Friday evening’s game at Odsal had been chalked up to possibly be the Bulls’ final game. Due to financial difficulties, the club was likely to enter administration if £500,000 could not be found before the end of the day – also the end of the tax year. A statement was due to be released the following morning. There had been an emergency auction to raise funds, alongside street collections and a telephone hotline set up to take pledges. A bumper crowd was expected to fill the historic Odsall Stadium, and the support did not disappoint. There was talk of season ticket holders leaving their entitlement at home, and paying extra for the privilege of watching on from the terraces.
Drizzle very much summed up the general mood before kick off, with many fans with glum expressions on their face. Kick off halted the rain, and turned the frowns upside down. The atmosphere was certainly something to behold. The travelling Leeds’ support was more numerous than normal, and volleyed for vocal supremacy with the home crowd. The first half however, did not provide too much in the way of on field entertainment with just the single Leeds try.
The break proved to be the required catalyst, and a dazzling second half performance from Bradford saw the deficit turned around. Tries from Ben Jeffries and Bull’s man of the match Jamie Langley saw the despondent home side record a morale boosting victory. Indeed, the team lap of honour following the final whistle suggested an improving mood in the Bradford camp.
The weekend ended with a trip to Goodison Park for the Everton tie against Stoke. Gary Speed had been a child fan of the Toffees, and eventually went on to play for them between 1996 and 1998. He recorded his only career hat trick with Everton in a 7-1 trouncing over Southampton, and went on to be voted Everton player of the year in his first season.
Dreary weather hadn’t stopped Evertonians leaving their tributes to the late Wales manager, though it did stop many from stopping to view others fond memories. Proof of the fans appreciation came inside the stadium, where the minutes applause was observed brilliantly, and his name chanted throughout. Gary’s father, Roger, entered the pitch with the players for the remembrance and was clearly moved by the efforts shown. He left with his own applause for the crowd.
Stoke went on to beat Everton with a 0-1 victory, courtesy of a first half goal from German Robert Huth.
A late call on a Thursday evening from an ill colleague resulted in me having a rare Friday night working. Rugby league it was. The same rugby league that I hadn’t done any of since the season opener at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium back in February!
The tie saw mid-table Hull take on high flying St Helens. Chances are St Helens were going to walk the game at their adopted home, the Stobart Stadium in Widnes. Unfortunately for me, this meant I’d probably have a quiet game, as the clients were the papers in and around Hull! With a prospective away defeat on his hands, photographs of coach Richard Agar looking thoughtful or disappointed were a must. This can be a problem, when the only decent access you have is before the game – when spirits are usually high!
The first half saw me shooting the Hull attack with me facing the St Helens fans at the opposite end. The late summer sunshine provided a lovely warm light across the centre of the field, though the shade at my end was problematic with backlit exposures! More problems with backlighting in the second half was partially fixed with moving ten feet to my right, but still caused issues with silhouetting. Though when the lighting worked, it worked nicely, casting a golden glow across the pitch.
St Helens wrapped up the tie with a 28 – 14 victory way before time despite a late consolation try from Joe Westerman, converted by Tom Briscoe. The suspected quiet game didn’t disappoint, but what action there was, was at least fairly decent.
As I closed in on Manchester, from the Sheffield direction over the A628 Woodhead Pass (which just happens to be my favourite road) I could see the weather deteriorating quickly. Welcome home, Phil! Compounded by the early morning drive back from London where I had been at the Champions League final (in which, United had been defeated by Barcelona) and London Legends over the weekend, my heart began to sink. I hadn’t been properly rained on all season, and was rather hoping that this would extend to the final day of my personal season. The Manchester United home coming parade, with the Premier League trophy. It wasn’t to be.
Would I turn up at the Cathedral starting point to find a few damp squibs of supporters, who had braved the rain and early bank holiday start? Would it be cancelled? Just a couple of the many fears I was facing. Thankfully, I needed not worry.
I parked up at Deansgate Locks, making use of the free bank holiday parking in the city centre. Arriving just under an hour before the start, I was a little worried at it being so easy to actually find a space, but I could spot a good number of fans piling out of Deansgate railway and Metrolink stations. I decided on following the majority of them right down Deansgate to the Cathedral so I could take some fan related shots and then the team on the bus in the first minute or so of their journey, where I thought they would be at their most boisterous. Needless to say, by the time I’d reached the start I was as wet as brave fans in the pictures below!
