Saving the Canon 400mm f2.8
By Murad Sezer
All photographers make plans to deal with possible clashes. They are ready to protect themselves and their equipment when covering a potential riot (or a May Day demonstration as I did a few days earlier). But you don’t expect to be doing that before a soccer match, or any other sports events.
While covering the May Day protests I don’t carry a camera bag or a laptop. I head out with my two camera bodies, spare memory cards, a gas mask and a wireless lan transmitter attached to the camera body to file my pictures – that’s all.. It’s more comfortable and easy to cover if any riots break out. But to cover a soccer match is a different story. If it’s a cup final or a decisive match like last Saturday’s Fenerbahce – Galatasaray Turkish Super League Super Final, we bring along much more equipment. I pack a hardcase with a laptop, 3 camera bodies, four lenses including a 400 mm f2.8 super telephoto, remote control devices to set up a camera behind the goal, network cables, a mini tripod etc. And usually we don’t even think about the safety of ourselves or our equipment. Normally during half time or at the end of the game we set our cameras down and rush to file pictures from the field or in the photographers’ working room.
However, in the shadow of the season-long match-fixing scandal, tension was high before the Fenerbahce vs Galatasaray derby. Fenerbahce had to win, while a draw was enough for Galatasaray to lift the championship trophy. Remembering when fans rioted two years ago after Fenerbahce missed out on the league championships at home, all the photographers were worried about the end of this match. But I didn’t see any photographer friends take any precautionary measures. It looked like they had no plan B, but I had one. My plan B was a padlock! The game started. It was a rough-and-tumble season finale. The two teams did not score and in the five minutes of injury time I felt that the match would finish 0-0. That would mean Galatasaray would become the 2011-12 Turkish champions, which may trigger some violence by disappointed Fenerbahce fans both on and off the pitch.
With the final whistle, the Galatasaray team gathered in the middle of the pitch. While I was photographing the away team’s victory with a 400mm tele lens, I saw riot police running onto the field to protect them. Some photographers were already in the middle of the arena. Losing the championship against their rival club at home was a big shock for Fenerbahce fans and players. Some 50,000 fans at Fenerbahce Sukru Saracoglu stadium were almost frozen. In just a couple of minutes the Galatasaray team members were surrounded by riot police and photographers.
I understood that I could not take pictures with my long lens behind the goal. Fenerbahce fans started to shout against Galatasaray. Minutes later they would start to throw whatever they had in their hands onto the pitch so it was time to pack. I collected all my gear very quickly, placed them in the hard case and locked it with my five-euro padlock as fans started to throw seats and sharp objects onto the field.
I brought my cameras and laptop bag with me, leaving the hardcase and monopod behind advertising hoardings, I ran onto the field to start taking pictures. I knew it was risky to leave my equipment worth thousands of dollars but there was no way to carry it in such chaos and there was no chance to go to the media room to leave it secure. I thought at least it would be too heavy to throw. After a short celebration, chaos drove Galatasaray players to run to the dressing room as the field started to pack with angry fans clashing with police. After taking photographs of the large-scale clashes on the pitch all photographers rushed to the work room including me, securing my hardcase.
While waiting for the trophy ceremony, the work room was packed with photographers – with evidence they had covered a riot. Broken cameras, lenses and laptops were scattered around as photographers tried to assess the damage while others tried to figure out if they were missing equipment. During two hours of clashes, a small coin hit near my left eye, otherwise, thank God, the Reuters team and equipment were okay. While we were editing and sending our pictures to the Singapore desk my colleague Umit Bektas showed me a picture he took during the clashes. It was hard to believe but a fan was throwing a Canon 400mm 2.8 telephoto lens with monopod, (worth some $10,000 USD) onto the field. In that moment of truth, I knew it was a good idea to lock my 400mm in a hardcase.
Results of the Saturday night soccer violence: 3 cameras broken, 10 lenses (including a 400mm tele) damaged or missing, a laptop broken, 10 photographers directly exposed to violence. Of course all of us got hit and affected by tear gas. While some well-known Turkish columnists detailed their first experience with tear-gas in their newspapers, the Turkish Photojournalists Association (TFMD) and the Turkish Sports Journalists Association (TSYD) sought compensation for their members’ losses from Fenerbahce Sports Club.