2014 has been an unbelievably busy but very rewarding year for me personally, highlights were being awarded the Vauxhall Welsh FA Photographer of the Year and being sent to cover the World Cup Brazil. Many miles clocked up visiting brilliant places, here is a little summary of my favourite pictures of the year.
A detailed shot of a horse after being watered down during Day Three of the Cheltenham Festival
It was a great year for Gareth Bale – winning 4 trophies with Real Madrid and starring for Wales as they look to qualify for EURO 2016
Liverpool entertained in the second half of the season but fell short of winning the league, star striker Luis Suarez is pictured crying after throwing away a 3-0 lead at Crystal Palace in early May.
Arsenal won their first trophy in 9 years, Aaron Ramsey scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup Final vs Hull City to give Arsene Wenger some much needed silverware.
Bobby Zamora scored a last minute winning goal in the Championship Play-off Final vs Derby County to seal promotion back to the Premier League
Onto the World Cup in Brazil, where there was plenty of colour in the stands…
Brazil and Neymar Jnr got off to a flying start, beating Croatia 3-1 in the opening game on their way to the Semi Finals…
Where they met their match in Germany and were thrashed 7-1…
Some of the world’s best players lit up the tournament with great goals…
Whilst others went missing on the biggest stage…
England once again disappointed the entire nation with an embarrassing group stage exit
Uruguayan Luis Suarez once again playing the role of pantomime villain, scoring both goals in his sides victory over England, before biting Giorgio Chiellini and earning himself a 4 month ban from all football.
Germany went on to win their fourth World Cup, Mario Gotze scoring the winning goal in extra time past Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero
Leaving the little genius Messi wondering if he’ll ever get another chance as good as this to win the World Cup.
The Premier League returned in August, with an old friend coming back after a few years in Italy,
Whilst new faces have settled in well despite the change of climate.
Vanishing spray was introduced for the first time, referee Jon Moss here getting to grips with it as he sprays it into the face of Santi Cazorla
2014 saw Bath flying high in Rugby Union, with them also signing Rugby League star Sam Burgess
Roy Hodgson’s England have recovered since the World Cup, winning all their EURO 2016 Qualification matches so far
Louis Van Gaal has restored some pride at Manchester United and they look set for a return to the Champions League…
As Jose Mourinho is never far from the spotlight, his Chelsea team top at the turn of the year and bookies favourites for the Premier League.
And the sun sets on another sporting year…here’s to a great 2015!
All pictures copyright www.backpageimages.com
With the finish line in sight, we made our way to Belo Horizonte on Monday ahead of Tuesday’s oepning semi final, Brazil vs Germany. The hosts were without the injured Neymar and suspended Thiago Silva and faced a tough ask to beat the efficient Germans.
Before the match the atmosphere was once again electric with the Brazil fans optimistic their team could progress to the final in Rio despite missing arguably their two best players. Stand in captain David Luiz showed his support for Neymar by holding his shirt as the national anthems were sung.
With priority given to the Brazilian and German photographers, I was left with a position down the side of the pitch – not ideal and to add insult to injury, Germany put in a sensational first half performance to lead 5-0 at half time – all goals scored at the other end. Without Neymar Brazil looked short of ideas in attack with Fred and Hulk both looking out of place, and Scolari looked fairly perplexed at the entire situation. The atmosphere worsened as each goal went in and bar the section of Germany fans in the top tier, the stadium was silent until half time when boos rang out from the home support.
With the match as a contest now dead, the second half lacked the intensity you’d expect from a World Cup semi final. The Germans continued to create chances and added another two goals from Chelsea’s Andre Schurrle before eventually the Brazilians grabbed a very small consolation through Oscar.
After the match the German supporters were kept behind and for about 30 minutes they didn’t stop singing, whilst the Brazilian supporters filtered out rather quickly as they tried to forget what had just happened. A few stayed behind and struggled to comprehend what they’d just seen – myself too not really appreciating that everyone at the stadium had just witnessed history being made – the highest scoring World Cup semi final, the hosts humiliated in their own backyard.
