Friday, the day of the opening match of this year’s FIFA World Cup, started at 7.45am for me, and we were on the road to pick George up from his deluxe suite at 8.30am. Although the match didn’t start until 4pm, the opening ceremony was at 2pm, and the ticketing system for media opened at 9am. This meant that the sooner we got there, the more likely we were to get the positions around the pitch that we wanted.
The system for photographers is quite straightforward…usually you have priority groups which you are pre-assigned to by UEFA / FIFA / the organising body (ie. Priority 1, 2 and 3), and your position in each of these groups is determined on a first come, first served basis. For example, if you have been placed on Priority 2, and you are the 6th person to pick up your queue position, then when the ticketing system opens, you have to wait for all those in Priority 1 to choose their seats, as well as 5 people in Priority 2, ahead of yourself. However, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of priority system in operation here, which meant that when we turned up, we got straight in the queue to choose our positions, and that was that. 40 minutes later, and I’d been granted seat 19…on the end of the pitch, with the goal to my right, and on the end of the line of photographers, with a TV cameraman the next person between myself and the goal. It was tight, but I expected nothing less, especially considering there were 250 photographers pitchside, and another 50 or so in the main stand tribune.
The early morning cloud was now a distant memory, as the sun shone down on Soccer City as it was always meant to…thousands of cheering, chanting, dancing Africans were now bathed in golden sunlight, and this provided us with ample photo opportunities. The range of colours and expressions amongst the 90,000-strong attendance made for all sorts of pictures…and then came the opening ceremony…
Without introduction, a trio of fighter jets stormed over the stadium in an arrowhead formation, closely followed by a group of 5 stunt planes each performing patterned aerial manouvres, climbing and diving, splitting apart and re-convening, tarnishing the perfect blue sky with their vapour trails.
It was an impressive start to what was an impressive opening ceremony…typical African colour, flair and excitement, and most importantly, Vuvuzela-free, for about an hour anyway!
And then they restarted…at which time a lot of use said to each other (when we could hear each other!) that earplugs will have to be an essential purchase.
I made my way down to the far end of the pitch, where the fans were bathed in the most golden sunlight you could imagine. The outfits, hats, vuvuzelas, flags and scarves were everywhere. I spent 20 minutes or so looking for weird and wonderful people to photograph…I wasn’t left too disappointed. I then returned to my end of the pitch, and was soon on my way to the corner of the pitch with the manager’s side, where photographers are penned in before being guided (behind a rope, like sheep) down the sideline to either side of the halfway line, just in front of the managers’ benches.
From here, we waited for the teams to emerge from the tunnel. They lined up side by side about 2 yards in front of us, and were then followed by FIFA President Sepp Blatter, and South Africa President Jacob Zuma, who addressed the crowd very expressively, before declaring the tournament open.
The national anthems were played, and before long, we were rushing back down to the corner, and around to the far side of the goal to take our seats for kick-off. I wanted to shoot the first kick of the game, so I was in a particular rush to get comfy.
As the game progressed, all I could hear was the monotoned vuvuzela, as thousands of screaming Africans lived up to their reputation. It wasn’t until the 55th minute though that we heard some REAL noise, when Siphiwe Tshabalala slammed home the opening goal of the tournament, for South Africa, and sent Soccer City into delerium. The stadium erupted…never heard anything like it. The noise at the Nou Camp when a goal goes in still (probably) ranks at the top of the list, but the raw volume was second to none. The goal was scored at the opposite end to where I was sitting, but this didn’t detract from the buzz I experienced there and then. That was a noise I won’t forget in a long time.
Although the match seemed to be a good game (and was probably good to watch on TV), it wasn’t great for photos. From my end, most of us really struggled for decent images for the full 90 minutes, and even though Mexico scored an equaliser in front of us relatively late on, the goal wasn’t any good, and neither was the cele. Full time was called, and we trudged back to the media centre to wire what pictures were worth wiring, and then made our way home at 9pm, where most of us headed straight to bed.