After many months of planning, I finally arrived in St Petersburg yesterday, ready to cover my very first FIFA World Cup. As a sports photographer, attending a World Cup is the pinnacle - much as it is for a player - so it’s a huge achievement to be here covering my first World Cup, and also the first for the agency I run with my Dad, PHC Images.
He will be covering the tournament for Focus Images and we will be travelling around Russia together. Thankfully FIFA applied some common sense and are hosting the matches in the Western area of Russia so the games are not too far from each other, but it’s certainly a lot more logistically challenging than Euro 2016 where we travelled by car.
Seven internal flights and a train journey from St Petersburg to Moscow will allow us to cover 8 group games (including the opener and all 3 England matches) and then the plan is to follow England until the inevitable penalty shootout loss to Germany in the quarter finals. We’ll then cover the semis and the final before I return to Manchester and my Dad extends his trip with a journey to Düsseldorf to cover Norwich’s pre-season tour. So much for a summer break…
Many people have said how lucky we are to be able to do this (and they’re right to an extent) but it comes with sacrifices, namely 5-6 weeks away from families at a time. A ‘holiday’ it certainly is not, as I keep trying to convince my fiancée.
Trips to Kyiv for the Champions League final and Lyon for the Europa League final have been useful preparation for this 5-week marathon. We will each be carrying a second phone with a local SIM in Russia, so I purchased a cheap Android phone before the trip to Ukraine. As an Apple nerd through-and-through it was handy to have a few days in Kyiv to work out how the bloody thing functioned! Kyiv also gave us a chance to experience a country with few native English speakers and an alphabet which might as well be Klingon. The Google Translate app is going to get a thorough work out this month.
Next up was a fairly routine 2-0 win for England against Costa Rica at Elland Road. Their final warm-up match provided a great opportunity to try out my new Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS II and Canon 1DX. It’s not ideal to use new kit for the first time so close to a major tournament but I decided to finally upgrade my ageing 300mm. During Euro 2016 I would borrow one for most matches from the ever helpful Canon guys and girls, so it’ll be nice not to have to queue for one every match and also to have one for the training sessions and other media activities.
An England match away from Wembley made a nice change, even if it is one of the worst grounds to work at. Unfriendly stewards, terrible lights, no Wi-Fi and having to stand throughout the second half made for thoroughly miserable working conditions. A far cry from the glitzy new FIFA branded stadiums in Russia which we will soon experience. Two nice publications in the national press in the following days cheered me up and helped pay for an internal flight or two at least.
We’ve arrived early in Russia to get acquainted with everything and get some of the tedious jobs out of the way, such as picking up accreditation and buying a local SIM card. We will have a couple of days of training and media activity before a 5am four hour “fast” train journey to Moscow for the opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia. Not the most tantalising game from a football perspective but a good opportunity to shoot the home nation and some of the colour around the tournament.
On our way to the airport yesterday we received an email from FIFA informing us that Robbie Williams will be performing before the match so there will be some additional interest around him at least. Our primary clients are the UK newspapers so any British interest is great for us as it makes publications more likely and we can hopefully claw back some of the costs of this trip.
On the flight from London, we met a fellow photographer, Alastair, who is out here working for AP and staying at the same hotel. We shared an Uber from the airport to St Petersburg stadium, where we picked up our accreditation, and then to Repino where we will be staying until Thursday.
After an interesting imitation of a Beef Stroganoff at the hotel restaurant, a few local beers and a quick FaceTime with my fiancée back home, the 3 hours of sleep was catching up on me and I was ready for bed.
This morning, we took a trip with Alastair to Stadium Spartak Zelenogorsk, a 15-minute taxi ride away, where England will be training. Security was very strict but a quick check of our official FIFA accreditation and they were largely fine. The only problem arose when I got too close to the perimeter fence but a shout of “5 metres!” from a Russian policeman made it clear what the deal was.
We then got another taxi back to the hotel where England are staying in Repino. Again, security was very tight but we shot a few very average GV’s and then headed back to our hotel, taking in some of the sights of Repino itself and stocking up on a few essentials at a local supermarket.
We’re currently at our hotel, waiting for the England team to arrive in St Petersburg this evening. We considered trying to photograph them arriving at the airport but only photographers from FIFA and the FA are allowed to cover it officially, and any other opportunities to photograph it look slim, especially with security so tight out here.
Instead, we’re going to head to their hotel, which is only a 15-minute walk away and shoot the team bus arriving. It probably won’t make for fantastic pictures but this is very much the calm before the storm and a few ‘previews’ are all that’s available to us at the moment.