Manaus

We arrived at the Sleep Inn, a hotel south of the airport, at about 4am. Manaus are an additional hour behind Rio, making it 5 hours behind the UK. Just a little extra thing to toy with our body clocks. The 4 hour flight was uncomfortable, but I still managed to sleep for most of it. Despite this, a lie-in the next morning was essential.

We made our way to the stadium for mid-afternoon, using the special Media Shuttle Bus that stopped by our hotel. The beauty of booking accommodation using FIFA’s internal site is that you can take advantage of services like this too. Training was a dull, dull affair. After going for a wander around the local streets and bumping into locals enthused by the idea of the Copa do Mundo coming to their home city, it was nothing but a huge disappointment to see the England players going through their paces half an hour later in such robotic fashion. We’re only permitted to shoot the first 15 minutes, and for the first 13 minutes, the players jogged and stretched. I was questioned for changing ends (when they decided to warm up at the far end) and then questioned again when I went into the stands to do a general view of the stadium, and then questioned once more when taking pictures of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain going for a run. Too many people have nothing better to do with themselves. Alas, I got the pictures…it’s a good thing I did, because there wasn’t a lot else going on for us!

 

Decorations hanging over a street in Manaus
Decorations hanging over a street in Manaus

 

A general view of the Arena Amazonia in Manaus
A general view of the Arena Amazonia in Manaus

 

That evening, Chris and I headed out into Manaus after dropping our gear back at the hotel. A restaurant recommendation led us to a small, family-run establishment opposite the famous Teatro Amazonas, the Opera House in the centre of Manaus. So small and so family-run, in fact, that they had no menus, one member of staff who spoke no English, and seemingly no food left either. We stayed for a few drinks, out of politeness if anything else, before heading across the square to a far livelier and visitor-friendly place. The menu had plenty to offer and the staff, despite being run off their feet, catered for everyone’s needs. A bar across the square from us was playing live music, and this is where the England fans had decided to congregate. It was heaving, but with an incredibly friendly vibe. Locals mixed with tourists, men and women in equal measure, and there was no remote sign of any animosity. It was a joy to behold. We sampled a few beers before making our way home in the early hours.

The next morning, following a healthy night’s sleep, Chris and I journeyed back down into the centre of town to catch a glimpse of the true Manaus. It’s not the sort of city most of us are likely to return to, so it would’ve been a shame not to see the Amazon river, and experience the buzz of the harbour, the friendliness of the local fishermen, and the smell of the fresh seafood lining crates along the pavements. Including my 4 weeks spent in Brazil last year, for the Confederations Cup, this was the first time I’d truly felt I was in the country I’d read so much about. It was a hot, humid day, the harbour front awash with colour and excitement. I didn’t take too many pictures, as it happens…I wanted to experience it for myself, without the restricting distraction of the viewfinder.

 

A road in Manaus lined with colourful decorations and market stalls
A road in Manaus lined with colourful decorations and market stalls

 

We met Joe, our host in Rio, who had flown in the previous night to watch the match. He’d never visited the city, so he was buzzing to do what he could in his short time there. He negotiated a price with a local boat driver to take us out across the river and into the rainforest. The 3 of us hopped in, and we sped off away from the harbour towards the greenery on the horizon.

 

The view from our boat as we journeyed across the Amazon
The view from our boat as we journeyed across the Amazon

 

Sitting tight on the Amazon!
Sitting tight on the Amazon!

 

We enjoyed a walk through the rainforest to a wooden viewing platform overlooking a vast spread of water. It was silent, it was bliss. Just a few murmurings from the wildlife hidden in the trees all around us was all that disturbed the tranquillity of the place. Football was so far from my mind at this moment, it was perfect.

 

A wooden walkway through the Amazon rainforest
A wooden walkway through the Amazon rainforest

 

A viewing platform at the end of a wooden walkway overlooking the Amazon river
A viewing platform at the end of a wooden walkway overlooking the Amazon river

 

Trees in the Amazon
Trees in the Amazon

 

Giant lily pads resting on the calm waters of the Amazon
Giant lily pads resting on the calm waters of the Amazon

 

The sun shines through the trees in the rainforest
The sun shines through the trees in the rainforest

 

We knew we had a schedule to keep to though, and that England’s first game of the World Cup was just hours away. We climbed back into the boat after a 20 minute stroll, and before long, were back on terra firma and racing to grab a cab back to our hotel. We collected our bags, checked out and jumped on the next available Media Shuttle Bus, arriving at the Arena Amazonia at around 2pm, 4 hours before kick-off.