After finishing up it was time to head back to the hotel where we managed to get 4 hours sleep before heading to the airport once more, this time bound for Sao Paulo and the second semi final, Netherlands vs Argentina.
The longer their side have stayed in the tournament, it seems the more Argentinians have made the trip up to Brazil to possibly witness a fourth World Cup triumph. They considerably outnumbered their Dutch counterparts and were the louder of the two and took great pleasure in reminding everyone of the previous night’s scoreline.
It was the first opportunity I’d got to shoot the Argentinians so was looking forward to getting some stuff on their star man Lionel Messi. As one of the best players to have ever played the game, the interest is in him is huge so it’s important to get a variety of content on him.
The match itself was fairly boring. Some decent action in the middle of the pitch but very little in the goalmouths with neither side creating clear cut chances. Down the side again as last night, you can sometimes get a bit tighter than you would be behind the goals.
As the time wore on, the rain started to fall and I had a feeling it would go all the way to penalties, and lo and behold, it did. They made their way to the end I was at, so I stayed put, with Ben moving behind the goals to make sure we had all angles covered. Netherlands took first, and Ron Vlaar saw his penalty saved by Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero, diving in the opposite direction to me and celebrating in the opposite corner, so I focused on Ron Vlaar as he realised he might have just cost his side a place in the final.
The Argentinians one by one held their nerve and after Wesley Sneijder had his effort kept out by Romero, it was left to Maxi Rodriguez to put away the winning spotkick to send his players into delirium as they realised they had qualified for the final vs Germany in Rio.
Another two matches down, and with the final domestic flight back to Rio safely negotiated, I took great pleasure in gloating to Ben that I’d managed to go 5 weeks without losing anything. This came back to bite me in the arse as after getting back to the flat – I’d realised my passport had fallen out of my pocket in the taxi. A nightmare situation but thankfully it’s happened at the end of the trip where I only have one flight left – my return to Heathrow. A trip on Monday morning to the British Embassy will hopefully help me sort out an emergency travel document meaning I can get home – I don’t fancy spending any more time in Brazil!
Tomorrow is the final and it should be a great game. It’s a shame it hasn’t ended in the Brazil vs Argentina fixture that we all wanted but the fact Messi has made it is great. I’m going to be positioned up in the tribune whilst Ben is pitchside so hopefully between the two of us we can get some good stuff that will be relevant for years to come. Pictures of Messi with the trophy would be a photographers dream but I personally think the Germans will be too strong for a team that is overly reliant on one player.
I’m now back in Rio, a whole 24 days after leaving for Sao Paulo and the opening fixture. In that space I’ve covered 12 matches and I now only have 3 left before my first World Cup comes to an end.
The last two fixtures I’ve covered were Belgium vs USA in the last 16 and Brazil vs Colombia in the Quarter Finals. Both games thrilling with great atmospheres, both with the main incidents away from where I was sat.
First up was a last trip to Salvador and the Arena Fonte Nova, one of my favourite stadiums I’ve visited. Around the ground there is plenty going on meaning before kick off it was nice to have a wander outside and soak up the pre match atmosphere, some weird and wonderful supporters on show as they have been throughout the tournament.
The USA did well to progress from their group and there has been a lot of talk that the people back home have finally taken to ‘soccer’. Their fans at the stadium were in good voice and the Brazilians seemed to get behind them too.
Neither side created any clear cut chances in a pretty dour first half, and with Belgium seeing most of the play I struggled to get much action. It gave me a chance to focus on the eccentric hairstyles on show from the Belgians.
Belgium began to take control in the second period forcing USA goalkeeper Tim Howard into a string of fine saves. It wasn’t until after the match it was reported he had made the most saves in a single World Cup game. He single handedly kept the Belgium attack at bay and USA almost stole victory in the last minute but a glorious chance went begging and the match went to extra time.
