Shot! Brighton vs Atlético Madrid

I’ve been to hundreds of football matches. For many years I had a season ticket at Arsenal and during the season would also go to a bunch of away games. I’ve even experienced a soccer match in New York.

But it’s been a long time since I went to a game. For longer than I care to remember all of my football lately has been watched on TV. That changed a week before the 2017/18 season started when I got the chance to see things from a different perspective when Brighton & Hove Albion hosted Atlético Madrid.

Now those two names aren’t natural bedfellows. And even though the game was a pre-season friendly, it showed just how far Brighton had come that they could attract opposition of the strength of Atlético, one of the three best teams in Spain and one of the biggest names in European football, boasting the likes of Fernando Torres and Antoine Griezmann. It was also my first time at the Amex, Brighton’s out of town stadium built for playing big games just like this.

Whatever the result, it was going to be memorable.

Someone told me that when the game was originally arranged, Brighton had planned only to open up the lower tier seating as they didn’t expect a big crowd. Fortunately they quickly saw sense and from where I was sitting the ground looked pretty much full to the rafters. The Amex holds 30,000 and in fact 27,343 turned up. It was Albion’s record crowd for a friendly and of those, 830 were Atleti supporters.

It was newsworthy for other reasons too.

The Seagulls wore their new gold and green away kit for the first time and the financial merits of being in the Premier League were already being felt as merch sales in the club shop were 40% higher than their previous best.

The Rojiblancos were also wearing a new strip. Of course it was still the famous red and white stripes, but now there were diagonal lines running through them. I really like their kit and am a big fan of their new superhero-like badge.

Now often with friendlies the big teams don’t play their star players. They get rested and squad players vie for the manager’s attention. That wasn’t the case for Atleti who fielded both Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torres from the start. It was a signal they were taking the game seriously and I have to say it always felt more like a cup tie than a friendly.

The Brighton crowd were certainly up for it and the Amex was filled with their chanting. I always admired the stadium whenever I drove past it. Opened six years ago, its clean, modern lines meant it felt like the home of a Premier side. But as impressive as the ground is, I have to say it’s somewhat let down by its drab interior architecture.

From the press box you get the best view of the game you could wish for. You’re central, a few metres behind the dugouts which means you get to witness aspects of a match you normally don’t see: the work of the fourth official, the non-stop movement of the coaches and how much shouting and cajoling they do throughout the game as well as the activities of all the supporting personnel: the medics, the mascots (Brighton had two, one in each of their strips) and the club staff ensuring everything runs smoothly.

One thing they did get wrong was how to spell their illustrious opponents name on the big screen. I’ll forgive them omitting the accent, but it’s Atlético not Athletico. To be fair, they got it right everywhere else. Although the programme did feature Atleti’s old badge rather than their new one.

For a friendly, the game itself was actually pretty competitive. Atlético scored first and knocked the ball around with the slick assuredness you’d expect. With just a few minutes to go it was 2:2, with Brighton showing great determination to come back twice. A draw with their famous opponents would have probably flattered Albion, but in the end, there was no shame in losing to one of Europe’s top teams by the odd goal.

After the match, Diego Simeone was first into the press room taking questions from the sizeable contingent of Spanish media who were covering the game. Fortunately, both questions and answers were translated into English.

Brighton manager, Chris Hughton then followed and was asked about new signings. He was cagey about revealing too much, giving the impression none were close.

The very next day, Brighton announced they had broken their transfer record in signing £6m Dutch midfielder Davy Propper. And then, just a couple of days later, broke it again, signing Colombian winger José Izquierdo from Club Brugge for £13.5m.

The match against Madrid had another impact on Hughton as three days later it was revealed that midfielder Beram Kayal broke his leg in the game. The 29-year-old Israeli international fractured his fibula and is expected to be out for at least eight weeks.

Behind the image: All these images were shot handheld with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 using only the 75 1.8 lens. As they were all taken from my seat in the press box, I’m pretty pleased with how they came out. I even managed to capture one of Brighton’s goals frame by frame, from the free kick being taken, to the ball in the back of the net! With regards to shooting the game itself, there are plenty of challenges. First is that framing the shot is so much more difficult than it looks as it’s all too easy to get parts of players bodies in the shot or one player’s body shape or expression just looks awkward. One awkward looking player can ruin what would otherwise have been a great shot. Next, most shots don’t make sense unless you can see the ball and often that’s not in the frame or hidden behind a player. Another challenge, especially when it’s sunny is the shadow from the stands can often create an ugly contrast between one part of the image and another. Finally, and most critically, is trying to keep up with play and anticipate what may happen. You need to fire lots of shots — I was shooting in sports mode — the consequence of which is you have loads of frames to go through. Of my portraits, I really like a couple I got of Stefan Savic while he was being interviewed and I also think those of Diego Simeone really captured his personality. Shot in Brighton on 6 August 2017.

Big thanks to Brighton’s web editor James Hilsum for arranging my accreditation.

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