been proud of my CBT skills. Years ago I would have just punched someone.

I got an OK picture of the teams with a silhouetted trophy in the foreground but no where near as good as what I could have got.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Game time.

The light was still bad.

Even cheating and shooting automatic was a waste of time as Mexico were in black (again) with the US in all white.

The US scored two goals – the didn’t make for pictures as I realised then that I was actually not amongst photographers but people with digital SLR cameras FILMING. I felt very uncomfortable.

CONCACAF then went back to the top of my Christmas Card list as an eagle-eyed lady hand picked off people standing behind the goal serving no purpose only than to watch on a freebie.

Thankfully she stopped over half of the videographers and sent them all to the press box. I have never wanted to buy a bunch of flowers for anyone so much in all my life. This woman was a legend.

I normally work in instinct mode. I very rarely think about what I am doing but I was aware that I had not got much in the first half.

This was a fantastic stadium. The heat reminded me of being in Nigeria where we roamed the stands, went on the roof and got portfolio pictures documenting the African Nations Cup. I didn’t expect to go on the roof – well there wasn’t one fo begin with but it was so frustrating not being allowed to do the most simple things like document the teams walking out onto the pitch!

I told myself that the next goal was going to be the shot to get – and I got it. Forget the art, shoot the game.

Seconds later the LA Times photographer came and stood next to me – American photographers insist on standing and then wonder why their pictures are not as good as the Mexicans and my own – we say : Backgrounds, backgrounds and backgrounds and shoot low. But they don’t listen.

Making fun, I commented that he had just missed the winning goal. The USA then hit the bar! The LA snapper said that I shouldn’t blame him but his boss as he wanted to see an early picture. I questioned and pointed out that the game was only 90 minutes and not three hours like an NFL match. He murmured something like “I do what I am told” – I had experienced enough of that American philosophy already. Being a photographer you have to think outside the box and push boundaries otherwise you end up with numb boring work. Sorry but he would not last five minutes in Europe.

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My eyes were wandering. I spotted a man holding what seemed like a puppet to a TV camera. On closer inspection it was his fingers.

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It was Compayito one of the most famous faces of television in Mexico reporting from the final!!!

I told myself that THAT picture of COMPAYITO is what I am known for. I am glad I finally had something ‘different’ without the intervention of a crappy angry American security official.

The world became a better place once more.

Mexico went onto win 2-4. Santos who I first shot in a pre-season friendly for Spurs at Norwich scoring a simply wonderful goal.

The roar from the 90,000 crowd was immense. The white t-shirted security guard deployed Pasadena Police to patrol the fans around the pitch.

The amount of people around the presentation area was crazy. However they had built a stage like a rock band would be wheeled onto the pitch to perform at the Superbowl. Even the shortest of photographers had a prime view. The Americans had finally got something right.

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Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard was distraught. With his head in his hands he symbolised what it was like to lose in a final. I saw him out of the corner of my eye and motioned closer with no TV or camera lens in sight around him – however the US media manager was shielding any view of him as though he was working with Secret Service Special Agents blocking a photographer getting an image of the US President having a cheeky smoke.

I could not make it up. I thought that if I got more square on I’d be able to get a shot – but no. As a physio went and gave Landon Donavan a pat on the back, the gap was filled in an instant ensuring that he would take the bullet should a marksman be wanting to assassinate the said goalkeeper.

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Compared to recent trophy presentations the Gold Cup went well. Simply because of the over the top staging ensuring everyone got an OK view.

Normally I would then run around the pitch like a mad man snapping the players with the trophy but thought better of it. I was not in the mood to be subjected to crap from security men. Perhaps foreign security tell me the same crap but I can’t understand them?

Chicharito had done bugger all! This unlike the other games had been won by the other players.

Instead I went to collect my 500mm lens which I hid by a Mexican TV camera. Standing next to it was Hugo Sanchez. He was my hero. He didn’t let me down. He was such a nice man. I NEVER ask for autographs and very rarely get enthused about past greats, but this was Hugo Sanchez.

He laughed when I told him I supported Real Madrid because of him whilst all my friends liked Barca just because they signed Gary Lineker – and was chuffed that an Englishman could remember his goals and playing alongside the likes of Camacho and Butragueno.

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I did a quick portrait of him. He was working for Mexican TV.

I felt as happy as I did when I first saw my friend Jenny on the steps of her apartment back in New Jersey.

What had I gone through this past week?

This was a rare highlight of a bad trip.

The internet in the press room then ground to a halt as everyone tried transmitting images. However myself and others blamed the videographers from taking up the bandwidth. It was now 5am back in Europe. I decided to send from my hotel – there was no rush for me.

After being asked, I helped one of the US snappers edit his work. He picked 12 pictures initially, I said no to each and edited a different set of ten. He then came back later and shook my hand when he said his boss had told him “good work” however questioned if his boss knew what a ‘soccer’ picture was.

My line this week has been that I shoot football (soccer), it’s what I know and I would be a fish out of water if I did baseball.

With all the Mexicans going home tomorrow, being chatty he asked what I was doing tomorrow – I simply said that I did’t know. We laughed together that I should go to watch a Baseball game.

Within seconds,  via the internet I had a back row seat high up in the Gods for $12 for the Dodgers game starting at 1pm tomorrow. I was certainly not going to pay $160, the asking price for other seats!

However on this occasion I took kindly to America’s foreign policy as foreigners were not allowed to purchase tickets online.

The Mexicans then said their goodbyes. With genuine heart I wished them well and expressed how glad I was that they had won. Within seconds an American turned around and questioned my loyalty. I smiled and said that the best team had won.

“Hey how do you know the goal tender?” another said – I so wished that this was being video taped. The photographer who suggested that I went and watched the baseball came and rescued me and wanted to look more at pictures that I had taken from tournaments.

Before going to sleep I chatted to an old gentleman who said he had been to London. He was a drummer in a Jazz band. He was one of the few genuine Americans I have met who acknowledged that there was a big soccer tournament on. He let himself down when he quite really had never even heard of the words “Manchester United” let alone know anything about them, so we talked about venues and drumming. Although he liked small bars he said he once dreamed of playing in a rock band to a packed out audience at the Rose Bowl.

My day was going full circle.

I went to bed watching Piers Morgan interview Latoya Jackson. After that had finished Piers was on Oprah. I never watch Oprah but it was interesting to see her comment that she thought that Piers questions and asks in a manner Americans do not and that is why she likes him but others possibly not.

Are Americans actually allowed to ask questions in the land of the free or is it simply a cultural difference?

I came here wanting to take pictures of a football tournament and feel prior to departure that I have been in the middle of an epic cultural experience with about ten new philosophies of American culture in my head and no pictures for my library to sell!

I have lots of pictures of Chicharito in a black useless kit and a picture of Chuck Blazer. OK on a personal note I met Hugo Sanchez, made some friends with Jenny’s coaching mates in New Jersey, snapped “Compayito” and can say that I have been to the Reliant Stadium in Houston.

But certainly not challenging my creative mind whilst being next to Koo at the Asian Cup or being in tournament mode like I am at the World Cup. If I want to do something at West Bromwich Albion or Wolves they say no and explain with dignity and dont swear at me threatening me with arrest – or indeed question the Monarchy!

Perhaps those who cover boxing events here are subjected to better working conditions. Ill have to ask.

Without the communication of my friends back home and listening to some fine music I think I could have gone mad this week! Quiet often they simply ask if I had a nice time. I usually say yes. This time I think Ill say no!

A year ago today I did Portugal v Brazil in Durban. Again how time goes quick.

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