Romelu Lukaku was introduced at the end of the 90 minutes and made an instant impact, laying on a goal for Kevin De Bruyne before scoring himself (unfortunately at the opposite end) to give his side a 2-0 lead at half time in the extra period, with the USA looking tired, down and out.
Hoping for a third Belgium goal and a celebration in my corner, I was optimistic at half time but the USA found an extra ten percent from somewhere as soon as the whistle blew at the start of the second half. They started to create chances and were energetic once again, eventually clawing one back through a fine strike from Julian Green. They dominated the final few minutes but Belgium hung on for victory meaning Juergen Klinsmann’s side headed home with their heads held high.
Next up was a trip to Fortaleza for the tasty looking Brazil vs Colombia. Again the Estadio Castelao is one of the better grounds I’ve visited with more going on in the surrounding areas than some of the other stadiums on show here in Brazil.
Arriving at the ground early it was apparent there was going to be a big home crowd and one fan stood out straight away arriving by bicycle.
Inside the ground before kick off the sense of anticipation was great but some fans seemed nervous, the Colombia team earning many plaudits throughout the tournament and many felt today might be the day the hosts got sent packing.
Some fans mocked their rivals Argentina with a blow up doll wearing a Lionel Messi shirt and women’s underwear.
Before kick off I focused on the Brazil line up, with David Luiz and Neymar, both providing nice images before and during the national anthems.
Brazil haven’t been at their best during their previous matches but have done enough to progress this far and they started brightly with Neymar once again providing the main spark, but even he was frustrated at an early missed chance.
Neymar’s opposite number James Rodriguez struggled to have an impact with Brazil nullifying his attacking play. Thiago Silva scored the opening goal, and ran to the opposite corner providing me with another moment of frustration for me. With the amount of photographers I had to stay in my position and shoot the Colombia attack second half, and annoyingly for me David Luiz popped up with a stunning free kick and a great celebration picture for all those at the other end in the corner he ran to. Colombia were handed a lifeline when Julio Cesar fouled Carlos Bacca and Rodriguez stepped up to get one back from the spot. Colombia pushed hard for an equaliser and they were helped when Neymar went down with an injury after a challenge from Juan Zuniga. At the time it looked bad but it wasn’t until after full time it became apparent that the injury was serious enough to end the poster boy’s World Cup with a fractured vertebrae.
Despite a couple of late chances Brazil held on and celebrated progressing to the Semi Finals where they’ll meet Germany. It was nice to see a real moment of sportsmanship match winner David Luiz take the time to console a tearful James Rodriguez as he left the pitch.
Like I said I’m now back in Rio but tomorrow me and Ben fly to Belo Horizonte for the first semi final, Brazil vs Germany before heading to Sao Paulo for the second, Argentina vs Netherlands. Hopefully with a bit more luck than the last few matches.
After staying in Recife following the USA vs Germany game, I managed to go an entire 5 days without an internal flight, meaning I was refreshed ready for my first round of 16 match, Costa Rica vs Greece.
I arrived at the ground early to avoid any delays on the road incase of a repeat of the bad weather during the last match, I chose my position behind the goal that Costa Rica would attack first.
Fans of the two teams were there in small numbers, with neither of them expected to progress past the group stages, meaning the majority of supporters were from Brazil. One Greece fan couldn’t handle the heat…
The game started and as expected it lacked the quality of some of the other R16 matches on offer, but I had the opportunity to get some stuff on Arsenal striker Joel Campbell, expected to finally play a part this year after playing on loan elsewhere for 2 seasons.
Thankfully the weather was much better than my last visit here, with no rain at all and nice clear skies as the sun set. Good weather makes our job so much easier.
Costa Rica took the lead early in the second half through Bryan Ruiz, unfortunately at the other end from me but I soon had some action in front of me as Oscar Duarte committed a second bookable offence and was shown a red card, leaving Costa Rica to play the majority of the second period with ten men. Greece took control of the match and began to create chances but couldn’t find a way past goalkeeper Keylor Navas until the 90th minute when Sokratis Papastathopoulos scored a dramatic equaliser, sending the game into extra time.
