On Sunday, Frank Lampard’s New York City face Steven Gerrard’s LA Galaxy in the MLS. Perhaps Everton v Manchester City is the big game this weekend but even if for the novelty factor, this is arguably as big in the eyes of the English media.
I should be doing work on the new AMA website and finishing it off after the old server was on its last legs. I should be chasing clients who have not paid me for months and whose debt has resulted in more unnecessary payments for being in the red with Lloyds Bank. To say I have cashflow issues is an understatement. I should be traveling to Norwich, covering Stoke City or at Old Trafford again for the Newcastle game, but this is a unique happening. One for the credit card. This game is anything but a gamble. I just need lady luck to help me get some sellable material!
I first covered MLS in 1996, the MLS Cup Final when torrential rain basically ruined the fixture in Boston. The neat year, this time in Washington DC, another cloud burst drowned out proceedings.
Subsequent visits ensued, mainly to cover David Beckham – but the standard was still poor, but thankfully I have not photographed in rain like that again!
Now in season 2015-2016 the MLS is going places.
Orlando City FC have Kaka.. The once hero of AC Milan, a natural treasure in his home country of Brazil, although he has the Florida sunshine, he also has $7.17M deposited in to his bank account every year.
Two of England’s finest have also decided to end their careers across the pond and now apply their trade in the MLS. Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard earning a combined $12M.
The adventure started off on the wrong footing. Missing the US Airways flight from Heathrow is not the most ideal way to start off. Mainly due to motorway crashes, bad traffic, me going to the wrong car park – I was on auto pilot and forgot I found a special deal on an alternative car park – and a faffing Heathrow Car Park bus driver. Time just kept ticking with the gate firmly closed when I eventually reached Terminal Three.
However a delightful lady booked me on the next British Airways flight which resulted in my probably getting a better ride!
Apart from four episodes of HOUSE OF FOOLS featuring my favourites Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimor, I watched the Paul Gascoigne film.
That send my head spinning in to frenzy of self-doubt when it documented Euro 1996 when Gazza scored one of his best goals ever – which I missed. It’s not nice watching yourself on TV when the likes of Gazza flicks the ball over Colin Hendry and score.
However my confidence returned to normality when they featured his goal at Celtic which reminded me of my images that made the back and front pages in both England and Scotland back then.
Obviously the judgemental keyboard warrior arm chair fan would have a different say on the matter but I thought that it was a great film and I think I would turn to drink if I had of had the life that he has.
Nineteen years on, missing that historic incident still hurts and it’s no wonder I was dropped for the Euro 96 Final as I was not good enough. Looking back I was then catapulted around Planet Earth to the point that my feet did not touch the ground, working hard everyday so that I could not reflect on anything, almost banned from the office so that I was not responsible for editing my material and left to just take pictures – and came back from the FIFA World Cup in France a hero. Great management from my piers at EMPICS.
And so to LA. I must surely have had enough of this place. I stopped writing the blogs as they would have simply become a slaughtering of the tournaments that I was covering. Not well orgainsed at all. However all was calm and relaxed as I met old friends at The Galaxy and was astonished with the amount of British media who attended – BBC Football Focus, Sky Sports News and four newspaper journalists traveling from England and old friends flying in from other US Cities. And two guys from Belgium working for a football magazine in Europe.
Still the Yanks do things differently that can be a tad annoying. OK we wait for what is supposed to be the last 15 minutes of training, only for it to have finished.
Waiting for almost two hours went in no time as the Galaxy security guard relived tales about Jurgen Klinsmann flying his own helicopter into work on his first day causing confusion and panic to Beckham’s boys skateboarding in the corridors of the stadium. He also gave good advice on why not to drive to Las Vegas when there is NFL on due to the amount of Californians who drive to Nevada to bet on the American Football games. Apparently if the journey is 8 hours, you are doing good!
Once were allowed access, there were no pictures to be had of Gerrard kicking a soccer ball around on the lush green training field – but not as lush and green as the WBA Training Pitch!
Only Ball Boy duties for the goalkeepers was the closest that I got to him with a ball.
Sports Photography mode was left behind as I went into Documentary Photography mode.
