This is a throwback to a year ago and to one of the most memorable games I have covered, because I’m a Liverpool fan. I was working for Archant at the time who own Arsenal’s local newspaper, the Islington Gazette. Similar to this season, Liverpool had started off well and built up a healthy lead in the Premier League by Christmas. In fact, after the match I’m about to tell you about Liverpool went into the New Year seven points ahead of their rivals, the largest lead any team has ever had and not gone on to win the title. Let’s hope last season does not repeat itself this time around because as I speak, Liverpool have only dropped two points in the league and have a ten-point gap over second-placed Leicester City. So, in the run-up to the game on the 29th of December, in that awkward period between Christmas Day and New Year, spirits were high and the buzz around Anfield was one of genuine hope and excitement for a successful Premier League campaign. I had previously covered the reverse fixture at The Emirates on the 3rd of November when an underperforming Arsenal team with Unai Emery at the helm managed to hold Jurgen Klopp’s men to a respectable 1-1 draw, and I desperately wanted to be involved with the game at Anfield. I saw this as a potentially era-defining season in Liverpool’s recent history and like most Liverpool fans I was really hoping to end the long wait for a league title. Jurgen Klopp was in his fourth season as Liverpool manager and yet to win anything with them, falling short in three finals of major competitions. After a chat about the best vegan eatery in Liverpool and media accreditation with David Rawcliffe of Propaganda Photo on Twitter, I put together an email to the LFC press office with some supporting documentation and to my delight I managed to gain my media accreditation for the Islington Gazette.
Excited was an understatement! It was like Christmas had come early! (Only by 5 days but still...!)
It was to be my first time shooting at Anfield and as a lifelong Liverpool fan living down south, ashamedly only my third game there. The other two were a when Graham Taylor’s Watford side came to Anfield and beat us 1-0 back in 1999 and Jamie Carragher’s testimonial match in 2010. This was also my first visit to Anfield with the impressive new main stand in place. I packed up my car with my gear on the morning of the 29th and set off on the four-hour journey with the Peter Crouch podcast to keep me company. The traffic was kind to me on the way up thanks to the time of year and I made good progress, reaching Anfield at around midday. This was an evening kick off, starting at 17:30 so I still had plenty of time to get my bearings, pick up my accreditation and enjoy the build-up.
You might think that shooting Premier League football is all glitz and glamour but in reality, it is far from that. After parking about half a mile away from the ground I lugged my heavy bags, monopod and folding seat to the media entrance of Anfield and was surprised to find myself fifth in line and promptly joined the queue to pick up my accreditation. I recognised several of my fellow photographers as some of our industry’s top snappers and was excited to be testing myself alongside them. It was a cold afternoon in December and we stood in line, shuffling our feet from side to side in an effort to keep warm for about 90 minutes before the media office opened up. Once open I signed in, picked up my bib and lanyard and headed straight into the ground via a door under the Kop. I wanted to get my seat early as David had warned me that the photo positions aren’t great and due to the heavy media interest in the Liverpool title charge there would be a lot of photographers at the game. Although I was there to cover Arsenal and their result for the Islington Gazette I knew that changing position at half time would be risky so decided early on that I would choose a spot in front of the Kop and stay there for the entire match. This meant I would get to shoot each team attacking towards me in each half. As I reached the edge of the pitch I saw that the already limited photo positions were limited even further by the addition of several video positions which had already been allowed to set up and grab their spots ahead of us photographers. I was grateful that I was so early and able to get into the ground as the fifth photographer because had I been further down the line I don’t think I would have been able to grab the spot in front of the Kop. I managed to squeeze myself in the corner of the Kop on the side of the main stand as I had seen that the players tend to celebrate in that direction due to their family sitting in the main stand. After grabbing my spot, I left my stool and monopod in position to hold my space and headed off around the ground to get some GV’s (general views) of Anfield before it filled up with supporters. Unfortunately, even though I was in the ground about three hours before kick off the ground was never completely empty due to all the safety stewards and staff dotted around in hi-visibility jackets.