Both teams appeared to struggle with fatigue during the extra time but it was Costa Rica who went closest to scoring a winning goal with an acrobatic effort by Giancarlo Gonzalez, but alas no further goals arrived and the match went to penalties.
With a FIFA official coming round during extra time notifying us that the penalties were to be held at our end of the stadium, I chose to stay in my seat whilst other photographers moved to the other side of the goalmouth.
The first 7 penalties were all dispatched with aplomb but there’s always a hero and a villian and up stepped man of the match Keylor Navas to keep out the strike from Theofanis Gekas.
Penalty shootouts provide great reactions from teams as they watch on the halfway line, and it was no different on this occasion, the Costa Ricans choosing to kneel as a team provided something different. Their reactions as they waited for the final penalty to be taken was great, with none of them watching the goalmouth.
It was left to Michael Umaña to score the winning spot kick and send the Costa Ricans through to a quarter final meeting with the Netherlands…surely a step too far for the minnows?
Meanwhile the villian of the piece Theofanis Gekas showed how much his miss meant to him, his team mates having to comfort him as he left the field afterwards.
Another match down and I’m now in Salvador having flown in this morning ready for Belgium vs USA…hopefully more drama awaits.
I’ve now been in Brazil for almost 3 weeks, taken 14 flights, shot 9 group stage matches and am now ready for the business end of the tournament.
Here are some highlights (or lowlights depending on who you’re supporting) of the matches I’ve covered since my last post…
England fans turned up in Sao Paulo with such high hopes and expectations
But were left disappointed by one of the most disliked players in English football…
Leaving them heartbroken at the final whistle and praying for a miracle to help them progress past the group stages.
The next day their fate was sealed in Recife with this goal by Bryan Ruiz sealing a 1-0 win for Costa Rica over Italy, eliminating England in the process.
Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon modelled the latest in goalkeeping fashion, wearing odd coloured gloves and boots
Whilst the supposed whipping boys of Group D celebrated their progression to the last 16, leaving Italy requiring a point against Uruguay to qualify themselves.
Costa Rican supporters enjoyed the moment and didn’t miss the chance to rub salt into English wounds.
From there I travelled to Fortaleza where I got to meet some locals near the Estadio Castelao…
Some fans stood out more than others before the Germany vs Ghana match, for differing reasons
Brothers Kevin-Prince and Jerome were facing each other at a World Cup for the second time, and the first half was a bit pants.
Before 2 goals a piece after the break made for an entertaining second period and ensured there was plenty to play for in the final round of games in Group G.
I was on the move again this time heading to Natal for the deciding fixture in Group D between Italy and Uruguay, with Italy showing off a new addition before kick off…Mario Balotelli’s fiancée Fanny Neguesha.
It was billed as the battle of the two madmen…Luis and Mario
But that wasn’t the main talking point after the final whistle as it emerged Luis Suarez had bitten an opponent for the third time in his career. Unfortunately for me, he did at the other end of the pitch meaning I had no decent images of it.
After all that drama it was back to Recife for my final group game, USA vs Germany with former colleagues Jürgen Klinsmann and Joachim Löw squaring off with the USA requiring a draw to send them through at the expense of Portugal and Ghana.
Travelling on the media bus on the way to the Arena Pernambuco it was clear to see that the heavy rain was taking it’s toll on the roads with severe flooding causing major delays in the city centre.
Thankfully the match went ahead and the stadium was mostly full, one supporter coming especially prepared
Germany manager Joachim Löw stuck to his guns though and decided against wearing a coat despite torrential rain for the entire match…
Conditions were so bad German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer had to take action to ensure his gloves stayed dry
I was impressed by the USA performance, they showed that even with a group of lesser known players you can still perform well at a tournament with good coaching (take note England and Roy Hodgson). They also had some impressive hairstyles on show, especially Kyle Beckerman with his dreadlocks
A second half goal by Thomas Mueller saw Germany win 1-0 but due to Portugal only managing to win 2-1 against Ghana, it meant both sides went through to the round of 16, sending the USA players and fans wild as they saw the result on the big screen.