There were less photographers listed for this game than for any other World Cup match I’ve photographed. Manaus’ location – bascially, in the middle of nowhere – meant that photographers and journalists wouldn’t turn up for a game simply because they could, as would be the case in Rio, or Sao Paulo, or Belo Horizonte. People are based in these cities, and so will attend games if they’re on their doorstep, sometimes regardless of the two teams competing. In Manaus though, you would only really go there in order to cover a specific match, for a specific reason. It helps that England don’t have a ‘Messi’, or a ‘Ronaldo’, a player the world’s media needs to see. Perhaps one day, but certainly not right now. This meant every photographer there had more or less the pick of where he or she would like to sit, for both halves of the match. A luxury afforded to us rarely at tournaments like this, when a game can regularly have more than 100 photographers in attendance.

There were 60 of us – spread out around the pitch and tribune, this meant we all had plenty of space to work in. I chose the tribune again, as I will be doing for all of England’s group games, a decision made as a result of numerous conversations had with Offside’s chief, Mark Leech, a man with more experience than you could describe. He’s been shooting World Cups, European Championships, and domestic and European club football for decades, so I felt it might be beneficial to listen to one or two of his words of wisdom!

There was plenty of room to work in, which doesn’t happen often. I spread out a bit, getting as comfortable as possible. This picture shows the view from our working position in the tribune…

 

The view from the photographers' seats in the tribune at the Arena Amazonia
The view from the photographers’ seats in the tribune at the Arena Amazonia

 

The game kicked off, and with it, a newspaper mindset. When it comes to photographing England, especially in a competitive environment, coverage is vital. Newspapers, websites and magazines are more demanding than ever…content is King. Trying to produce quality pictures from a game that requires the goals, celebrations, incidents, cards, emotion and reaction…being able to send them out whilst keeping one eye on the game in front of you…these are aspects of the jobs that are tested to the limit in games like this. The story of the entire tournament could happen in a split second, so you need to be sure you’re watching and working when that moment occurs. The journey through a World Cup brings with it all sorts of stories, many of which you only learn about as you read about them in the newspapers and online. You really do need to be on the ball.

 

A TV camerahovers over the England players as they huddle before the match
A TV camerahovers over the England players as they huddle before the match

 

I felt the first half started a little slowly, more so from England’s perspective than Italy’s. Sure enough, it was the Italians that took the lead, with a shot from outside the box from Claudio Marchisio beating Joe Hart…

 

Claudio Marchisio (L) celebrates with Daniele de Rossi after scoring Italy's opener
Claudio Marchisio (L) celebrates with Daniele de Rossi after scoring Italy’s opener

 

Literally moments later though, England struck back, after Daniel Sturridge powered home at close range from a Wayne Rooney cross…

 

Daniel Sturridge scores England's equaliser
Daniel Sturridge scores England’s equaliser

 

Cue the familiar celebration seen many times at Anfield throughout the course of last season…

 

Daniel Sturridge celebrates his goal
Daniel Sturridge celebrates his goal

 

Daniel Sturridge celebrates his goal
Daniel Sturridge celebrates his goal

 

With the scores level, both sides battled on, finding it hard to create another opening…

 

Daniel Sturridge of England battles with Giorgio Chiellini of Italy
Daniel Sturridge of England battles with Giorgio Chiellini of Italy

 

Raheem Sterling of England battles with Giorgio Chiellini of Italy
Raheem Sterling of England battles with Giorgio Chiellini of Italy

 

Eventually though, Italy found a way through, Mario Balotelli heading home from the far post…

 

Mario Balotelli scores a header to give Italy a 2-1 victory
Mario Balotelli scores a header to give Italy a 2-1 victory

 

England goalkeeper Joe Hart looks dejected as they crash to defeat
England goalkeeper Joe Hart looks dejected as they crash to defeat

 

The game came to an end. England players dejected. Again. An all too familiar sight. With a couple of goals under my belt, I felt I was off and running. It’s hard to come up with a range of pictures from the tribune if there are no goals or no story…you often need incidents or key moments of some sort to make a strong picture from the tribune stand out. It’s hard to get up close for emotional shots, and gesturing, and evey picture can look very similar, in terms of background and so on.

Nevertheless, I had 4 hours after the game to create this set of pictures. We had a 4am flight booked back to Rio, so there was no need for a hotel…our sleeping would be done in the air.

I was sad to leave Manaus. I’d had a thoroughly enjoyable couple of days, in a place like no other I’ve ever visited. To be sent there for work truly was a priviledge.

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18 Comments Add yours

  1. It’s fab to hear you so excited about this place… It’s as close as I can get to experiencing it with you… cracking writing, even more impressive pics, well done boyo!
    Megs xx

  2. Damien says:

    Hi Simon !!! Great pictures and journal……makes us feel at little bit closer to it all !!!
    Lots of interest from the Old Red Lion……Joe has created a BLOG WALL in the pub !!!

    All the best,

    Damien.

  3. alienindirtyromania says:

    Don’t forget there are so many barrios and favelhas and shanty towns in this world!

    1. I know, and if we had more time, I’d love to visit them some more! I’m planning to at the end of the tournament, as I did in Rocinha last year.

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