This season’s UEFA Champions League culminated, for the first time, in a final between two sides from the same city. The ‘Galacticos’ of Real Madrid, with Bale, Ronaldo et al took on their local rivals Atletico, lead by fiery Argentine Diego Simeone, in Benfica’s Estadio da Luz in Lisbon.
Some extremely civilised flight times and a charming apartment in the heart of the city made for a surprisingly relaxed build-up to this game. The lack of English teams on show meant that it could be shot from a slightly different angle – from my point of view, the newsworthiness of the match had been somewhat diluted by the number of footballing superstars on show in Europe’s biggest club competition.
Real were chasing their so-far-elusive 10th European Cup title, or ‘La Decima’, as they’d decided to brand it. Atletico, on the other hand, were in the form of their lives, having knocked out Barcelona in the semi-finals and fresh from pipping both them and Real to the La Liga title in Spain, two years after lifting the Europa League trophy in Bucharest.
Arriving at the stadium on Friday afternoon, I collected my accreditation and headed down to the Media Centre to be greeted by a host of familiar faces. Before long, we headed out to the pitch to photograph the training sessions. Working for Offside once again, myself and my colleague Marc decided to shoot things from different angles. Noticing the patches of sunlight and shadow on the pitch, I decided to work my way up into the stands and shoot down on the pitch…
Frustratingly, just before Real Madrid’s players made their way out onto the pitch for the second session of the evening, the photographer’s nemesis, a steward in a bright orange jacket, started making a beeline for me along the stand. I did my best to delay the inevitable, asking him to explain his reason for wanting to move me on, but the grunting and shoulder shrugging associated with most of these robotic nuisances was at an all-time high. So off I trudged, heading back down to the pitchside with everyone else…
That evening, a group of us enjoyed a meal out in the centre of Lisbon. We went to a restaurant just on the edge of the fan park, although, thankfully, we didn’t arrive until about 11pm, so most of the festivities had been put on hold until the following morning.
A few beers and a good sleep later, and it was matchday.
This year, our queue positions had been pre-allocated. In the past, pitch positioning had been determined on a ‘first come, first served’ basis – you knew which priority group you were in, but if you were the first to arrive in your priority group, then you would be the first within that group to be able to choose your pitch position. This year, not only had we been placed in priority groups, but we had already been assigned a position within that group. This negated the need to arrive at stupid-o-clock with the hope of sitting exactly where you’d like to sit. I was in Priority Group 1, but fairly low down that list. This meant the chances of being able to sit where I wanted weren’t great, but they could’ve been worse.
Initially I enquired about the possibility of sitting in the stands where a small number of ‘Tribune’ positions were situated. However, these had already been assigned, so I was left to choose somewhere around the perimeter of the pitch instead. Marc chose to sit just around the corner flag at the far end, so I chose to sit at the opposite end, in the hope that we could cover most eventualities between us.
The next few hours flew by, and before we knew it, the game was upon us…