Next to do, was to decide which side of Deansgate to get a spot on. The eastern side would give me the earliest shots of the team bus, whereas the western side would give me better backgrounds, with the Cathedral and prettier architectural delights of the route through the city. The western side it was. On the whole, a good decision, thought it did mean I was blocked by the curve in the road for the opening explosion of confetti.. alas, I was not the only one, having spotted colleagues on the same side.
Eventually however (how slow do those buses go?) the bus creeped into view and I was blessed with the view presented below. Enthusiasm had not dampened in the rain, and Rio Ferdinand was in full control of the mic! The crowd were being spurred on to sing and chant by each and every team member. Some were clearly enjoying it, whilst others found the direct attention every so slightly embarrassing!
I followed the bus and the crowd back down Deansgate. Partly to get more shots, and partly because I’d parked the car back down by the Beetham Tower and the Locks. Having done so proved to be fruitful, as Edwin van der Sar pretended to drop the trophy in true Sergio Ramos style, much to the shock of his team mates.. soon followed by the realisation of the prank!
As the bus passed under the railway bridge and onto Chester Road, I left the party for the relative dry and warmth of my car to edit and wire pictures out to newspapers. All this action and it was still only 10.30am! The rest of the day was spent as a bank holiday should, in front of the telly with good food, and good beer, but I could rest assured that my work was done.
The first major final of the season for myself was to be the UEFA Europa League final. It was to be contested by the two Portuguese teams, FC Porto and Sporting Braga at the temporarily renamed ‘Dublin Arena’. Something to do with sponsorship rules, apparently.
The day began at home in Manchester, with an alarm call at 6.30am. I was to be travelling with a small group of other photographers over to Dublin on the ferry from Holyhead, which naturally meant an early rise and pick up. We were to get the early morning ferry, in anticipation of any problems on the other side, what with HRH the Queen also visiting Dublin. A case of great minds think alike? Probably not. In fact, probably the exact opposite, on our part.
Had either of the two British teams involved in the competition made the final, one can only begin to imagine the possible chaos that would have ensued. Both Manchester City and Liverpool crashed out in the round of 16, against Dynamo Kiev and eventual finalists Sporting Braga, respectively. Upon arriving at the ferry terminal however, it soon became clear that there were small factions of each fan set than had believed their teams could make the final and had bought tickets on their release. Their early morning faces were covered with regret.
The ferry ride was highly uneventful on the whole, the highlight being fleeced almost €7 for a bacon and sausage muffin (bap, barm, roll, cob…). Still, it felt like almost €7 well spent at the time. You can’t put a price on a half decent breakfast! Disembarking in Dublin, we opted for a minibus straight to the stadium to hopefully avoid any Queen related road closures.
Collecting our accreditation was the first task on arriving at the AVI.. ‘Dublin Arena’. UEFA had kindly taken over a school gym to accommodate the masses expected. Needless to say, there was no queue, just a gaggle of disappointed photographers who thought they’d struck gold having packed their speedos and seen the signage for ‘swimming pool’. I jest. Passes collected, we headed all the way back round the stadium to the media entrance.
Once inside, and having dumped our bags, there was a visit to the lovely chaps at Canon Professional Services who were kind enough to clean my two 1D Mark III bodies, and even kindlier lend me a Canon 500mm f4 IS for the evening. Aside picking our assigned photo positions there wasn’t too much to do until the hour before kick off, and so entertained myself with a 5D Mark II and 15mm f2.8.
Kick off! Well, almost. Having hauled enough gear outside to open my own outlet, the first task was to set up. I had my usual two cameras, with long and short lenses on, and I had planned to put out my remote camera too, behind the goal. On top of these everyday preparations, we had also been provided with power and a hard wired internet connection. For both we had to liaise with the UEFA technicians that had been assigned to each of the four corners, though it wasn’t long before I had a plug socket and ethernet cable right by my seat – a decent seat, provided. Yet another novelty of a major final!
