My time on the busses had come to an end. It was time to fly. To be honest after going to sleep at 2AM, having to get up at 6AM after being woken up by a colleague at 5AM to get an earlier flight, I truly missed a nice straight 8 hours sleep on a comfortable bus.
The check-in girl shouted to me in her local dialect, I had no idea what she was saying. After she had finished she handed me over my flight ticket. Seat 1D.
At 8.40AM my senses told me something was not right. We were supposed to be boarding by now. All was quiet. A brief, “Konichiwa” to a Japanese journalist also waiting in the small airport terminal, followed by “Sao Paulo, Geto Ichi” (Sao Paulo gate one) resulted in a nod. He then followed in a flurry of Japanese which sent my head into a spin as he probably assumed I was fluent in his native tongue – not quite!
I waited more, trying to communicate with everyone back home in the UK on Facebook messenger, everyone was too busy at work. I then thought I would try Argentina but they were asleep. I was Billy No Mates once more.
Upon entering the small aircraft I was more than worried that a massive argument was in front of me, fearing my equipment was going to be stored in the hold, but fear not, my ThinkTank bag, fitted like a glove in the overhead locker.
No mega flying machine today, a small propeller driven aircraft took me to the second semi final… well eventually.
Sitting on the plane for 10 minutes I decided to put on the iPod. I must have fallen asleep, 7 songs in, we were still on the ground. Almost two and a half hours later we were finally in the sky. A farewell to the great city and wonderful people of Belo Horizonte.
I have been to Sao Paulo before but to try and get across how big it is, is impossible. Some say it is as big as Wales. As my picture shows, buildings upon buildings as the eye can see with no grassland ANYWHERE.
Sods law resulted in me exiting the airport and seeing the Airport Bus leaving in the distance. I had to wait another 30 minutes for the next one. It was that or a £70 taxi that could not guarantee dropping me off anywhere near the stadium!
Thankfully one English Photographer sweet talked the people in the stadium into issuing me with a match ticket. If I was late, I would have had to go through a system operated by FIFA to explain I still wanted the ticket. If I did not show up, then the ticket could be given to another photographer on the waiting list, and if so, null any chance of me getting anywhere near the pitch at the big final on Sunday.
Upon my arrival, I was greeted by one of my Dutch friends whom I normally see when I go to cover Ajax in Amsterdam. He had been the victim of yet another robbery. His camera and lens being stolen from a Holland training session… CCTV showing people without accreditation taking his prized asset and the army and police not willing to do anything about it.
That coupled with yesterday’s tale of car tyres being flat by a driver to get out of the car and slash them himself with a doubtless counterpart arriving on the scene to offer help and to cut a long story, drive off with some of the camera gear.
Due to my lateness there was no chance of me getting behind the goal for today’s game. However, when the team sheets arrived, seeing Argentina playing in black shorts warmed my heart and instantly made my day better. The just don’t look the same when they wear white shorts. Baggy Bird finally got to meet Messi, well three of them…
I found the stadium in Sao Paulo is really soulless. I does not offer the opportunity of nice feature images of fans arriving and mingling like some of the other venues. Fans seemed to be herded around like cattle through barriers, there was no freedom for fans here and no freedom for photographers to make nice pictures, hence I put all my efforts into concentrating thing happening on the pitch today.
You have probably guessed, I am not keen on anything Sao Paulo!
After dashing to do Sir Louis, I ran to the Argentina bench to do Alejandro Sabella who I swear I saw play football for Sheffield United against Shrewsbury Town – I will have to check when I return back home. Stuff like this bugs me, I will have to know!
Not because it was a seemingly glamour encounter in world football, but again, quite simply, nice lights and being able to work OK without horrible harsh hazy South American noon sunlight and no dumb photographer sitting next to me blocking my view. To the left was a chap I have seen before covering events in North Africa and to my right a regular at the J-League. It was nice being amongst friends, or at least having others around me knowing the protocol.
Why I could not get this type of material the last time I shot Holland in Sao Paolo, I do not know. The philosophy, “You can only shoot what is in front of you” was evident though as there was action galore and feature pictures coming at me thick and fast.
Despite the rain being quite heavy and getting wet for the first time since the monsoon in Miami, after trying all tournament to get an image of Messi with his head up, I managed to tick another item off the wants list.
Zabaletta got clattered and my lateness which resulted in a poor choice of ticket you could argue appeared to pay off. I was getting some OK material here. The only thing the game was lacking was a goal.
