This season has not been the best – careful consideration has been made on if I should blow the dust of my dinner jacket and start covering more weddings to pay the bills. With a weekend of covering the worst Manchester United performance that I have ever seen at Everton and my beloved Shrewsbury Town sadly get one step nearer to relegation after a 5-2 defeat to Preston North End, off I went to Madrid, the capital of Spain.
A late afternoon arrival meant no sightseeing, no food, no nothing, only to jump onto the excellent Madrid Metro and head south of the city to the wonderful and unique Atletico Madrid Stadium. I say unique as it has a road going underneath the main stand (or tribune if you are European).
Chelsea were the visitors, the first leg of the semi final of the UEFA Champions League. The winners going to play in Lisbon next month in the final.
It was anything but a 0-0 bore draw.
Sods law, sat in a nice position to get creative content… Koko takes a corner, Czech the Chelsea goalkeeper puts the ball over the bar only to then dislocate his shoulder.
Czech was in great pain, so was I! Especially as though I saw the incident – but it would have been impossible to capture using a very wide-angle lens.
I settled for pictures of the Chelsea staff trying to recover their poor goalkeeper, but after seeing the excellent images captured by photographers using remote cameras in the goal at times like this its easy to accept defeat.
Other photographers moaned it was a boring game. I found it inspirational and reclaimed my belief that I was happy in my work and that I can put the wedding photography on hold!
The next day I ventured west and documented the renovation of the city’s Olympic Stadium into the new home of Atletico Madrid.
It looked to me like a wonderful South Korea stadium. Climbing up embankments on the motorway I eventually got a great view – then it was the case for waiting a seemingly long 4 minutes for the sun to appear out of the frustrating cloud.
Then back on the Metro and back again to the Santiago Bernabeu.
A huge advertising image of Xavi Alonso greeting passengers getting off at the Santiago Bernabeu Metro stop.
I usually describe the stadium as about 5 smaller Shrewsbury Town stadiums on top of each other – but smaller! It’s actually quite small in its footprint, but incredibly high, with AMAZING floodlights. No issues about the elements in my lenses being out of alignment due to nature of the job transportation. Beautiful backgrounds ensured crisp images.
There were no tabloid newspapers to service at today’s game, so I was left to take pictures of anything with a clear head and as a free spirit. And boy was my world a better place.
The pitch was in better quality than the artificial turf and carpet that surrounds it! Colleagues of mine who sit alongside some of the most wonderful pitches on planet earth try to replicate the lawns with Wembley stripes to that of our work place.
Ronaldo’s football boots always amaze me, his latest gold studded ones graced the perfect pitch – would this be the CR7 show again?
As the players came out the volume went up to 11 on the Spinal Tap volume control. Sometimes the fans here are a bit reserved, but certainly not when they are playing for a place in the final of the UEFA Champions League.
Zidane looked angry – but then so do I when I see him knowing I could now own two helicopters and a mansion somewhere if I had captured his head butt in the FIFA World Cup Final in 2006. Only one lucky French man did out of nearly 300 of the supposed best football photographers in the world covering the final.
Adrian Chiles is always good value… sadly some newspaper websites preferred ITV screen grabs to my pictures to depict Roy Keane commenting on the demise of Manchester United. To me this is yet another demise of the newspaper industry too – cheap and free content to an audience who never complains.
Whilst the chica bonitas behind me wooed Cristiano Ronaldo, the male fans were not so pleasant to my favourite Bayern Munich player – Mario Gotze – he is only my favourite as he was signed from Borussia Dortmund!
Whilst taking a corner I noticed one fan in particular who was not so pleasant to poor Mario. I focussed instead on him and snapped away as he more than vented his hatred to the German.
Bayern Munich are probably the team I have photographed most out of the UK this season. From their UEFA Champions League exploits to their triumph in the FIFA Confederations Cup, I have seen them at their best.
Thankfully like a tennis photographer knows what kind of shot a tennis player will make from the position of their feet and ankles, dare I say I was not as out foxed to the Bayern strategy of football as Real Madrid were.
Bayern having nearly 80% of the first half possession but amazingly Real were 1-0 up. The ever nagging decision making doubt then came into my mind – stay with Real or stay where I was and do Bayern second half. I opted to stay where I was… the principle factor being that there was no space to move!
Bale came on and although I was doing Bayern attack he did drop back for met to capture him for the first time in his new home.
People often ask me how a photo library works – well here goes – should a book or magazine ever want images of footballers doing impressions of animals, here is one of Gareth Bale doing an impression of an elephant.
Or indeed, football manager looking like film characters – The Blues Brothers. Carlo and Zidane as Elwood and Jake.
The only downside to a pulsating last ten minutes were my friends the stewards. With fans fenced in, then having to get past stewards facing them, have the next task of getting past the photographers and jumping over he advertising boards to get to the pitch – a line of stewards on the pitch basically blocked out any chance of getting a last minute belter.
I’m sure the Spanish steward is a nice man but he didn’t half get the wrath of a German photographer going crazy at him during the final moments of the game!
The evening was rounded off with another visit to our favorite Madrid Italian restaurant near the stadium. No friendly manager this time, but still excellent pizza and pasta.