Tuesday 22nd June

My day started with a trip back to the laundrette, to pick up the washing I’d dropped off on Saturday. A little chat and R50 later, and I was back home with some fresh boxers, socks and t-shirts for the coming fortnight.

We left the Lodge at 11am (picking Adam and George up along the way), to shoot Greece vs. Argentina, a game I was planning to shoot from the tribune for the first time. The tribune is directly up and behind the managers’ benches, level with the main broadcasting TV cameras. Leechie had been badgering me for a while saying he’d like me to give it a go at some point, and with Bafana Bafana having a grudge game against France in Bloemfontein, I suspected this game wouldn’t be over-subscribed and that there would be room for me to change my pass without any problems.

This was the first drive where I really felt I was in Africa…through the mountains, long, straight roads, dusty laybys and so on, amazing scenery for a 4 hour drive, far outweighing anything you could imagine back home, as you trudge along the M6 in rush hour to get to Wigan or Bolton. ‘Danger Zone’ by Kenny Loggins kicked in on Jacranda FM and I instinctively leant towards the volume dial, cranking it up as I steered my fighter jet (VW Touran) along the N1 northbound. As the song finished, I couldn’t help wishing that I had the whole Top Gun soundtrack with me…that would’ve fitted in perfectly there and then!

Just 20km from the stadium, we came across a large service station / restaurant and decided that this would be the place to get our feed for the day, considering our experiences of most media centre cafes. As we sat on a bench outside in the 22c heat, a chicken / feta / bacon salad concoction sorted me out, and onwards to the stadium we went. As hoped, I was able to swap my pitchside pass for a tribune pass, although unusually, I was given a straight swap; normally, if you want to change from one to the other, you have to go on the waiting list, and can then come to the desk when called once all pre-applied passes have been taken. This wasn’t an issue, as the demand for media tickets was not too high, so they were able to issue me one instantly, without having to wait until an hour before kick-off to claim one.

I fired up the laptop, sorted my captions out, and then spoke to Mum on Skype for about half an hour or so which was nice…strange being so far from home, and chatting to someone as if they’re right in front of you. We chatted about the building work at home, Marko’s impending weekend in Bulgaria, and the bits and pieces that I’ve been up to that I haven’t mentioned in the diary. A good catch-up…the days seem to fly by here with one match after the other, so there was quite a bit to talk about.

I glanced out of one of the doors in the media centre and noticed the sun dropping at a good rate, so I said my goodbyes and headed outside to get some GVs of the stadium front as well as anything else around the ground that was bathed in the gorgeous late-afternoon African sun.

I headed up what seemed like 50 flights of stairs (no lift!) to get to the media tribune, which was basically a row of normal seats, cordoned off from the punters, directly in front of the journalists and level with the TV cameras…from a fan’s perspective, probably one of the best views you could ask for in the stadium.

The angles I was able to shoot from that position were great, with a clean green grass background to most pictures, I just had to wait for the action to drop into my lap. Unlike from a position, the tribune allows you to cover pretty much the entire pitch throughout the match, regardless of which end the action is at. I was a mission to et a nice ‘Messi surrounded by the opposition’ picture, so I moved from one side of the halfway line to the other so I was able to cover the Argentina attacking half for the whole match. Although I didn’t get an ideal photo of Messi, I was happy with what I got, and particularly happy with the images of the ever-expressive Maradona shouting and gesturing from the sidelines, especially when the goals went in and when the final whistle blew to confirm their first place finish in the group. I shot of him hugging Messi at full-time completed the set for me.

What seemed like only 40 minutes or so later, I had Valeria on the phone asking where I was, in a typical German rush to get things doen and get out of there. As it happened, I took the opportunity I had being sat on my own to have a nice Skype chat with Meggy from the tribune, complete with panoramic views of the Peter Mokaba Stadium. Valeria wound me up with her demands for me to ‘hurry up’, so in a stress, I packed up, said my goodbeyes to 72 Park Road, and headed down to the car park. I jumped in the driver’s seat before anyone else, and drove the 3 hours home. The underbody of the car was making strange creaking, rattling noises all the way home, but we managed to make it back in one piece, slipping into bed at 4am.

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