After the rock and roll of following my beloved Shrewsbury Town gain promotion to League One, it was time to pay the bills and get material suitable for a more wider global audience. At the moment I can’t even begin to think about ordering the helicopter for the front lawn but as some say, “Its not all about the money”.
It’s a happy mixture covering events that you want to cover and covering events that you have to cover.
A wave of competitiveness has been creeping though the photographer ranks recently. Sitting pitch side we are constantly being subjected to the most amazing grass pitches. Every club photographers friend is the groundsman, I’m not saying which, but one club spends an amazing £3M on their pitch. Consequently the past few weeks have meant getting my front lawn like Wembley, but sadly I am having problems with couch grass.
Thus, it was rather compelling that the UK photographers attending the UEFA Europa League Final were slaughtering the pitch at the National Stadium in Warsaw with our own ideas on how it could be bettered.
I love doing the obscure but FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk v Sevilla FC could have been an all Italian affair of Napoli v Fiorentina if not for the results in the semi finals. Hence before the two day adventure I had some urgent homework to do in order to educate myself on the Ukraine team. I am still no expert.
Warsaw is a lovely place but there the feeling of a big European final was severely lacking.
With fans being magnetically entranced by the big stadium screens hanging from the suspended roof, flags and dancers trying to entertain spectators before kick off, my inner excitement was probably at a big fat zero. Sometimes that is a good thing. It is often a good thing. Being numb shooting football is often the best to ensure concentration and creativity rather than be angry at the referee for not giving a penalty to the team that you want to win.
English referee Martin Atkinson was the man in the middle. Nodding to the English photographers and smiling.
Then it started. 90 minutes went to 89… was it going to be a long night?
Certainly not! Four goals in the first half, the first 45 minutes felt like 10. Atkinson was awesome to the point we were proud. The two teams played openly. There was no diving, no cheating, just good honest football with both going out to win.
The second half could never reach the excitement of the first but what a final!
Sevilla winning 3-2 and one of Platini’s transformations of restoring the trophy lift in the stands or the European term of Tribune paying off photographically with some great confetti resulting in some really nice end of game material.
Happy Days. The moral of this game was don’t judge a book by it’s cover.
And for all those who marvel at photographers covering the top games, we actually love and indeed sometimes prefer the lower non-league fixtures that some want to escape from. The grass is never greener on the other side and frequently lure of the glamour is not worth it.
The next job in my diary was an epic historical game.
The Official Opening of the new FC United of Manchester Stadium – FC United v Benfica.
Only AMA, Getty Images and the Daily Mail covered it. Where were the rest?
FC United of Manchester’s first game in their new stadium is a must for any football archive surely?? #gamesgone
Fans of Manchester United split from the club when they were taken over by the American Glazers. The new club of FC United of Manchester are now only three leagues away from the Football League and moved into a fine amazing lovely new home in East Manchester.
Playing Benfica, the game for me was not about snapping the stars from Portugal but documenting the evening in Manchester with my big sports photographer lenses rested at home.
The people were so friendly. One chap just came up to talk about the 1968 European Cup Final that he went to – when Man Utd defeated Benfica at Wembley. What an editorial picture!
The atmosphere, the buzz, the vibe was something I have not experienced at an English game for about 20 years! The fans seemed to be die hard football fans, not plastic new comers ready to berate the team on Facebook for losing but ones wanting to create the magic of the 70’s it seemed.
With fans wearing club colours and scarfs and flags decorating the concrete back drop of the stadium structure, the stadium looked anything but a new build.
It was a delight to be able to walk around unhindered, friendly stewards actually wanting to help unlike the ones we regularly see intent on doing everything in their power to stop a photographer working by citing crappy health and safety garbage at English Football League and Premier League stadia.
Even if these images never see the light of day this week, at least we have some historic images of when FC United of Manchester played Benfica at the opening of their stadium in 2015. Who knows, in 2040, there could be three teams competing for the league title in Manchester.
Capturing history is an important part of photography.
The next day was the pinnacle of the English football season – The FA Cup Final – Arsenal v Aston Villa.
I tried to replicate my style that I had adopted at the FC United game but with the Theatre of Wembley more like a day at the zoo for fans with the main attraction being fenced in, I was left to use my long lens again to capture the goings on far away.
With the kick off at 5.30, another change to the once traditional end of season 3pm fixture, fans no longer make banners and hold them aloft like they did at the old stadium, instead fans were given scarfs and flags.
To be fair, almost like the J-League, fans wore their clubs colours to create great colourful washes of backdrops – The reds of Arsenal changing kit and wearing yellow.
The sun shone and with the goals going in at the other end, my history of never having a great FA Cup Final continued.
My bad run started in 2001 when Michael Owen of Liverpool came on as a substitute scoring two goals down the other end of the pitch in the 83rd and 88th minutes. I had captured a very respectable goal and celebration scored by Freddie Ljungberg of Arsenal worthy of any Cup Final victory after 72 minutes – but no one remembers losers in finals, or want pictures!
Goals win games and with Arsenal dominating Aston Villa so much I was struggling to get anything from the pitch.
At the start of the second half, my moment came as Arsenal scored their third goal.
Arsenal scored another to make it 4-0. Great for the TV viewer and Arsenal fan but rubbish for the plucky photographer wanting an exclusive of the defining goal.
I had to look for other pictures.
Villa fans dejection was easy. It was Arsenal’s day completely.
Even though the trophy presentation was not quite as epic as the Europa League Final, I was happy with the end of match pictures.
Last job of the weekend was a stock shoot at Crewe Alexandra. Remain intrigued viewers…
… the game Qatar v Northern Ireland.
After traveling up to Glasgow recently to get some material on Northern Ireland, only for Scotland to change into their away strip of white and yellow and indeed NI ditching their traditional green kit for a blue one, my heart sank as the teams entered onto the field.
Northern Ireland were again in blue. Just like every picture editor wants Ajax in white and red, Northern Ireland are a country who play in green. Pictures of them in blue are just wrong.
With the Crewe officials displaying the Qatar flag upside down, and with the host nation from the Middle East also in their away kit too, I was tempted to go home.
What happened to a nice team in purple playing a team in green?
With the temperature in the capital city of Doha being 46c in the day time tomorrow, it was not surprising that the Qatar players were constantly rubbing their arms in a bid to keep warm on the last day of May in the UK. Each player wore a white skin – a thermal undergarment – with some of them wearing gloves too.
Sunday evening was spent editing and captioning Qatar stock pictures.
With my friends with normal jobs, Monday is the start of a new week. I was looking forward to a nice lie in until I realised tomorrow is June and I need to do VAT returns. Bugger.