After working my way around the inside, I headed up to the photographer’s area to dump my bags and grab a quick bite to eat before heading back outside Anfield to capture fans around the ground, the team busses arriving and some GV’s of the stadium from the outside. As the outside areas slowly got busier you could feel the excitement building in the air. I’m sure many of you will have seen the videos on social media of Liverpool fans greeting the teams as they arrive by coach and it’s not something I’ve seen from fans of other teams in this country. Hundreds of fans line the street outside Anfield singing, cheering, booing, waving flares, flags and it must have a real effect on both sets of players. After the teams arrived I headed back to the photographer’s area to download my cards and wire some pictures ready for the kick-off.
At about an hour before kick-off I packed up all my stuff and headed down to the pitch to setup for the match. I arranged my bags in the tight area around my stool and the tripod for Brazilian ESPN and headed off down the touchline to get some pictures of the players as they went through their pre-match warm up routine. I managed to get some nice tight shots of the players as they warmed up on my side of the pitch and made sure to get some good tight head shots of manager Jurgen Klopp. I had tried to get some of him at the Emirates in the previous match only to find out that Arsenal do not allow photographers to stand in front of the dugouts when the teams come out during Premier League games, unlike during Europa League games.
Arsenal started the game shooting towards the Kop and towards me and started the game well by taking the lead. Ainsley Maitland-Niles opened the scoring and celebrated his goal by running to my corner. Result! They normally run the opposite direction to me! After this it was pretty much all Liverpool and they scored four times before half-time with Arsenal looking in disarray. Roberto Firmino was causing Arsenal all kinds of problems and bagged himself a brace while his strike partners Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah also scored. Arsenal improved slightly in the second half but couldn’t stop Firmino from completing his hat-trick from the penalty spot, his first in English football. My choice of seating position was vindicated as Bobby Firmino celebrated with his team-mates in my direction towards the fans in the Kop and looking up towards his friends and family in the main stand.
Anfield is a ground which is known for its incredible atmosphere, especially for the evening games under the lights and it did not disappoint on this cold December evening. The roar of the Kop behind me was a wall of sound throughout the game and made it a truly memorable experience for me. I can only imagine what it must be like to be a player on the receiving end of the roars. They say the Kop is the twelfth man and sucks the ball into the net for Liverpool which is why they traditionally shoot towards it in the second half, but on this occasion, it was a first half whirlwind which blew the Gunners away.
After a breathless match I gathered up my things and headed back up to the photographer’s room where I finished uploading my selection of match pictures and post-game reactions before heading out of Anfield and back to my car. Although I had been there for over nine hours the time had passed very quickly and the result had put Liverpool nine points clear in the race for that elusive Premier League title. I walked back to my car with the songs from the Kop ringing in my ears and dreamed of returning to Liverpool should we managed to go on and win the title. Unfortunately, this did not happen but this Christmas we are in a very similar position, albeit with Leicester City and former Red’s boss Brendan Rogers putting the heat on us but I am sure that Manchester City will return to their best very soon and start closing the gap. Then we will see if this Liverpool team learnt their lessons from last season. Winning the Champions League will have done wonders for the confidence within the squad and they say that winning breeds winning so I am sure the players will want to deliver the title having done so fantastically well so far this season. To have only dropped two points from 18 games so far is remarkable but that is the type of form you need to be able to beat a Man City team who are easily capable of winning 10 games on the bounce and bringing themselves right back into the title race.
I love shooting sports at the highest level and shooting Liverpool, the team I have supported since a boy was the icing on the cake. I still continue to shoot sports as often as I can and this season I am the club photographer for the London Irish Rugby Union team in the Gallagher Premiership. I am working for them thanks to Phil and the great team at Pinnacle Photo Agency who have had a long relationship with the Irish and I am learning a lot from Phil.
My photos from Liverpool vs Arsenal in the Islington Gazette: