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Snappers' matters

WITH no football to shout about at present - due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic - QPR+ commentator Nick London has penned some of his most noteworthy tales from press boxes all over the globe.

Anecdote number three comes from September 2010 - coincidentally at the beginning of what would be a memorable season for QPR - when he found himself working in Trinidad.

One of the benefits of travelling abroad to cover tournaments is the time you spend with people you might not otherwise encounter.

On a trip to Chile, I took breakfast every morning for three weeks with a very entertaining FIFA Match Officials Assessor from Barbados, who incidentally had fond memories of former QPR winger Gregory ‘Lula’ Goodridge.

On 14th September 2010, I found myself sharing a cold refreshing drink at the Terrace Bar of our comfortable hotel on the island of Trinidad. The view stretched over the Caribbean Sea and as darkness fell you could see the lights of Venezuela in the distance.

It is easy to be precise about the date. The R’s were playing at Ipswich Town and two goals from Jamie Mackie plus a Heidar Helguson penalty kick had me starting to believe that this was more than merely a bright start to the season. You’ll understand that in those pre-QPR+ days, it was just score updates if you were lucky and thankfully the news was good.

My companions that evening were a pair of Getty Images photographers seconded to FIFA for the event. My job is simple enough. Just shout ‘GOAL’ at the relevant moment (though these days Andy Sinton gets there first) but I was keen to learn more about their profession.

Nowadays, every smart phone includes a pretty decent camera but you require considerably better equipment to cover football matches and these guys are real professionals.

The advent of digital images has made their life much simpler. Download the snapshots to a laptop and transfer the better ones to the picture desk. But there was a time when film had to be developed and this presented a range of problems.

One of these snappers was from Nottingham and identified as a Forest fan. His uncle was a photographer and covered matches at the City Ground. At the age of 16, said uncle had arranged for him to accompany him as an assistant. In awe, he crouched alongside this professional as shots were fired off for the opening 15 minutes.

“OK, take these back now.” The local newspaper offices were, like the City Ground, in the centre of town. He grabbed the canisters containing the rolls of film and started to run. At this point he forgot a key bit of advice. It doesn’t matter how much further you have to travel… never, never cross in front of the technical area.

“Young man,” a familiar voice bellowed out: “Clear off!”

And, yes, that has been cleaned up for daytime TV.

At school on Monday, he could claim to be the latest recipient of some of Brian Clough’s industrial language.

More usually, picture developing facilities were not so readily available. You had to rely on finding a friendly resident close to the stadium and persuade them to let you convert their kitchen into a darkroom.

Put yourself in their shoes... just imagine going from door to door... “Hello, I’m from the News of The World." They got well accustomed to the sound of expletives and slamming but, eventually, with the help of a small inducement, a venue would be found. Any light would be blocked out and the chemicals left handy awaiting their return.

By the time the developing process was underway quite a gaggle of photographers would have learned where the venue was and the homeowner could look forward to a well funded Saturday night out.

There was a chap who lived close to Ewood Park, who was fully familiar with the matchday routine. He had been welcoming photographers with their chemicals, trays and blackout curtains for years.

One matchday, though, he answered the door and looked surprised to see the gathered snappers. Pale and drawn, he muttered “Oh...oh yes, it’s Saturday”. He did not look well. In a thick Lancashire accent he explained.

“Found the wife dead on’t stairs this morning”…

Then remembering how much funerals can cost.

“Oh well, you’d best come in."

On trips abroad, the chemicals needed for developing might not be readily available, so the photographers would take their own in powder form. It included two large plastic bottles, one containing brown powder and one white.

Stopped while entering Brazil, one photographer was asked what these were?

There wasn’t really much point answering as the customs officers weren’t going to believe the explanation.

Off came the lid. In went a moistened finger tip, which was then raised towards the officer’s tongue.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” warned the photographer.

A mighty roar rang through the customs hall as the caustic chemicals almost burned a hole in his tongue.

“I did warn you." He had seen it happen before and would again before digital photography put an end to that particular problem and tales like these...