UEFA’s Euro 2012 in Poland & Ukraine had been a trip long in the planning. Thursday 7th finally saw the plans come to fruition as I boarded the train that would lead me to Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport for my flight to Warsaw.
It was a cold, damp morning in Manchester, and I’d become soaked before I’d even left. It didn’t appear to be a great start to what was destined to be a great trip. Things did however begin to look up, with my transport connections all meeting their schedule and before I knew it I was on the big pink (WizzAir) metal bird headed east.
On arrival in the Polish capital, I met fellow photographer Jake whom I’d be spending the trip with and we made our way to meet Janusz who had kindly agreed an excellent price for rental of his city centre apartment. After being extensively briefed on the operation of the studio flat we were left to our own devices. Job #1 was to collect accreditation from Warsaw’s National Stadium. Easy peasy. Alas, it would have been had we not arrived after it’d closed for the day. A quick rethink later and we opted to collect our pass from Wroclaw before the game the next day. Job #2, bed.
An early train awaited us, for a 5 hour journey to the southern city of Wroclaw to cover the second game of the competition, Russia v Czech Republic. The journey passed by without incident, much in the same vein as the previous day’s had. Accreditation was collected and once settled in to the large, multi storey marquee that was acting as the media centre it was finally time to think about taking some photographs!
Canon Professional Services are onsite at all Polish stadia for the duration of the tournament. This is always welcome news, as it means that cameras can be cleaned properly and some of the more pricey equipment loaned out to give a whirl. My personal choice on this occasion was to be the brand new Canon 1D X body, and the lovely, new 8-15mm fisheye lens. I won’t go in to detail, but it was a dream combination, as was the 1D X and my current 70-200 lens throughout the game itself.
Moving on to the game, my luck had seemingly changed direction. Russia went 2-0 up in the first half with both goals scored at the far end of the pitch. Brilliant! Prayers were done at half time to wish the Russians well on their attacking style in the second half. It paid off, and they thankfully put another two past the Czechs at the right end.
The day ended, in a manner of speaking, with making the return trip into central Wroclaw where a two hour wait for the train back to Warsaw was endured. At 4am we clambered aboard and promptly dropped off to sleep, only to be awoken a couple of hours away from Warsaw with the bright sunlight streaming in through the carriage window. Shattered wasn’t the word. Sleep will be greatly enjoyed this evening.
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.
Two days in the Polish capital of Warsaw, saw me take in the delight of the first football match to be held at the new National Stadium (Stadion Narodowy). The stadium is one of four to have been built in former Soviet stronghold, alongside four in neighbouring Ukraine, to host UEFA’s Euro 2012.
Upon my arrival, I had been greeted by slush clogged streets as the weather was at the tail end of a cold snap. However, much to my delight, on the following day the streets were dry and sky was blue! Dare I say, it was even approaching t-shirt weather.
This, I was most grateful for. After devouring breakfast, I decided on a fifteen minute walk up Nowy Swiat towards the picturesque Old Town. I’d be there before on a number of occasions, but the history and beauty of the area still has an immense draw. After a spot of lunch on the market square, and quick check of my accreditation email (and a dodgy Google translate later), I found I had to make a trip across Warsaw to pick up my pass. Forty five minutes walk later, it was in my hands.. and so, off to the stadium!
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.
..and here we are, finally, Leicester! For those that haven’t chronologically followed, earlier in the day, I had been to Chester for the British Red Cross. The benefactor for this job was however, another charity, Rainbows Hospice. Colorsport had a table at the event and I had been assigned the duty of photographing the evening. With a number of cricketing related guests, including Dickie Bird and Peter Bowler aside the star, West Indian fast bowler Michael Holding.. there was much to be captured!
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..
Another visit to the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland saw me covering the international friendly between Ireland and Norway. Whilst this trip was 50% shorter than last, it was 100% more damp. It rained. Not to worry though, rain adds to the pictures I think!
The match itself started off at a pace, with two first half goals, one from each side. However following the break it took another 40 minutes to break the deadlock when Erik Huseklepp put a shot past Manchester City keeper Shay Given to seal victory.
Dublin was the destination over this domestic football break for the UEFA Euro 2012 qualifying tie between Ireland and Russia. As always though, it wasn’t just about the football.. much craic was waiting to be enjoyed, and Dublin didn’t disappoint.
The game itself was mostly one sided, with Russia opening up a lead of 0-3 without reply, until Ireland managed what seemed a consolation goal in the late stages of the game. Spurred on by a rapturous home crowd Ireland dominated late play and pulled a second goal back, but despite many late chances the point couldn’t be salvaged and Russia took all three with a 2-3 win at the AVIVA Stadium.
Next stop, Slovakia!
Another event from my weekend in Wales. The home team, against the travelling South Africans, at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Lost Prophets opened the show with a couple of their hits, and there was a military procession.. including a man with with a goat. Will have to Google that one..
Having a commission on already for the Sunday, I wasn’t expecting to be called with a request to shoot the relegation tie between Leeds and Worcester. I could only manage to arrive for the second half, but bearing in mind the relegation struggle, the needed photographs were the joy and despair at the end of the game.