England’s Farewell

We arrived in Belo Horizonte just after 6am, after an eight-hour journey on the luxury Leito bus. It was our first trip between the two cities, so when we originally booked it, we decided a proper night’s sleep was in order; a journey without the interruptions and occasional discomfort associated with a conventional bus. The Leito buses have far less seats on them – perhaps twenty or so – with each one of them reclining near enough flat. They’re wider, softer, and allow you to stretch out fully for a proper night’s kip.

The journey flew by, and when we arrived we caught a taxi to the hotel we’d stayed in before, the Adagio Minascentro, from where we took the Media Shuttle bus to the stadium.

The concrete façade of the Estadio Mineirao was bathed in warm light, it’s brutal, eastern block appearance softened by the glow of the low morning sun. Fans mingled around outside, many of them English, soaking up what they could of their last day on tour. With 1001 things to do before the game, I had to sacrifice many picture opportunities in order to make arrangements for our next few days. The knockout round fixtures were becoming ever more apparent, so talk was all about what could be covered, how we could get there and where we would stay. It was becoming more and more obvious that flights weren’t going to be easy to come by, or at least, flights at times that suited our requirements. Accommodation was also scarce, so it looked like we’d have a tough time getting to as many games as we’d like to.

Graham Smith was once again on hand to lend me a 200-400mm lens from Canon, and this time I even received table service as he dropped it off for me at our workstation. This lens has proved to be an invaluable asset when used from the tribune, and with today’s game being an early kick-off, the maximum f/5.6 aperture when used with the built-in 1.4x converter wouldn’t be an issue with such bright sunlight beating down on the pitch. I’d also been informed that HRH Prince Harry might make an appearance too. The tribune positions for photographers are situated on the main side of the stadium, often where VIPs sit, so I knew that, if we could see him, then that lens would also give me a useful range to work with in that situation too.

Walking out of the Media Centre, I headed for the unmarked lift I’d found at the previous game and selected the third floor, five levels up. Volunteers once again offered me bottles of water as I took my seat in the stands, roughly halfway between the centre circle and the penalty box, to the left of the halfway line. Remote cameras were being clamped to the rails in front, fixed to focus on the goalmouth for a secondary view of the action. Commentators from around the world were situated just behind me. English and Costa Rican broadcasters were joined by representatives from Brazil, Italy, Japan, Mexico…pretty much everywhere you could imagine. The story of England’s dismal campaign had grabbed people’s attention all over the world. The creators of the beautiful game, the hosts of the renowned Premier League, failing so spectacularly to contribute to one of their own biggest exports.

The first pictures to leave my laptop were, indeed, of HRH Prince Harry, as he arrived to watch the match in a box just below and to the right of our positions, alongside a number of Costa Rican dignitaries…

 

HRH Prince Harry is introduced to members of the Costa Rican party
HRH Prince Harry is introduced to members of the Costa Rican party

 

HRH Prince Harry smiles as he arrives to watch the game
HRH Prince Harry smiles as he arrives to watch the game

 

HRH Prince Harry turns to admire the crowd behind him too
HRH Prince Harry turns to admire the crowd behind him too

 

After a stirring final national anthem of the tournament for the English, the game got under way. Costa Rica’s players adopted a determined approach, getting stuck into every challenge and running at England’s players whenever the opportunity arose. Probably a lot like the England fans would want their own team to play, but obviously the English are too precious for that. Prancing around with short 1-2 passes and long, floating balls that lead to nothing…you could almost write the script whenever an English XI walks out onto the field. That’s how this game felt too. Although Roy Hodgson had picked a fresh starting line-up, the same style of play shone through. Jack Wilshere showed glimpses of determination, as did Daniel Sturridge and Ross Barkley, but there was little to suggest they could pierce Costa Rica’s defence with any killer passes or quick one-touch moves…

 

Yeltsin Tejeda of Costa Rica battles with Jack Wilshere of England
Yeltsin Tejeda of Costa Rica battles with Jack Wilshere of England

 

Luke Shaw of England battles with Joel Campbell of Costa Rica
Luke Shaw of England battles with Joel Campbell of Costa Rica

 

 24th June 2014 - FIFA World Cup - Group D - Costa Rica v England - Celso Borges of Costa Rica leaves Ross Barkley of England on the ground
Celso Borges of Costa Rica leaves Ross Barkley of England on the ground

 

