Saturday 4th May was the day that just two teams from a total of 514 participants battled it out to become FA Vase winners 2013. Kent Hurlimann league representatives Tunbridge Wells faced Northern League side Spennymoor Town at Wembley – the home of football.
As I’ve previously documented elsewhere, I covered Tunbridge Well’s previous rounds, so it was with great privilege that I was accepted to be their ‘official’ photographer for the big occasion.
Gaining accreditation to cover the final is fairly straightforward. A few weeks before the Final itself, details are published announcing the application process for getting pitchside. You can apply as part of the press, an agency or even as a freelancer. It’s expected that you have experience in football photography and have public liability insurance, but other than that, there’s not too much else required.
And so the day came. As an avid fan of football, I’d been to Wembley plenty of times before. However, I’d never graced the hallowed turf or even anywhere close to it. The one time I went to a concert, we only had seats in the top tier and so never got that same feeling of being down on the pitch.
I entered via the photographers official entrance at 1pm – a couple of hours before kickoff, to savour some of the atmosphere, build-up and to get some photos of the most important thing in my opinion… the fans. After a slight mix-up in the security screening process, I headed to the reception to pickup my pass (which annoyingly, I left behind after the match), official photographer bib and complimentary matchday programme (which also featured one of my images from the Quarter Final between the Wells and Hadleigh).
I then proceeded to the photographers lounge, where I met up with other ‘togs, many of which I knew from my time around football. The lounge features rows of desks, each with the facility to use laptops wired to the internet for uploading of photos to the agnecies, press, etc. Complimentary bacon rolls and cups of tea and coffee were on offer too. However, I was itching to get outside.
Walking through the old tunnel entrance, as used in the old Wembley, 90,000 seats adorned my eyes. A few were filled, but the turnstiles had only just opened. The National Stadium is an impressive piece of architecture and vast too. In order to fit the majority of it into a shot, I used a fisheye lens. I also found this was good fun to capture some of the younger fans who were over-excited with what may have been their first trip to Wembley.
As kickoff came around, another issue came to light… the distance between where photographers can sit and the pitch. It’s unlike non-league, where you’re practically on the touchline. At Wembley, you’re a good 7 or 8 metres further away. This is tough if you predominantly use a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. I didn’t want to have shots where I was cropping to a small size. However, my good friend and fellow photographer, Andy, had a spare 100-400mm f/5.6 which I used. A cracking lens which, although doesn’t give the same depth of field as the 70-200, is fantastic over a large distance. I toyed with a combination of the two lenses and my two bodies (one a full frame 5D Mk III and the cropped bodied 60D). In fact, by fitting the long lens to the 60D, it in effect gave me 600mm focal range.
A problem all of the photographers were also facing was the harsh, harsh sunlight. Wembley has a vast roof covering with just a small opening in the middle. With the sun directly overhead, half the pitch was bathed in dazzling sunlight and the other half in dark shade. Snapping the action from differing lighting at speed causes no end of headaches. Many of the photographer’s solutions were to move behind the goal, as the lighting was less of an issue from this spot.
Half-time came and Tunbridge Wells found themselves 1-0 down. Spennymoor were the favourites and nothing in the first 45 minutes gave me reason to believe the bookies were wrong. A few of us headed into the photographer’s lounge where packed lunches were ready made for us hungry snappers. A meal consisting of sandwiches, muffin, crisps, chocolate bar and orange juice were gratefully received. As it turned out, there were leftovers at full time so I, and a few others, grabbed the remains to take home.
The second half commenced and the brutal sunlight had made way for more overcast conditions… a very welcome sight for all of us behind the touchline. The game continued much the same as the first half, but with Spennymoor wasting opportunities and Chris Oladogba, the Tunbridge keeper in fine form, it only took a cracking volley from Josh Stanford set the scores level. It didn’t last long… two minutes actually. Keith Graydon scored the winner in the 80th minute to hand the Vase to the team from Durham and yet another Northern victory.
After the final whistle, all the photographers headed to a marked area where the Spennymoor players and officials gathered for photo opportunities. In what could be an outright scrum for a match like the Champions League final or FA Cup, the Vase is a little more relaxed and everyone was in good spirits. I had a good chat with a fair few other snappers throughout the day.
By 6pm, we were leaving. A fabulous day was certainly had by all. Players and fans at this level are just happy to spend a day watching or playing in on occasion as grand as this. It’s every young footballer’s dream to play on the hallowed turf of Wembley and for that reason alone, the result seems to be an after-thought.
Author – Stuart Tree