Wednesday started early. Germany vs. Spain in the World Cup Semi Final.
With a German in the camp, there was never any doubt that it would be anything other than an early start. At 7.40am, there was a knock at our door…it was Valeria, who had dragged Cath out of their room and was ready to go. She wanted to be as close to the front of the queue as possible to pick up her match ticket, so she could have the best possible choice of pitch positions. Cath did not look happy. Joe decided that he was ready to go himself, even if he didn’t overly want to, so he went with Valeria and Cath stayed with us for breakfast, before heading over later.
After breakfast, the previous night’s Indian meal attacked me and soon enough the en-suite was a no-go zone, but I felt a lot better than I did an hour earlier. We got to the stadium and pitched up 20 or so places back in the queue, spotting Valeria 4 from the front. After a 30 minute wait, the press officers opened the doors to the media centre and in we went. I’d been granted a tribune position, so it wasn’t much of an issue if I hadn’t been early as there’s little difference between being in 1 position to the other when you’re up there. Nevertheless, I was given my ticket and that was that. 8 hours and a chicken kiev and salad later, it was time to head up to the stand and set up. There seemed to be plenty of room to work in, with space for my laptop to one side and my bag and third camera to the other. Strangely though, as I watched the crowd pour in, it still didn’t have the feeling of a match of that magnitude, but I don’t know why. Perhaps it was England’s absence, or the continuous drone of the vuvuzelas as opposed to the chanting and singing from each team’s fans, but it just didn’t feel like a World Cup semi final. I had to put that to one side though, and shoot it like the match it was, knowing a goal, celebration, incident, foul, red card etc. would be massively important, and that I couldn’t afford to miss anything. Even though it wasn’t England, we still have key clients around Europe, Witters in Germany being one of them (Valeria’s agency) so I knew that the job had to be done as thoroughly as possible.
From the tribune, the match seemed quite entertaining, with both teams keen to play attacking football. It was Spain rather than Germany who looked more likely to make a breakthrough as they spurned some good chances in the first half. I wasn’t looking for any pictures in particular, but I was happy with what I took into half time, with the game at 0-0.
The second half was an extension of the first, with Spain still looking the dominant force. When they won a corner in the 73rd minute, I changed from my 400mm to my 135mm for a wider view of the penalty area. The ball came in to the frame from my left and met the head of Carlos Puyol who hammered it into the back of the net, past the flailing arms of Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. 1-0 to Spain. I had the goal, loose for the double page potential, and the celebration turned straight towards us too, away from either end position. I had it all, as well as I could’ve done. I checked the images on the laptop after ingesting the card – sharp. Good, now send. I got them away on the email quickly, knowing that the late timing would mean speed would be important to catch the deadlines of many newspapers for the next day. I sent 2 frames on the goal, and 2 on the cele.
The match progressed and both sides had chances to add goals to the game, but time ran out for the Germans, and on the final whistle, the Spanish players held their arms aloft in celebration, whilst the Germans dropped their heads in dejection. I also prepared for this moment too, hoping for the exact picture that happened for me.
After shooting dejected Germans wandering around aimlessly, and then leaving the field, I laid my gear down and got stuck into sending the rest of my pictures. I was able to email them one picture at a time, as I usually do, but for some reason I couldn’t upload them to the Offside website using the FTP setup that Leechie had set up for me. Things were working fine in the media centre before the match, when I sent my pictures of the stadium I’d taken from the hotel balcony, but from my position in the tribune, I was having no luck. When I email, the photos go direct to the UK newspapers, and then when I upload to the site, they automatically fire out to all the Offside agents too (France, Germany, Italy, Poland, SA etc.), so this process is just as important, if not more so, as there would probably be more interest from them than the UK press in the 2 teams involved. I needed to get it sorted, so I thought the best bet would be to get back down to the media centre and see if it works down there…which it did. Result! Rob (Offside’s technical guy) was on standby to sort things for me back home, so I dropped him an email to let him know everything was OK, and then before long we were packed up and ready to embark on a long drive home.
Despite Valeria trying to snatch the car keys from me after we packed the Touran, I stood my ground and took on the first part of the journey, which came to roughly 200km before we stopped at some services. From there, the boulshy German decided it was her turn, and I stepped aside, choosing the passenger seat to sleep in as Chris lay across the entire back seat getting in more than the 2 hours’ sleep he’d had in the last 2 days.
The drive wasn’t easy, as we faced similar obstructions to what we’d seen the night before…namely, cars without lights on, cars driving slowly in the wrong lanes, undertaking, overtaking…you name it, we saw it on that drive. If all that wasn’t enough, a heavy layer of fog was setting in, making it hard to see further than 20 yards or so in front of you…so 130kph felt like plenty. At one stage, we ran straight over a tree trunk that was strewn across the entire slow lane of the highway…not seeing it until the last-minute, I was convinced we were going to lose ikt. Luckily the car stayed straight, and on we drove. When Valeria took the reigns though, I just had to sit back and try my best to ignore her, frankly, crap driving. Left wheels constantly up the cat’s eyes in the middle of the road, driving feet from the cars in front, swerving, dodging, everything. It was a miracle we arrived back at Park Lodge in one piece, as we pulled in just before 7am.