July 26 : Toon Army at Columbus

Here is a prime example of the problems that the likes of myself have to go through in order to travel with my equipment…

When my friends and loved ones go on holiday, I expect that everything goes into the hold of an aircraft and if the swimming costume and sun tan oils don’t arrive then hey ho – you can always get some more when you are there. However for the traveling photographer if equipment does not end up at the destination then there is simply no point in being there. Hence most photographers take on board with them their lenses and cameras. Also through Airline law, they do not insure the equipment. Another vital reason that gear is kept with you at all times.

Up until now, traveling in the USA has been a breeze. American travellers usually take two items of hang baggage with them, thus no one ever questions me with my Think Tank bag housing my 500mm lens, two camera bodies, other smaller lenses and of course my lap top which I use to transmit my images to their various destinations.

That is until I went to Columbus via Chicago. Leaving LA on a night flight was fine. I woke up at 6ish as the plane touched down in Ohio leaving me with an hour to wonder around the huge Chicago airport before boarding a connecting flight to Columbus.

I got to the gate and sneaked the Think Tank past the airline representative as I was aware that she was making passengers put all bags in the hold. OK if it was just my clothes then I simply would not mind as I now the chances of the bags getting lost would be virtually none as they would have gone straight onto the aircraft, bypassing the baggage hub where things get lost, put on wrong airlines and in the past be subject to things being stolen.

This was a wee small plane. No room for baggage to put in the over head lockers. I prepared myself for another situation.

I was greeted with another “Hi – how are you today?” by a smiling air stewardess with oh so white teeth – who then launched into a…”its Federal law that your bag has to go in the hold Sir…”

In my head I thought of two words – NO WAY!

I explained that first that the airline would not insure the contents and most importantly that my bag contained X amount of dollars of expensive glass and finely tuned camera equipment. Any bump or bang would render them useless.

“Its too early to argue,” she went on..”They are going in the hold – its Federal law.”

OK I get this all the time, I’m used to it, but being in America the do this or else attitude was growing thin with my patience. An English man I met at the airport in LA said a man was shot dead in his street last week as he failed to stop for a shouting Policeman – who simply shot him dead!

I spotted the door to cockpit wide and open. From my experience in flying I know that the pilot has the final say – I lent my head around and quickly asked if I could keep my cameras on board – the pilot all dressed up and wearing a cap smiled and said “Sure Sir…” Music to my ears.

I put my belongings in a compartment where the pilot kept his things and sat down by a window expecting to have another hours kip before I got to Columbus.

However a Japanese man then sat next to me. After a brief Konichiwa, we ended up chatting until we got to the baggage pick up in Columbus. A family friend of his was the Japanese wife of German footballer Pierre Littbarski who I had actually met sometime ago in Yokohama, the home town where my new friend once lived.

No cloudy morning skies like in California here, at 9am the sky was dark blue and it was already a baking hot day. Not wanting to encounter another argument in a hotel in checking in too early – rules are rules in America – I headed off to the Columbus Crew Stadium in anticipation of documenting it in the glorious light.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Without any welcome checks of ID a kind soul let me in and I was left to wonder around the stadium for an hour.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

This was one of the first, if not the first purpose built stadia for the MLS. I calculated that I must have been here in 1999. After I could not shoot anymore I went to the hotel, checked in (it was now the appropriate time), put on the TV and the next thing I knew was that it was 4pm. No chance of topping up the tan today!

A headed over to the stadium once more and went to the press box where I saw the mad American photographer with a tripod and all the gear you could ever wish for. I have encountered him before. All he talked about was his gear and I quickly got bored and went pitchside and was let to roam around freely. Heaven!

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

A frequent question is – do we get to meet the players…? The answer is always no unless we are working especially for a club. From the sublime of being allowed to wonder freely in a stadium to the ridiculous contrast of not being able to do our jobs which has been well documented, I came across Alan Pardew – what a nice man he is.

He could tell that I was English and I asked how the Newcastle tour had gone. Even in England I would never be able to speak to the coach like this and valued every minute that I had with him. Ian the Newcastle photographer then came along and he was surprised to see me, it was nice though seeing a familiar face. He enthused about their trip to Kansas whilst I rebounded enthusiastic tales of WBA’s trip to Portland.

With the customary playing of the USA National Anthem and then God Save the Queen – played twice much to the amusement of the Newcastle bench… the game kicked off.

After about 5 minutes it resembled another FA like Cup tie with a Premier League team against a League One outfit. Even without Joey Barton who was not allowed entry into the USA, Newcastle eased past their opponents.

Again all I could do was question and think about the mentality of the Americans. In a previous Manchester United game, one player – again knowing that I was English – commented on the fact that he would have preferred to be playing in a hostile stadium against Leeds, Millwall or Galatasary instead of the niceness of the American crowd. But as I encountered with a security man in LA, some Americans are very anti-English so it appears. Nothing wrong there really, some English don’t like the French, in football the Belgians don’t like the Dutch and of course the Scottish hate the English and vice versa.

In Europe, the abuse and the chants I can understand. Even when Rangers fans ‘comment’ on The Pope, winding up the Celtic crowd, they say it with venom but should the two parties be in a Glaswegian bar the day after or especially on a Scotland international supporting their country it is almost swept under the carpet.

Not in America.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

The Crew fans call themselves not the Ultras or anything like that like the Japanese do in trying to mimmic European football but the Hudson Street Hooligans. Skinheads and knuckle dusters were not to be seen – just a bunch of people as though they had quite literally walked off the street trying to support their team.

However their songs angered me as it did a journalist that I chatted to after about it all – and he bought up the subject.

In the European mind the English mock the Germans for losing two wars, the French sing all kinds of crazy things and the Poles simply hate the Germans.. but dare I say it with intelligence?

My point is that yet again I had to listen to idiots slaughter “my Queen”. Because in American culture you serve your country, at every sporting event the National Anthem is sung, in my opinion they are scarily nationalistic. But to assume that in the UK we abide by our laws in serving The Queen is completely foreign to me.

From traveling I have nothing against those who live in Buckingham Palace. I know that they help attract a vast amount of tourists eager to see where they live – equally in every court there is a coat of arms, when I think about it we do ‘serve’ the Queen but not in the same ways as the Americans believe.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Perhaps at the next international and England fans sing anti President Nicolas Sarkozy songs to the French then I may have to re-think my philosophy but although the Americans and English speak the same language we are very foreign and different to each other as I have found out.

The opinion of the culture of America towards us English is so wrong! I used to photograph Diana a lot. I however have never seen The Queen in real life. Like other English fans and journalists that I talked to we were ALL utterly bemused at this ‘attack’ on us – one Toon fan in my hotel said he never cared about The Queen but as the Americans had wound him up so much – just like me! – she was suddenly the most important thing in his life and how dare the Yanks slaughter her through crappy chants!

For the record Newcastle won 3-0. I think it was 3-0. I was not worried about shooting goals as due to the time difference back home no one would have cared about this game.

I had now been to the Columbus Crew Stadium twice. Just like the first time at the end of the game I simply went back to my hotel and I never got to go to the inviting city centre with its huge skyscrapers. Perhaps third time lucky.

It was nearly 3 o’clock when I decided to go to sleep after watching US TV – The American Office v The UK Office – American wins hands down!

I had to be up in 2 hours.. was it really worth going to sleep? With the room air con on full blast I shut my eyes expecting to be awake with the annoying sound of it, but quickly drifted off to sleep…

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