One picture I’d been looking to get fell into place for me late in the first half, when Costa Rica were awarded a free kick directly in line with my view of the goal, but in the shadows on the near touchline…

 

Players track the flight of the ball as it floats into the box
Players track the flight of the ball as it floats into the box

 

During the previous World Cup in South Africa, back in 2010, Offside‘s founder, Mark Leech (@Len_Scap), took a similar picture which he said he’d been trying to nail for quite a while. For the picture to work properly, you need a number of elements to fall into place. The colours of the players’ kits need to compliment each other well, for a start. You then need to have a good balance of players from both sides in the picture – ideally, either an equal number of both, or one of one team, surrounded by loads from the other. The players need to be equidistant from each other too…the picture doesn’t seem to work if some gaps are bigger than others. Of course, many of these elements are subjective, but I’m somewhat of a perfectionist, so I’d want all of them to be just right.

I was happy with what I got. The second frame, with the ball floating into it, doesn’t quite tick the boxes like the previous one, but having the ball in as well as a point of reference adds to it…

 

Players track the flight of the ball as it floats into the box
Players track the flight of the ball as it floats into the box

 

The England fans were in good spirits despite their side’s imminent departure from the tournament. I’d imagine the Brazilian sunshine had something to do with it. A group of them decided to do the conga along the foot of the stand just down in front us…

 

Fans do the conga along the front of the stand
Fans do the conga along the front of the stand

 

And the thousands of them who’d made their way to Belo Horizonte kept on to the bitter end…

 

England fans cheer on their side
England fans cheer on their side

 

Unfortunately, the players couldn’t even deliver a performance in their final game before returning home. A lacklustre effort resulted in a 0-0 draw. A small section of fans saw their frustrations boil over towards the end of the game as tensions escalated between them and some local supporters…

 

England fans clash with local supporters
England fans clash with local supporters

 

The military police felt the need to get involved, wading in with riot shields, helmets, and what appeared to be pump-action shotguns too! The worst I saw was some abuse being shouted back and forth, and one or two beers being thrown…it would be interesting to see how the same men would deal with Leeds’ firm meeting Millwall’s finest on the way to the Den for an organised Saturday afternoon tear-up!

 

Armed military police wade in to break up clashes between fans
Armed military police wade in to break up clashes between fans

 

Stewards and military police wade in to break up clashes between England fans and locals
Stewards and military police wade in to break up clashes between England fans and locals

 

As the trouble subsided, England’s players and management made their way over to the far corner of the pitch to acknowledge the fans. Fans who had paid through the nose to follow the team and support them throughout the campaign.

 

England players and staff acknowledge their fans following their exit from the tournament
England players and staff acknowledge their fans following their exit from the tournament

 

Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney look dejected as they leave the pitch
Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney look dejected as they leave the pitch

 

England boss Roy Hodgson gives the thumbs up as he leaves the pitch
England boss Roy Hodgson gives the thumbs up as he leaves the pitch

 

Guests and VIPs left too…Prince Harry waved to a host of admirers as he made his way out of his box. FA Chairman Greg Dyke also made a move, along with outgoing FA Director of Football Development Trevor Brooking, two people whose roles will no doubt come under intense scrutiny once again when the dust settles back home…

 

HRH Prince Harry waves to admirers as he leaves the stadium
HRH Prince Harry waves to admirers as he leaves the stadium

 

FA Chairman Greg Dyke looks on after England's exit
FA Chairman Greg Dyke looks on after England’s exit

 

Trevor Brooking, Director of Football Development, looks on
Trevor Brooking, Director of Football Development, looks on

 

A campaign full of optimism drew to a withered anti-climax. In a group topped by Costa Rica, England could only manage a single point from three games, and that was in a game in which they had nothing to lose. If things couldn’t get any worse, after the game I read of the antics of Luis Suarez, who’d allegedly bitten one of the Italian players in their game that afternoon. Just when England deserved a battering in the press, Suarez stepped up and snatched the column space for himself. Not only had I covered a game, ultimately, of little consequence, but I’d also missed what I’d imagine will be the story of the tournament.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s a shame England are going home…it would be nice to have a team to follow in the tournament. On the plus side though, I can now cover every game with fresh eyes, rather than solely with a tabloid head on. The newspaper side is always there to be exploited, but at an event such as the World Cup, pictures that stand the test of time should be the priority. I can look forward to documenting the progress of teams like Uruguay, Argentina, and of course, Brazil, as they continue in their search for the ultimate prize.

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