I was on my first England away trip. It was in Poland in 1997. If memory serves me correctly, if England won then they would reach the 1998 France World Cup. I remember the game though for different reasons.
Firstly the amount of fighting there was between England and Poland fans and secondly a certain Monte Fresco MBE sat next to me on a press bus to the game.
This was the photographer who had taken the infamous Vinny Jones and Gazza picture.
Monte would make friends with anyone. Including me. His charm was so instantly apparent that it didn’t take a brain surgeon to understand why he had amassed so many unique pictures of sports greats doing crazy things. However embarrassing, people would do all sorts of crazy things for Monte in front of his camera.
For someone who loves listening to tales from the past, I was a prime target and new blood for Monte, as most of the more experienced press guys and girls on the trip had probably heard them a hundred times before.
Story after story came, including traveling to the 1970 FIFA World Cup with the team and walking down the aeroplane steps with Bobby Moore. When some people tell tales, sometimes you think, ‘yer whatever’ as though they were exaggerating or indeed making it up – you knew though with Monte that every story was true.
Something on that day however stuck in my head. Monte knew of my fondness for Shrewsbury Town – he got another of his famous images whilst photographing Shrewsbury Town reserves when Dave Mackay broke his leg playing for Tottenham Hotspur.
All he did was encourage me to take pictures of Shrewsbury Town, which I still do today!
I had a staff job at the time. But Monte being Monte simply said, “Don’t listen to what your governors say or want you to do, just keep documenting Shrewsbury Town – your team.”
“Do the fucking World Cups and big games for your governors – let them earn the money – but keep on snapping away at Shrewsbury for YOU.”
For the first time ever, Monte got all serious, giving me advice… “Photograph everything, first team, fucking reserves, fans, the stadium, everything” – he had a deep cockney accent and liked to swear, but in a nice way.
But being Monte he said, “Keep going as one day it will all be worth it but then you will die, it would be too late and no bugger will thank you.”
Lots of photographers I guess have far more funnier and remarkable anecdotes than me, but that is mine to a true great. Monte taught me never to forget my roots, and carry on something that I started when I was 16. Regardless of arguments, not getting paid, glamorous foreign assignments I still as many people know still photograph Shrewsbury Town.
Today Monte passed away on the same day as Nelson Mandela – with one great photograph by “My Govenor” Phil O’Brien, who did earn lots of money from my pictures, sold our beloved agency and was last seen in New York City! On a day when I spent hours editing pictures of stadiums in Brazil for the forthcoming World Cup, I also did a photoshoot with the newly reformed Shrewsbury Town Ladies Football Team. I don’t listen to many people, but I listened to Monte and thankfully Phil DID let me carry on taking pictures of Shrewsbury Town regardless of whatever else we did back in the day.