I didn’t manage to get the two coaches and friends shaking hands at full time due to tv getting in the way (the one picture I wanted from the game) but Klinsmann, the German coach of the USA had a chance to share a joke with a few of his compatriots at full time which made for a nice picture.
So after 9 matches I move on to the round of 16 where I’ll cover Costa Rica vs Greece and Belgium vs USA. Won’t get to see the Messi’s and Neymar’s again yet but hopefully that chance will come later on in the Quarter Finals, Semi Finals and possibly against each other in the Final. Just 6 matches, 7 flights and 20 days before I’m back in the UK.
As always all photos are copyright of www.backpageimages.com, please check out our Facebook page which is being updated regularly with stuff that me and Ben have been up to.
It’s been a week since I landed in Brazil to cover my first ever World Cup and since landing it’s been as expected, pretty non stop for me. 7 flights, 4 matches and not a lot of sleep. The weeks in the build up to leaving were spent worrying about what I was going to take and whether the schedule packed with flights would work but thankfully so far, things have gone smoothly.
Having landed in Rio, I spent 2 days there collecting accreditation and covering England training and press conferences at their base at the foot of Sugar Loaf mountain in Urca. It was a great setting for pictures and hopefully when I’m back in Rio in the second half of the tournament I’ll get a chance to head up to the top.
On Thursday morning both me and BPI colleague Ben flew to Sao Paulo ready for the opening match of the tournament, Brazil vs Croatia. The atmosphere was great outside the ground with fans from both sides mixing together in the sunshine. Due to the amount of photographers both me and Ben would be working down the touchline opposite the dugouts, not an ideal situation but we would have to make do. The opening ceremony was a bit odd with Pitbull and J-Lo providing the main entertainment, but the whole thing was difficult to follow from pitchside, a tribune position would have been much better.
Before we knew it the match was underway and the atmosphere was electric. After some early chances for Brazil went begging, Croatia took the lead through a Marcelo own goal, sending the stadium quiet but soon posterboy of the home nation Neymar scored and turned to celebrate towards me before changing his mind and heading for the bench. At half time the game was finely poised at 1-1 but a pretty shocking refereeing performance including a dubious penalty being awarded to Brazil meant they ended up winning 3-1 thanks to a second from Neymar and a toe-poke from Oscar.
It was then a case of finding our way to our hotel and it wasn’t until 12.30 that we got some kip, before I had to get up at 3.30 for a flight to Salvador for Spain vs Holland. Having safely negotiated the early start I got the Arena Fonte Nova ready for the repeat of the 2010 final and I chose my position behind the goal that Holland would attack first half. Spain dominated possession as they always do with their tika-taka style of passing meaning great action shots were hard to come by. They took the lead through a Xabi Alonso penalty at the other end and had chance to increase their lead before out of nowhere a long ball from Daley Blind was headed in by a flying Robin Van Persie and Holland went in at the break on level terms. I’m pretty sure nobody predicted what would follow in the next 45 minutes with Holland causing Spain problems all over the place and through some dodgy defending and pacey counter-attacking, Holland ended up 5-1 winners – a stunning result considering Spain are the defending champions. Looking back at the pictures even though I was at the wrong end for 5 of the 6 goals I was still fairly happy with what I’d got, especially the celebrations of the soon to be Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal.
