In February of this year I received an e-mail from Dwayne Barlow, the WaiBOP Football Federation’s media manager, containing details of how to apply for accreditation for the 2015 FIFA Under 20 World Cup. I hadn’t given any thought to applying until then. To be honest, I hadn’t even given ‘New Zealand 2015’ much thought whatsoever.
I had supposed I would try and get along to a few games, but that’s as far as I had planned ahead. But when I received Dwayne’s e-mail, I made a spur of the moment decision to have a crack at getting photographer credentials. Why not? If you don’t ask you don’t get, right?
I wasn’t overly surprised when they sent me a rejection e-mail less than 24 hours after I submitted my initial application. But my mother always taught me not to take no for an answer straight away so I had another crack at arguing my case and to my slight amazement they let me in.
This was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it gave me a once in a lifetime chance to sit pitch side at a World Cup. A curse because having been given credentials I then owed it both to myself and to all the people who applied and were rejected to make good use of them.
I hope I was able to go some of the way towards meeting that standard over the course of the past three weeks. In order to let you be the judge, here follows 18 of the best images I took while doing my best to make the most I could of the incredible opportunity I was gifted.
First up, one of the first images I took on the opening day. New Zealand Captain Bill Tuiloma during the warm-up for game one vs Ukraine. What a great and inspirational captain he proved himself to be. A definite star of the future in a New Zealand team that performed in a way that, as hosts of the tournament, we can all be proud of.
…And we’re underway! Alex Rufer rampaging down the right hand side pursued by Ukraine’s Taras Kacharaba with a full stand in the background – in Auckland!
My next outing was in Hamilton where one of the things that really stood out was how awesome the Columbian fans were! Both in number and nature. They were a lot of fun and really made the day special.
The ground wasn’t packed, the weather saw to that, but it warmed the cockles of my heart to see world class football being played in front of a good crowd at the home of Rugby in my little old provincial home town. Here’s Columbia’s Steven Lucumi with Qatar’s Serigne Adou on his case.
Everyone who watched Senegalese keeper Ibrahima Sy loved what they saw. He was one of the real characters of the World Cup as well as one of the future stars. This is him not quite able to stop a Portugal goal in Hamilton.
Back to Auckland and the Junior All Whites. At half time during New Zealand’s clash with USA I got a tweet from Yellow Fever’s Dale Warburton asking me to try and get a shot of Noah Billingsley to send to his mum! Aw, how could I refuse? This wasn’t bad for a first attempt although I’m not sure it’s one for the mantelpiece…
Next up in Auckland there was a double header featuring Panama vs Ghana and USA vs Ukraine. Ghana’s Abraham Attobrah was asking for divine intervention as he entered the field of play. He just might have got it too, as his side scraped the win in part thanks to a Panamanian missed penalty.
I didn’t get many great shots in the second game thanks to the light being a bit iffy but I did manage to catch one of the players that had been impressing me a lot – Bradford Jamieson IV. He wasn’t so great in this game but he tore New Zealand to shreds a few days earlier – not an easy task as Portugal were shortly to discover…
One of the real stories of this World Cup was the showing of Fiji – basically the Jamaican Bobsled Team of this tournament. If one word sums them up more than any other, it’s passion.
Fiji vs Uzbekistan was my first game of anything I have ever watched in Whangarei! It was well worth the trip, even though Fiji lost. Toll Stadium was an impressive venue and I’m really looking forward to seeing more football there in the future. Here’s Mohammed Khan and Ibrokhim Abdullaev coming together with the Eastern terraces in the background.
Before the start of every game all the photographers would gather together for the very contrived FIFA ritual of the taking of team photos. At the exact prescribed time we would be led almost to the halfway line, inside the advertising hoardings but outside the field of play, by minders who kept us in tight formation. The players and officials would then come out onto the pitch, we were there for the national anthems and handshakes, then we had a few seconds to snap photos of each team before we had to return to our respective ends of the pitch with strictly no loitering allowed!! There were other rules that seemed to change with each match but that was the basic procedure. Any breaches of protocol could and would result in a swift trip to The Hague! I took part in this every time, although why I’m not quite sure. The team photos I took are all pretty bland. Except this one is pretty special because it’s New Zealand about to play Portugal in a WORLD CUP KNOCKOUT GAME IN HAMILTON!!!!!
And what a special game it was. Especially when New Zealand did the unthinkable – score an equaliser that looked for a solid chunk of the game like it would send us into extra time against the tournament favourites! This is Yellow Fever/White Noise when the goal went in – a photo that FIFA used on their website – glad they got some benefit from my accreditation!
Unfortunately it was ultimately Portugal who got the last laugh in that game though, as Gelson Martins found the back of the net in the 87th minute.
The trick when you get a chance to photograph a Brazilian age group team, is to get a shot of a future global superstar so you can brag about it in ten years’ time. Who will that player be in this Brazilian Under 20 side? Most people’s money seems to be on Gabriel Jesus.
Although, sucker for a cool goalkeeper that I am, I prefer this freaky dude. Jean. Looking pretty happy having just saved a penalty in the shootout vs Portugal that his team won 3-1 to advance to the semi-finals.
Unfortunately work commitments saw me watching the semi-finals in a Wellington bar on Cuba Street so I missed the opportunity to attend either of those and the next game I photographed was the last – the final. The Brazil vs Serbia, South America vs Europe clash, was a match of twists and turns. Serbia scored first and Brazil equalised just a few minutes later. A decent celebration shot is one of the tests of a good football photographer. I was reasonably happy with this one.
But as we all know, it was Serbia who ultimately prevailed. I myself find that disappointment photos can be a thousand times more powerful than celebration shots. This one of Jean provides a desolate contrast to the one I took of him in Hamilton.
But in any tournament you cover, whether it’s the World Cup or the New Zealand Women’s Knockout Cup, the money shot has got to be the one you take at the moment when the trophy is raised into the air by the victorious captain.
Congratulations Serbia. Under 20 World Champions for 2015.
I don’t know why they let me in, maybe it was a mistake, but nevertheless I treasured every moment of this privilege. Hopefully I’ll be back doing it again for the 2023 Women’s World Cup should New Zealand’s bid be successful! Fingers crossed.
The only thing left to say now is stand up for workers in Qatar.
A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: https://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/