FIFA Confederations Cup (Week 2)

DAY 8

We celebrated the end of our first week in Russia with an early flight to Kazan, the last remaining city we’re yet to visit. A 6am check-out from the hotel in Moscow allowed us enough time to make the 06:30 AeroExpress train back to Sheremetyevo Airport. Another smooth Aeroflot check-in later and we were sitting down considering our breakfast options. Somehow, Matt managed to spend the best part of £25 on frozen yoghurt…he kept repeatedly trying to justify his ridiculous spend by reassuring us it was ‘very, very good.’

Bright blue skies welcomed us into Kazan, 2,000km north east of Sochi. Matt and a couple of German colleagues, Tim and Reinaldo, chose to take the train from the airport to the hotel, but Chris and I had other ideas, and took Robbie with us in the taxi for the 15 minute shuttle to Hotel Volga. We needn’t have rushed – it was 11:30am and yet they refused to allow us to check in until 13:00 – meaning there was nothing we could do but sit in the lobby and twiddle our thumbs for an hour and a half. And when 13:00 did come around, we were forced to join the back of a growing queue of equally-frustrated guests wanting to get into their rooms – after an hour’s wait, we’d had every document we could possibly provide them with scanned, copied, read…you name it, and eventually we were in. All of us had separate rooms…and all of us disappeared to them for some kip before our trip out to the stadium that afternoon.

The bus that drove us to the Kazan Arena was forced to stop a mile from the stadium, due to a security cordon, and as a consequence, we had to walk the remainder of the journey along with the rest of the fans heading to the game. By the time we got there, the sunshine had turned to rain and the wind was blowing it sideways. I did a few pictures outside before swiftly heading into the dry, emotionless sanctuary of the SMC. An hour or so later, the weather had cleared up, the clouds had parted and the sunshine was beginning to creep through the gap between the buildings across the road from the stadium. I took a camera with a 14mm ultra-wide-angle lens attached to it and headed back outside with only picture in mind…

 

The match between Chile and Germany was arguably the most eagerly-anticipated game of the group stage. Two teams armed with world-class players, and for photographers, the added bonus of them both lining up in their home kits. I wanted to get as much as possible on Chile’s main man, forward Alexis Sanchez, playing in the La Roja strip, and the Germans I was interested in played primarily at the back, so it made sense to cover Chile’s attack for the whole game.

There was plenty of space to work in once again – a theme of the tournament. When Sanchez charged through on goal to smash home Chile’s opener, I was glad to have chosen that seat…

 

blog-003
Alexis Sanchez of Chile scores their 1st goal

From this point on, the aim of the game was to soak up as many different players as possible, utilising Kazan’s decent backgrounds to make the most of the game…

blog-004
A grid of stock pictures from Chile’s match against Germany

 

The match finished at 22:45. We worked as quickly as possible to get through the images before leaving the SMC and heading back in the direction from which we came. We hopped onto the first shuttle bus that arrived, cramming onto the back seat for the half-hour drive back to the Hotel Volga…

blog-005
Back seat boys

 

That evening, we dumped our bags in our rooms and headed straight out into the centre of Kazan, no more than a 10-minute walk away. The Cuban bar we’d planned to go to was the only place with a queue outside it – a good sign, but no something we wanted to see there and then. We decided against it, and dived into another bar nextdoor instead, the shrieking tones of a local karaoke night proving to be no obstacle. By the time we left, it had gone 02:30, and daylight was well on it’s way. A 24-hour McDonald’s took the edge off, and before I knew it, it was lights-out.

DAY 9

I woke from my slumber in exactly the same position I remember going to sleep in, only nine hours later. The air conditioning had decided to pack up on me, my room was roasting. I dragged myself out of bed and eventually made it downstairs in time to meet Reinaldo and Tim, and off we went for a walk around the city. We’ve only been here for a couple of days, but already it feels familiar. It’s a small place too – you can walk from one end of the city centre to the other in less than a quarter of an hour.

Exploring the city was a refreshing experience. At tournaments like this, you spend far too much time imprisoned inside the four walls of a generic stadium media centre – everything takes so long to do that you end up having very little time to actually take pictures and see the sights, whether it be on a matchday or a day off. Kazan was ideal for this sort of work – being such a compact city, it didn’t take long at all to find out what pictures the city had to offer…

 

That evening, we met up with some other English colleagues who were working out here and went for a few beers in a busy bar in the centre of town. I say a few beers…we got there in daylight and left in daylight. The place was heaving, so we spent the majority of the night shouting at each other just to be heard. Beer and gin have never been a match made in heaven, and on this occasion, it was no different. As a consequence, the next day was not an enjoyable one.

