Ever since the draw for the first knockout stage of the UEFA Champions League was made, the stand-out tie has been Real Madrid against Manchester United…a clash between two of world football’s superpowers. It was a match certain to attract worldwide attention, and I was fortunate enough to be asked to cover it, once again on behalf of Offside.
After a morning flight from London’s City Airport which, in itself, was a new experience, I arrived at my hotel just a few hundred yards from the stadium and proceeded to un-pack, re-pack, charge batteries, check cameras etc. before heading out to secure a place at the photographers’ entrance. It was 4pm, surely far too early to have to arrive for an 8.45pm kick-off, a full four-and-a-half hours early no less, but there were already twenty people, if not more, waiting in line outside the gate. Having not visited the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu before, I’d been told that working space behind the boards at either end of the pitch was extremely tight, and as more and more Spanish photographers chose to ignore the orderly queue that had developed and instead jumped straight in at the front with their colleagues, I knew I’d have a tough time finding anywhere to sit in the corner I’d already earmarked.
With thousands of pounds worth of equipment in our bags, we were made to wait outside on the pavement until 6pm, when the entrance was finally opened, and one-by-one we made our way in, collected our bibs in exchange for our press cards, and made our way down to the pitchside to mark a spot to work from. They weren’t wrong, it really was tight. I managed to squeeze in between some *extremely* co-operative English colleagues, sitting on the end of the pitch, with the goal to my left, on the managers’ side as opposed to the opposite side.
What. A. Stadium. The stands just keep going up and up at an incredible gradient too. The view from the top must surely be one to behold. I was disappointed to see the floodlights hadn’t been fully switched on though, so a general view of the stadium from the top tier was out of the question…the pitch would’ve looked very dull in contrast against the lovely red sky that was developing outside. This was a real shame…it was something I’d been looking forward to since the moment I found out I’d be going.
Once the pre-match shenanigans were over and the match was under way, I managed to settle into a rhythm. When a match is the subject of such an intense media build-up, it’s impossible not to feel a certain amount of pressure to deliver pictures that illustrate not only the result, but also the occasion as a whole. Flight times and working restrictions made it difficult to document anything outside of the ninety minutes, but what I did get I was happy with…
The match finished 1-1, so there will be all to play for in March’s return leg at Old Trafford. If the atmosphere is anything like a big European night on the continent, it should be one to look forward to. One thing’s for certain, the visiting photographers can’t expect any favours…with an back still aching two days later, I’m hardly going to be in a rush to make any helpful suggestions to them. Home advantage, it seems, plays it’s part in every walk of life.