After a busy weekend documenting Sir Alex Ferguson’s farewell to Old Trafford, before I knew it, I was off to Amsterdam for the UEFA Europa League Final on behalf of Offside Sports Photography. I travelled by car, courtesy of the ever-willing Matthew Ashton, leaving Cheshire at 5am on Tuesday morning, accompanied by Chris Brunskill and Matt West. We headed down to Dover and managed to catch the 10.20am train…with a 40 minute journey across the Channel, and a 3 hour drive the other side, we arrived at the stadium mid-afternoon, having dropped a weary-looking Chris off at the hotel on the north side of Utrecht on the way.
The UEL is always viewed with a degree of snobbery, often due to it’s depiction as the poorer cousin of the UEFA Champions League, the world’s elite club competition. Whilst the likes of FC Barcelona, Manchester United, AC Milan and Bayern Munich tend to contend the latter, the former is often fought over by lesser-known clubs from lesser-known countries…teams such as Partizan Belgrade, Rapid Vienna, Sparta Prague are regular participants, year-on-year.
However, after the group stage, losing teams from the UCL drop down into the competition, igniting a sense of interest rarely experienced during the early months. This year, Chelsea were amongst those teams who failed to make the knockout stages of the UCL (the first team ever to fall at this first hurdle having won it the year before), and thus took their place in the Europa League instead.
They battled all the way to the final, where they came up against Portuguese side SL Benfica.
The first half gave supporters of both sides little to get excited about, but Chelsea made up for it in the second 45 minutes, leaving it until almost the last kick of the game to score a winner and bring home the trophy…
Most trophy presentations take place high up in the stands, however we were lucky as this particular podium was no more than 12-15 rows back from the pitch. This gave us a great angle to shoot from, and allowed as a good view of everyone holding the trophy, with minimal interference from iPhones / iPads etc. poking up into the frame.
We were also pleased to see UEFA had abandoned the flat ‘board’ for the post-presentation picture in favour of an arched ‘Winners’ board – this made for a far better photo than in the past, where players often dive across the front, blocking the wording. I’m sure it was done as much for advertisers as for TV and photographers, but I’d like to think photographers were part of the discussions that were had prior to that evening…