20180707 Russia v Croatia

By 9am I was on yet another flight back south to Sochi, for the last quarter final. Almost on auto pilot, I knew the way with my eyes closed. Right out of the aeroplane, down the ramp, turn left, through baggage, sharp right so that I can exit from the first door… outside, turn left, go to the FIFA bus stop and get shuttle bus S3. When at the Olympic Park, with the Grand Prix track to my right, turn left, follow the path through the Park gardens with the hotels and rollercoasters on the left. With the stadium in front of you, keep left and follow the signs for Gate 5. My entrance is Gate 7 (never signposted!)

The plan was to sleep on the beach with the sound of the ocean crashing on the Sochi sands for a few hours. It didn’t happen. First more pasta to eat then get my camera batteries charged. Then write two emails and then it was time for England v Sweden – though most of it was spent talking. Taking to enthuse the mind and to keep it active and to keep awake. The same was with most of my media colleagues. Although eager to watch the game, most chat watching the game out of the corner of their eye – unlike those glued to the TV back home. We have to stay awake, conserve mental and physical energy. Our game kicks off at 9pm in Sochi.

With all of my homeland seemingly partying in the sun, my friends in Japan and South America still enjoying the World Cup, the messages of be safe / stay safe have stopped and have become I hope that you are enjoying yourself!

My World Cup is a totally different World Cup to others, thats why I started this blog all those years ago!


People are passionate going to football matches, they have anticipation, a fear, a belief, excitement and a hundred other different emotions. I go to work. If I was on Radio 4, I’d say that I go to create and document, but that a very pompous thing to say!

I go to rock concerts with enthusiasm, anticipation and expectations, but on the stage is a drum kit. That drum kit has been cleaned, polished, positioned, then fitted with heaps of microphones with each drum sound checked by someone with incredible sound expertise and listening skills. All this taking place whilst a lighting director programs lights to shine down on it.

Then the concert begins and the drummer does their stuff so that the paying customer can enjoy the live music. My point is that the band roadie, the truck driver who drove in the equipment and is now on the spotlights, the sound engineer are there to work. They are at the concert but it is their work place. They don’t applaud, they don’t jump up and down and go great gig at the end.


The same happens at football. The pitch is cultivated, goal posts erected and then painted with white lines by a professional groundsman. Wires, cables and equipment are laid around the pitch. Cameras for hawkeye to see if the ball crosses the line, cameras for broadcast and cameras for the dreaded VAR!


Being a fan these days is almost like attending a fancy dress party, but people wear different clothes to their day to day life. Even the grumpy chap on the back row of my home stadium at Shrewsbury Town attends with a blue and amber scarf around his neck.

I turn up with heaps of cameras and lenses. Like the sound engineer who has a million pound mixing desk in front of him, I have a camera and lens in front of me. Like the TV cameraman who has to stay professional and focussed and act calm and not berate the referee for a bad tackle or turn around at the away fans and give them the middle finger, we are there to work.


If there is a penalty, those who are working do not have time to say a prayer, do not have time to look above seeking hope, we just remain focussed without a care in the world and document what is in front of us.

In these days of social media, people thinking that they have the divine right to have an opinion and be correct without even addressing their criteria for thinking up such nonsense, some, most just see the glamour.


Some people want to be noticed. Some just want to do their own thing.


My brain is now almost on robot status. Not because I’m mentally ill, not because I am sad, not because I am have no happiness in my inner soul but I am here to work!

Despite being tired, despite living a life that most would probably be unable to hack, just like the guitarist practising his guitar solo over and over and over again so it is utterly perfect when he goes on stage, I have been shooting a game every day almost for a month. If I have not been shooting a game, I have still been looking, observing.

The assumptious few who think that footballers just train for two hours every day and have an easy life whilst getting paid more in a day than they have in a year sadly fail to see what a footballer does. Scoring a free kick, having the nerve, the skill, the calmness to float a ball over a wall and into the top corner not only needs talent but it is a result of hours, days and months of dedication and work on the training ground. It is about practising your skill, getting better and better and being instinctive without any emotion or fear.


I feel myself getting sharper I am even more angry when I miss things. My levels of perfection have gone through the roof. But the process of shooting every day is like a training ground so now it really matters I am in a good place and ready for anything.

I remember fondly being with a rock band I know very well, everyone was commenting on how special the gig was, how amazing the sound was, how responsive the crowd was – but one of the musicians was so grumpy! Playing the same songs everyday for three months on tour is anything but boring. All he wants is perfection and is so angry with himself that he played a duff note on one song and was late for an intro on another.

