A pitch-side soaking
By Yves Herman
Picture five photographers and one technician traveling together between the cities of Kharkiv and Donetsk in Ukraine, at an average of 38 degrees C (100 degrees Fahrenheit) with air humidity of more than 50%. Eastern Ukraine is definitely not a fresh or cool place to stay during this EURO 2012 soccer championships. Nevertheless, it is our job to be there and it is a pure pleasure to be sitting alongside the pitch and taking photos of Europe’s best soccer teams. On that journey a cooling rain would have been most appreciated.
Alessandro from Italy, Felix from Spain, Michael from Switzerland, Vasily from Belarus, our technician Rod from Washington DC and myself, based in Belgium, hit the road early on June 15 on our way to Donetsk. An eagerly anticipated match between Ukraine and France was to take place that day at the famous Donbass Arena in front of more than 40,000 fans.
After a more than five hour tough drive, we arrived at the venue at around 1500 and temperatures had crept up even further. We could feel how wet the atmosphere was, even if the sky was a deep blue and cloud free.
We set up our gear; some 20 cameras with lenses ranging from a 16 mm wide angle up to long 400 mm. We tested them and the remotes and took our places on the pitch. Felix had the tribune position from where he could shoot overview photos and celebrations of the match. Charles, another Reuters photographer traveling with the French team joined us to cover that game.
An hour before kick off, everything was just perfect. Sitting on each side of the pitch we made our last tests and started shooting pictures of soccer fans displaying painted faces and big smiles, ready to support their team, with no idea of what was about to happen.
About 30 minutes before kickoff the sky became a bit grey and we could feel a fresh wind coming in. We had heard earlier in the day that the weather could change at some point and there might be a short storm.
I was about to shoot the family photo of the Ukrainian team when suddenly we heard a huge thunderstorm rumbling over our heads.
It took a few seconds before we realized we were about to face a huge rain storm. None of the fans and the journalists were dressed appropriately to cope with what was one of the most unexpected rain falls I’ve ever seen.
First just a few drops and then it suddenly changed to be a real downpour. Thousands of liters of water fell on the stadium while lightning flashed above our heads.
Then it became real chaos as we all ran to try to protect our equipment and a find place to be protected ourselves. All journalists and televisions crews in the media tribune had to evacuate to avoid the catastrophe of hundreds of laptop and other valuable equipment being flooded and/or broken.
As a photographer, I’m used to working under hard weather condition, but believe me, that rainfall was really a strong one. It had already broken one of Alessandro’s cameras and my remote was behaving very strangely. We kept trying to protect as much we could when officials decided to postponed the match.
The soccer field was so wet that it had become dangerous to play. Half of the stadium had been evacuated as well, and we were not sure if the match was canceled or just postponed. Felix took the opportunity to take some amazing pictures of lightning flashing over the stadium.
Finally after 45 minutes the match took place, the ground staff worked to get the pitch back to a playable condition.
I had water everywhere and my computer, even if it was protected, was flooded. A short circuit in the cable I use to control my remote camera meant it was firing continuously.
All of us were just soaked and dazed – it was so unexpected.
Covering a Euro soccer championship as a photographer is not only about taking pictures of soccer players with a ball… Sometimes you have to appeal to the powers above and work with come what may.