One name that had been specifically pointed out in my brief had been that of the FC Porto manager, Andre Villas Boas. Dubbed as ‘the new Jose Mourinho’ he is expected to arrive in England in the not too distant future, and so images of him both before, during and following the game would be of value. I took the decision to focus on him almost exclusively during our allotted time at the dug outs as the national anthems were played, and the team photos were done. It turned out to be a wise choice, as he opted to sit down almost immediately, leaving the variety of shots slim on the ground.
So finally, almost 13 hours after setting off, the referee’s whistle blew and the match kicked off. The game was one sided on the whole, in the favour of FC Porto. This, in the first half, proved to be a nightmare with what turned out to be the only goal scored at the opposite end. Porto’s Radamel Falcao Garcia, picture above, was the scorer. This set in motion planning for the second half, which included both massive amounts of concentration, and a lot of hoping. Concentration, was possible despite tiredness setting in. Hope was for another goal in the second half. It didn’t come.
The final whistle blew and Porto were confirmed as UEFA Europa League champions. I still needed to get the shot of goalscorer Falcao Garcia in joyous celebration and this preyed on my mind during the trophy presentation and lap of honour. Concentration paid off and the shot was achieved. I managed to snap him up close kissing the trophy. Job done.
Not quite. There were now around 1200 frames to sift through, edit and wire out the best of the best. Celebration shots were amongst the more important and were done immediately pitch side. Looking upon the mass of camera bodies, lenses, laptops, cables and other unidentified paraphernalia with a certain amount of disdain, the packing up had to begin. Do you ever get that feeling that you are missing something, despite having lost nothing? Well, that is a feeling that isn’t uncommon on the best of days for myself, and this evening it was somewhat exacerbated.
Back in the media working area, the borrowed equipment was speedily returned (wouldn’t want a bill for a Canon 500 f4 dropping through my letter box!) and then the more in depth edit began. Challenges, yellow cards, free kicks, reactions.. these were my first target, followed by stock imagery of single players. Time flew by, ever so slowly. Even my joke about a particular library book got a laugh. 3am was soon knocking at the door, and kicking out time was upon us all.
The ferry home wasn’t until 8.45am, it was a long and slow walk back to the terminal. Some of us managed 10 to 15 minutes worth of sleep on the cold floor, the rest sat staring into space or watching the clock tick on by. The extra €16 for Club Class on the return leg turned out to be the best investment of the trip. No noisy children, unlimited self service cold breakfast and beverages. It was a little luxury on another wise long and tiring 24 hours away. Sometimes you just have to push the boat out..
A trip out to Poland to follow Manchester City in their Europa League campaign – lovely! Flying in to Krakow the day before allowed me some time in quite possibly my favourite city in the world, then the following morning was an 8 hour train ride to compete with, and the return leg immediately after the game for my flight home the next morning. I shared much of the journey with a small number of travelling fans, the 3-1 defeat and lack of sleep really was showing on the trip home.. myself certainly included in that.
The game itself was a frustrating one, and very quiet on the action front. An equaliser from Emmanuel Adebayor lifted spirits for a short time but Poznan’s second and third goals sealed the fate for Roberto Mancini’s side, whom still need points for qualification to the knock out stages.
The season drew to an end with the engage Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford, Manchester this evening. A sell out 72,000 strong crowd cheered on both sides – although Wigan had the larger following, which showed during play with them edging out a 22-10 victory.
The game marked the final appearance for St Helen’s captain Keiron Cunningham, and with a celebrity appearance from Manchester’s own Diana Vickers to get proceedings under way.. it was going to be a busy night!
I spent the weekend at Manchester’s Sport City athletics track, with Action Replay Photography to cover the UK Youth Athletics League Finals. Teams from throughout the UK were involved over the two days, with many future hopeful medal winning athletes participating.
Photographs may be purchased directly from Action Replay Photography
I was lucky enough to be at Elland Road (home of Leeds United FC) for this promising tie between two of the world’s best rugby league teams. What a tie it turned out to be! With Rhinos taking the early lead, Storm fought back and easily managed the win in the second half.
Tonight I was shooting the engage Super League game between Salford and Bradford. As you can see from the scoreline.. it wasn’t the most thrilling of games! A trait that has followed me for a good couple of weeks now.. let’s hope things pick up!