Talking about how he has never worn a pair of jeans in the hot Californian climate to being able to go to the beach and just live a normal life without being so hounded, you knew the smile on his face was not just for the cameras.
After an initial small sarcastic moan about suggesting the Galaxy adopt Liverpool’s philosophy of him speaking to the press every six weeks he was so friendly to us Brits saying that he gets interviewed everyday and appeared to go up a gear in providing us with some wonderful material.
The US media have matured too. I was chatting to some of them and their knowledge of the game could give the likes of Henry Winter a run for his money. Their questions were more intelligent too – unlike the times I used to laugh out loud and snigger at some of the things fired to Beckham in the past!
After his interviews we had more friendly chats – talking about the beach, our mutual friend in goalkeeper Ian Dunbavin who used to play for Shrewsbury Town who Gerrard used to go and watch from time to time, before he jumped onto a golf trolley for a sneaky lift back to the locker rooms.
Back home, especially with the England national team, the players would have almost certainly turned their backs on us – thats if we were allowed to get so close in the first place!
But Gerrard laughed and smiled as he got his free ride and genuinely seemed to the attention.
Noticing some fans in Liverpool shirts, he jumped off the cart and ran to about a dozen fans waiting in the Autograph Pen.
Mocking a fan wearing an Everton shirt, any thoughts of not getting any material for previews of the big soccer ball game were a distant memory.
Not only accommodating the fans, he kept turning so that I could capture the goings on too. Was this the REAL Steven Gerrard? Obviously so. It’s a shame that I never encountered this when covering Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League and for England. I simply blame the shoddy media officers back home who grossly over protect the players.
Taking the mickey out of his Scouse accent, I said, “Listen – you have been great – Cheers Larrrrrrrrr….” he smiled shook my hand for about the fourth time during the day and said it was a pleasure.
But my day was not over yet.
I went to speak to the LA Galaxy media folk to initially thank them, only for a conversation about how big the game was back home to evolve when it was mentioned about a special poster made for the game.
The last time I went into the LA Galaxy Club Shop, it was for Gerrard’s debut. The girl in the shop recognised me and again kindly let me document the goings on. During my time there, four requests for Gerrard shirts were declined due to most of the sizes being sold out. Three of them from English families on holiday!
Back to the training facility I went. It is un-heard of for Manchester United to train at Arsenal’s training ground the day before a game, but due to the large distances involved, MLS teams train on their rivals territory.
It was time to document the other side of the story – Frank Lampard.
Just my luck.. he is still injured.
He said, subs bench at most. He seemed frustrated.
Citie Media Man, Sam Cooke from Manchester City has transferred to the New York City FC franchise and seemed to be enjoying himself, again accommodating us all… Dare I say he would have been more protective in his previous role.
No autograph hunters or trips on golf carts for Lampard but I got plenty of pictures to edit and send out to accompany the English Journalists words for the Sunday newspapers.
Again I have never got anywhere near Frank Lampard in all my time of covering Chelsea and especially England. Perhaps it was because I didn’t have my camera constantly in his face but he didn’t mind my presence and appeared honoured that no one had forgotten him.
To cap off a great day, my tweet about Cozmo the LA Galaxy got retweeted.
The Wifi in the hotel was rubbish. Shocking. Terrible. I had all this great material but I could not send out. The ultimate nightmare.
I drove up the LAX strip and went into some of the really big hotels, sneaking into the business centres but even when attaching ethernet leads from the computers already in there, the upload rate was so slow, it was pointless trying.
Whilst packing in a hurry, I had forgotten my 4G US phone. This was one big dark cloud overing over me but after seeing a McDonalds and getting a thirst, one medium refillable cup was refilled about 8 times as I made use of the McDonalds free wifi network. They say, There is nothing like a McDonalds – there isn’t – I’m eternally grateful. Perhaps my pictures should be captioned… These images have been brought to you by McDonalds – because they were!
I returned to my hotel and promptly dozed off on the bed. I don’t get jet lag but was wide awake at 4AM… a lucky awakening.. Man U were on the tellybox!
Internet perked up a bit but not enough to send large files.