Laziness did not enter my head, but where I was sat on the side of the pitch was perfect for the penalty shoot out. There was no reason to move.
I have my own way, my own flowchart to guarantee success. It’s worked since I devised it doing the Asian Cup in Lebanon in 2000. It worked again today!
Also the rain stopped!
The first kick I focussed on the Argentinian goalkeeper who made a great save. As soon as the camera had saved the file I sent it down the wire to be captioned, edited and syndicated out. If all went well, which I assume it did, picture desks around the world would have received a cropped, edited and captioned picture in less than 80 seconds.
I always maintain that the story in semi-finals is not the just the team winning and reaching the final, but the team losing and being knocked out too. Having a good client relationships in The Netherlands, it was in the forefront of my mind to document them and not just the showman and star man of Argentina, Lionel Messi.
Another penalty was saved and instead of sending the one-handed diving save out as another live picture, I opted for a celebration instead. During the shoot out I was very particular in what I sent out. Only killer news worthy pictures and nothing else. One great picture is better than five average ones.
The final penalty was taken, and I opted to look at the players on the half way line. It was no surprise, Germany were to play Argentina in the final. The best team never to achieve anything in the FIFA World Cup, the Netherlands, followed in the footsteps of the great Johan Cruyff and failed again to get to the final, let alone have the chance to compete for the winner’s medal.
At the end of the game I was so hungry. I had not eaten for 36 hours. The stadium media centre was the only option for food. However, unlike the previous occasions, it seemed this venue had got it’s act together. No longer did the food buffet shut at 3pm, the time some bright soul deemed was the end of lunch time. The World Cup houses journalists from all around the world. Some stay living on their own time zone, but regardless of this, there are many hungry mouths to feed at the end of a game. Another bonus was that the evil-eyed woman watching journalists take the meat and put it on their plate and sternly tell them off if they took too much like a horrible junior school dinner lady was absent. Woo hoo!! Two pieces of chicken joined my pasta and rice. The lettuce looked like it had been at the bottom of a rabbit cage for a few days, hence I opted not to have any.
If you have been following the blog from the start of the FIFA World Cup, then you may fondly remember the experience of trying to depart from the Sao Paulo stadium after the first match. In summary the local police refused to allow us to leave the cordon for our own security. Getting out was near impossible, certainly getting a taxi was.
Perhaps the organisers had finally go their act together. I have done every game for some reason in Sao Paulo and apart from strangely wanting to X-Ray our belongings upon departing the stadium to which myself and about 20 others simply walked past the bemused looking man trying to do a puzzled job, there was the welcome sight of about eight taxis. Just why were they not here for the first game?! … Perhaps three wondering lost English souls on the first day and prompted some changes to logistical travel planning…
The Sao Paulo stadium looked wonderful lit up, and for the first time I noticed it too, like the Ziggo Dome, had a wall of LCD lights showing the 2014 tournament logo.
However, just like at the Maracana Stadium, it was impossible to get a nice clean shot due to tents, entrances and other urban shapes blocking the wall of light.
It was impossible to record this stadium as a postcard image for World Cup History purposes, so basically I didn’t!
I really liked Belo Horizonte, I hope to keep in touch with the wonderful people I met there for many years. The stadium was wonderful, everything worked like clockwork. Everything was extremely well thought out. Being in Belo was a joy.
However, almost like a different nation with different cultural beliefs, Sao Paulo failed on so many levels. I was actually glad that this was the last match I would cover here. Certainly no feelings of sadness at the last game here!
I would now start my journey back home North. For the meanwhile though, I remain below the equator heading back to Rio do Janeiro tomorrow.
Once again, after meeting up with the other UK photographers, we were treated to more Ayrton Senna driving as we took a taxi back to our airport hotel.
Another first as normally we would have been asleep on a Leito Bus. Going over speed humps at over 80pmh, our heads hit the roof of the car, wheels seemingly not the only thing wanting to scream as we were flung around the back of the car whilst going around tight bends.
The next football match I do is the FIFA World Cup Final.
However, in all seriousness, I really wish I had the money of Mick Jagger who was watching games here, I guess traveling on his private jet. I’d dearly love to be at Aberystwyth Town tomorrow for their UEFA Europa League First Qualifying Round Second Leg.
I sadly no longer watch my beloved Shrewsbury Town, I take pictures of them. However, when I can, I do try to watch Aberystwyth Town.
Here is a picture to round of the FIFA World Cup Semi Final that I took at Park Avenue when the Aberystwyth Town v TNS got postponed…