When Shrewsbury Town win 4-0, everyone is happy. I am grumpy. I am asked why I am do dull!! “You should be happy – it was a great result” – people fail to understand the inner anger I have on missing a wonderful tackle picture because I was late or even missed it because I was pulling funny faces to someone I know in the crowd.

I am not fan. I am there to work!

I adore tournaments. The grind of a regular season is boring. Perhaps that is why I like to travel to refresh myself and challenge myself in new environments. Tournaments have a a short life span. A beginning, a middle and then then end – the final where there is one winner. Knockout football means something. A regular season is dull. The level of intensity is nothing like a winner takes all scenario – lose and you go home. The manager of a football club happy with a 0-0 away at a side also competing for glory never happens in knock out football.


Croatia were battling for their lives during the last two minutes of added time. Going in front, being pegged back by Russia only to go in front again. Scoring what they thought was the winning goal only for Russia to break their hearts again. Then it goes to penalties.


Reading facebook comments of people I know saying, “I can’t stand anymore of this!”, “I can’t watch”, “Please God MISS!”

I am never like this. I have to be almost numb. Work on instinct. See things before they happen and press my shutter. If I see it, I have missed it.


The hearts of the nation of Russia are in tatters. For the first time my respect levels of the home nation inflated at this game in Sochi. There were roars, screams and noise levels that provided an epic soundtrack to a great game.


Once the moment is over, I have to send pictures back to AMA HQ for my editor to work on. I have no time to be happy, no time to cry. I do not even have time to reflect. I just box it up and move on – in this case moving on back to the airport.

My WhatsApp activity, my intrigue for Instagram and communicating with the outside world stops as I need to keep my battery charged. So I communicate with real people instead!

I start talking to two friendly Argentinian girls, now following Croatia as they had spent three years of savings traveling to Russia to follow their homeland team, buying tickets for this Quarter Final, hotel tickets and paying for hotels anticipating Argentina would be playing in this game.

The traffic to the airport on the shuttle bus is shocking. I have never know it to be like this. Even in my calm state of mind I get very worried that I will miss my flight.

But facing these fears almost everyday now, I know that everything will be OK. Instead I chat in my terrible Spanish with these girls who are batting off advances from muscle armed drunk Russian. “You look normal” they say! One supports River Plate, the other Boca. They explain they hate each other on Derby day then once the game is over go back to being best friends.

The bus eventually pulls off. “ADIOS” they shout! I wave goodbye as I run into the airport taking off my belt in the process as I get through security. I then get my mobile telephone out, luckily I still have 16% battery.

Putting my PDF boarding pass to a scanner in the airpot, I print off the boarding pass with no need to queue or face human interaction pleading for a window seat – I did all that hours ago using my S7 app.

At the final security checkpoint, I see a half empty queue but it contains a family of children with many bags. I calculate that the longer queue will be quicker. My choice is correct. Many children and many bags result in longe delays in my experience! Soon I am at my gate and asleep in seat 4F and on my way back to Moscow. I have done well to only miss one flight.

I actually want to really watch this game and re-live it. But I doubt I ever will. My VHS tape of France winning the World Cup in 1998 almost erased my own memories from my first World Cup. I will just remember what I saw and heard. My World Cup does not need a commentator or replays from various angles.


Fans of Russia will be reflecting on the missed penalty. Fans of Croatia will be looking forward to a semi final v England. Football fans will be reflecting on a great game – well what I thought was a great game, but I didn’t see it whilst sat on a seat in the stadium or whilst focussed in front of a TV. I was sat near the chap working the TV camera so people could experience it also whilst doing my thing that I always do!

What am I thinking …

  • Was using flash a good idea today?
  • Goodbye Sochi – Will I ever go back to Sochi?
  • Have I applied for media tickets for the next round?
  • Am I confident my travel plans are still OK for the next three games?
  • In the cold light of day in three months time, what did I need to today that I didn’t
  • I NEED to chat to my German friend to see if she is doing Juventus v Bayern in a pre-season friendly
  • I NEED to do tax stuff for my accountant

Yes, I do like watching football. Though at my last match I was still staring at the photographers whilst feeling very uneasy about watching from the stands!

Now I need to rest and sleep. Do things that I won’t be fretting about whilst a free kick is being taken at the next game. Charging my cameras and my lovely LiecaQ so that I can actually continue to take pictures of things I see instead of walking past with regrets.


Welcome to Russia! Spain and Messi – sorry but they all went home. France, Belgium, England and Croatia await.

Perhaps they will start making Jesse Lingard mobile covers during this next week.

Bring on the semi finals!

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