Again I was facing another early flight, this time to Manaus for England’s opening fixture vs Italy. After another night of 3 hours sleep, I had a 6am flight to Sao Paulo before catching a connecting flight that would see me land in Manaus at 1pm – just 5 hours before kick off. Any delays or cancellations would have been a nightmare but luckily I managed to land on time and got to the Arena de Amazonia with plenty of time to spare. Manaus is easily the hottest place I’ve ever been. Not just the 32 degree heat but also the humidity. It was unbearable at times and I can only imagine how difficult it was for the players to put on a performance in those conditions. I was positioned to shoot England attack first half and they started brightly with Sterling inparticular looking dangerous but it was Italy who took the lead with a goal from Claudio Marchisio but England hit back almost instantly through Daniel Sturridge. The 2nd half was a tight affair again but Mario Balotelli’s headed goal after 50 minutes was enough to condemn England to defeat in the opening fixture and put even more importance on their next fixture against Uruguay in Sao Paulo on Thursday. With Wayne Rooney having a pretty poor game old Woy has some big decisions to make regarding team selection.
After the final whistle we headed back to the hotel of fellow photographer Andrew Tobin for a quick shower and pizza after what was a very sweaty day before heading back to the airport for our 1am flight to Salvador via Sao Paulo. After managing to sleep most of the 6 hours across the two flights, me and Ben headed out in the afternoon to explore a bit of Salvador, visiting a beach called Farol da Barra. Fans from various countries were all enjoying the sunshine and it was nice to finally have a chance to see a part of the country where I’m going to be based until the middle of July.
After a reasonably early night it was nice to wake up knowing I wouldn’t have to get on a plane for at least 1 day and we headed to the Arena Fonte Nova for Germany vs Portugal and their Ballon D’or winner Cristiano Ronaldo. The opening fixtures had seen the big names put in big performances and now it was time to see if the man voted as the world’s best could do it against the Germans. An early foul on Mario Gotze saw Thomas Muller convert a penalty and 20 minutes later it was 2-0 when Mats Hummels headed in a corner. Shortly after the much loathed Pepe effectively ended the game as a contest with a moment of stupidity as he headbutted Thomas Muller and was shown a straight red card. Muller scored another before half time and went on to complete his hattrick in the second half of a thoroughly depressing afternoon for Cristiano Ronaldo.
And that’s the end of a busy first week for me in my first World Cup. From here I travel to Sao Paulo again tomorrow ready for 3 games in three days: England vs Uruguay on Thursday followed by Italy vs Costa Rica in Recife and Germany vs Ghana in Fortaleza. Just the 15 flights and 11 matches left before I’m home in the UK.
With the 2013/2014 season coming to an end May has seen me covering a number of finals in cup competitions. First up was the UEFA Europa League final at the impressive Juventus Stadium in Turin where Sevilla and Benfica played out a rather boring 0-0 draw before Sevilla won an entertaining penalty shootout 4-2. Great action pictures were hard to come by but the fans were great value for money and the celebrations after the shootout were good.
Next up was the FA Cup Final at Wembley, where despite Hull City racing into an early 2-0 lead, Arsenal fought back and thanks to an injury time goal from Aaron Ramsey, they won 3-2 to seal their first silverware in 9 years. My highlight was probably seeing manager Arsene Wenger struggle to take off his wet shirt after being soaked with champagne by Lukas Podolski. Another nice surprise was looking back at my remote camera behind the goal to find Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla had borrowed it to photograph his team mates celebrating their success…which led to fame on the Mail Online for yours truly!
Then it was off to Cardiff for a spot of egg chasing and the Amlin Cup where Bath and Northampton were fighting it out. Having only covered one rugby match this season I was a bit rusty and unfortunately the majority of photographers weren’t allowed to shoot the trophy lift but thankfully managed to get a few frames of the Northampton players celebrating their 30-16 victory.
Last but not least was the Championship play-off final, in which Queens Park Rangers were taking on Derby County for a place in the Premier League. Arriving later than scheduled around 1.30pm due to major traffic before heavy rain right on kick off was not the greatest start but thankfully the sun came out in the second half and despite going down to ten men and having only one shot on target for the whole match, QPR sealed victory with a last minute winner from Bobby Zamora. Queue massive celebrations and yet more champagne popping.
All work as always for the great www.backpageimages.com
May has been a good end to a good 2013/2014 season…next up is the small matter of a trip to Brazil and the 2014 World Cup!