DAY 10

Every sinew within my body was telling me not to go anywhere. “Stay in bed, close your eyes, let your head recover.” But I couldn’t. I knew I had to get up and get out and make the most of the late kick-off by going to photograph the beautiful mosque at the city’s Kremlin just around the corner from our hotel. We’d seen it on the journey from the hotel to the stadium before, and lit up at night, it really is a sight to behold against the deep, dark blue sky. The silence on our WhatsApp group suggested I probably wasn’t the only one feeling the worse for wear. I left it as late as I possibly could before packing my equipment together and heading out of the door. I decided to take all my gear with me to save coming back to the hotel before heading to the stadium that afternoon…

 

 

The hosts, Russia, were up against Mexico in a Group A clash they needed to win. There was so much colour and excitement around the ground, it took a lot of willpower to get out there and shoot it; each and every photographer we bumped into that had been out with us the previous night looked in just as worse a state. Lots of groaning and many bottles of water later, it was time to head out into the stadium. The fans were in fine voice – the Mexicans were given a run for their money in the costume stakes, but the lucha libre masks and sombreros won out in the end…

 

 

Even the game itself was a colourful affair, but it ended in disappointment for the home side as they were dumped out of their own tournament following a 2-1 defeat to the Central Americans. Russia’s performances over their 3 games have proven, if nothing else, that it will take a huge slice of good fortune if they’re to progress from their group in 12 months’ time at the World Cup – their fans have been in fine voice throughout, but the players – every single one of them playing their club football in Russia too – have given little hope to a nation intent on proving the world wrong when it hosts the greatest sporting event on Earth…

 

DAY 11

A far better night’s sleep preceded an early start as we headed back to Kazan Airport for an 09:05 flight across to Moscow; every single one of us was more than happy to see the back of Hotel Volga. 24 hours later and most of us were still struggling in one way or another – frankly, we couldn’t get on that plane soon enough. By this time, we knew how to get from the airport to the city, so within an hour of landing, we’d navigated the airport shuttle and metro station and were checking in for the second time to the Grand Hotel Belorusskaya – our base for the next 3 nights. With a few hours to spare ahead of our trip to the stadium, we went our separate ways for some much-needed kip.

Today was to be my first of 3 matches shooting from the tribune – having covered 2 of Chile’s matches from pitchside, I was keen to capture Sanchez and friends from an alternative perspective today as they take on Australia in Spartak’s Otkrytiye Arena. We got to the stadium over 3 hours before kick-off, though in tournament time, that isn’t all that early. There were fewer than 35 photographers accredited for the game, an extremely low number whichever way you look at it. Chile in the home strip would always be worth a punt.

It made a nice change to shoot the game from this elevated position – down on the pitch, you have little room to move, you’ve not really allowed to wander from your seat once the match has kicked off, and you’re restricted to shooting what’s in front of you and within reach…something that isn’t really an issue from above. Not only does the tribune position offer a different perspective to the norm, but in most cases it’s a far more relaxing environment to work from too. Yes, you usually need a slightly longer lens (400mm isn’t quite enough), but you can usually capture action from right across the pitch, at both ends, and with little obstruction. Couple this with a lack of stewards or similar background interference, and you’re onto a winner…

 

Despite the exuberant (and very welcome!) celebrations, the final 1-1 scoreline bore little significance to the outcome of the group – the Australians were already eliminated and the Chileans were on their way to the semi-finals. We, on the other hand, were on our way to dinner. We caught the metro back to our hotel – 6 stops down, a change, and 1 stop up – before dropping our bags in our rooms and heading literally across the road to the delightful Osteria Della Piazza Bianca.

DAY 12

I needed a rest more than I’d realised. My back was aching and my head was banging…the first of two consecutive rest days was a write-off. I’d had good intentions of going into Moscow for some city views, but it just didn’t happen. For once, I listened to my body.

DAY 13

The following day felt much better. I’d managed enough sleep to feel like I was back where I should be. I had an agenda – having spent the best part of a week in Russia’s capital, I was yet to photograph any of the major tourist spots and as a consequence, there was only one thing on my mind. I put together a plan of what I wanted to shoot, and based it around a realistic idea of how long it would take me to get from one location to another. The organisers had arranged for all travelling media to be given a free pass for public transport…there was no need to queue for tickets every time we wanted to get around, we could simply swipe the red card across any reader found on the bus, train or metro network and we’d be on our way.

I ventured back to Spartak’s metro station first, as I hadn’t been afforded enough time to shoot the signs and football-related artwork found there just yet. From there, I jumped on a return train and stayed on it a further 3 stops which took me right into the city centre, just a stone’s throw from Red Square. Icame across the countdown clock for next year’s FIFA World Cup, right outside the impressive Four Season’s Hotel. I decided to walk anti-clockwise around the walls of the vast Kremlin site, passing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and various other landmarks on my way. Eventually, having navigated the path that runs alongside the Moskva River, I turned left and headed up into Red Square from the south, coming up behind the beautifully-ornate Saint Basil’s Cathedral, bathing in the early afternoon sunlight.

From here, I walked around Red Square itself, taking in the GUM department store, the walls of the Kremlin itself, and Lenin’s Mausoleum. From here, I worked my way across the main carriageway next to the hotel towards the famous Bolshoi Theatre, and managed to find an English pub I’d been looking for too – an obvious preview ahead of next year’s expected troubles…

 

I’d spent close to 5 hours in town by this point, and not had a single thing to eat, so after a while I knocked it on the head and made a beeline for a restaurant we’d previously visited. Matt and Robbie joined me for dinner to put an end to what was a long but  ultimately fruitful afternoon.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s