A cooked breakfast was laid on for us on the morning of what was arguably my biggest game so far…ever. Germany vs. England in the World Cup…it doesn’t get much bigger, as far as the UK market is concerned anyway. We’d been informed that the Media Centre would open early, and that photographers would be able to choose pitch position from 10.30am onwards. With Leechie complaining that the room smelt of garlic, and prime suspect Mongo looking clueless, it made sense to get moving, and a sub-5 minute drive led us into PS3, where we parked up on the dusty, barren rugby pitch and walked up the white tent set up outside the stadium.
We were greeted by a queue of photographers adjaecent to the journalists’ desk. We joined the back of it, to find Valeria holding position number 1 at the front – I’m sure I recall the term ‘towels down’ being uttered once or twice as we slowly shuffled forward. I was early enough to choose a position I wanted – far side of the goal from the bench, with the goal to my right, favouring the right-footed shooting picture. I was now able to relax slightly, safe in the knowledge that I didn’t have to sit and secure my seat – it was all sorted, and no one could upset things.
I’d heard from Marc the previous evening that my wide David Villa goal picture from the previous match had been used double-page in the Mail on the Saturday, so that put a smile on my face. I was online on Press Display where I was able to confirm the usage, when Dylan Martinez, a senior Reuters photographer based in London, came up to me and started chatting about that game, and congratulated me on getting the shot, having seen it in the paper himself and seen the Offside byline, knowing I was pitchside that night. He said that every large agency snapper on that side of the pitch messed it up, and that he had a very similar frame also from my side of the goal, but didn’t have Villa himself in the frame, as he’d disappeared behind another player as the ball rose up into the picture. He said he was gutted as it could well turn out to be goal of the tournament, and not many people had it. Good news!
I made sure my caption templates were sorted, my filenames were ready, and all my batteries (camera and laptop!) were fully charged. There was a nervous tension around the room as people began to realise what was only a couple of hours away. A German photographer approached me, realising I was English, and proposed that we swap passes at half time in order to cover our respective teams’ attack for the full 90 minutes. I agreed it would be a good idea, depending on the half time scores, and that we could meet to exchange seat tickets on our way from one end to the other. I don’t think Leechie was bothered either way…he had a tribune position secured, as always, and was confident he could cover the entire pitch from his centralised, elevated postion in the main stand.
I packed up and made my way outside into the scorching sunshine; something I wasn’t expecting after last year’s Confederations Cup semi-final, where blue skies proved deceptive as a frezzing chill came across the Free State and we returned to our car to find it iced over at midnight. It was baking though, t-shirt and shorts baking, and I trekked up to the far end of the pitch wearing 2 t-shirts, a hoody and a thin waterpoof jacket…nice.
I did some fan pictures in the sun, and made my way round to the corner cordon where we were led to the halfway line ready for the teams’ emergence.
I shot a wide picture of the teams walking out onto the pitch, and then moved forward once the rope was opened up to shoot the England team group. Racing back to my seat, I found myself positioned between Jason Cairnduff from Action Images, and Dylan from Reuters, who I’d been talking to earlier that afternoon. The buzz was amazing…the tension of my position as sole pitchside photographer for Offside, the excitement and expectation of everyone back home watching on TV, and the chanting and singing coming from the thousands of fans inside the stadium made it something to remember.
And then Germany scored…at the far end. Not long into the game and we were 1-0 down, both as photographers and as England fans.
And then they scored again…at the far end. This made it 2-0 and it wasn’t even half time. We wondered how many more could go in, thinking it could be a rout of embarassing proportions.
And then England scored…at our end! Joy turned to annoyance as my first unsharp frame of the match on that goalmouth lens was the goal itself. I was not a happy bunny. Secretly in my mind, I was thinking, ‘I hope it doesn’t matter’, although I keww I shouldn’t be thinking like that…I knew I should be nailing everything, no matter what. There was no cele, as they retreated to the halfway line to start again without losing momentum.
And then England scored…at our end…or not? I shot a frame of Frank Lampard lobbing the ball over the German goalkeeper, only for it to hit the bar, bounce down and out of the goal, and no goal was awarded…I’m not by who, whether it was the referee or the linesman. One way or the other, this was already sure to be a huge talking point in the days to come, especially if England were to lose. I immediately turned to the linesman and got some stuff on him, and then shot some more when he held out his flag for anything, whatever the decision, just to get him with his flag held out. At half time, as the players walked off, Wayne Rooney appraoched him and appeared to hold his arms a distance apart, suggesting how far over the line the ball had landed before bouncing out. This made a nice image, and I knew I’d be backed up by Leechie in the stands.
I shot a few more frames, then gathered my gear together and legged it to the far end, changing my pass with the German photographer as previously discussed. I edited my pictures quickly once I’d set up at the far end, as quickly as I could anyway, before the teams emerged again for the second half…it was frantic and non-stop.
The second half came and went quite quickly in the eyes of most England fans, as Germany imposed their superiority on the match, and hammered a pitiful England side into the ground. Capello’s desperation was highlighted towards the end of the match when he brought Emile Heskey on instead of the expected Peter Crouch, a move that did nothing to alter Germany’s dominance of the game; a game that they eventually won 4-1.
Dejection pictures had been on the agenda from kick-off, knowing England’s track record in big games against big teams…and there were plenty to be had here too…standing around waiting for the restart is always a picture, as they wipe their sweaty foreheads, stand on the ball, hands on hips etc. – most of the time, this is when dejection pictures are shot. Occassionally, I might stay on a player for a bit, if that player is particularly newsworthy like Rooney, Gerrard or Terry for example, and they might scratch their face, pinch their nose, or shout at a teammate or the referee, and these moments all go into the dejection category. As the final whistle blew, Wayne Rooney was the key figure for me to look for, the talismanic striker who has failed to deliver in this World Cup, and he turned away from the group with a forlorn look on his face, providing photographers at my end with a simple but effective image.
With everything in the bag and more editing to do, I headed back out through the crowds (against the flow, thanks FIFA) and over to the media centre. An hour or more later, and I was done, ready to take on the trip back to Johannesburg. Matt, George, Kleiny and Joe we off to Durban for the following day’s match between Netherlands vs. Slovakia, and for some reason or another (insurance, I think) wanted to change cars, so we all got out to the car park, swapped everything over and got moving at 9pm. I drove the entire way back, which started with a nightmare 100km or so with buses and lorries blocking every chance we had to overtake on this ridiculous stretch of single-carriageway road. Tempers flared between our Touran and the idiots on the road…a couple of times we were passed by huge HGVs who were happy to travel 2km dow the wrong side of the road to pass traffic that would catch up with it just a few minutes further on. Eventually, we pulled into the Lodge at 2am, having stopped to reload on crisps and drink, the only available substinance on the N1. With a relaxed morning ahead, our heads hit the pillows about half an hour after we arrived back, and that was it for the day.