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June 2008

With Europe’s top footballing nations battling it out in the EURO 2008 tournament CPN’s John McDermott spoke to the world’s best football photographers to discover which pictures from their careers are their personal favourites and why. In the final part of this special two-part article six top soccer shooters choose the best photographs they’ve ever taken.

Peter Schols – Dagblad de Limburger, Netherlands

© Luc Lodder

Peter Schols

Peter Schols began freelancing as a photojournalist at the age of 23 after working for four years in a photo shop. He worked for various Dutch newspapers, magazines and agencies until 1996 when he took a job as a staff photographer for the Dagblad de Limburger, a regional newspaper in the south of the Netherlands. He has covered four World Cups, three European Championships, three Olympics and six Tour de France races. He has won 15 prizes over the years in the top Dutch photojournalism competition, the Zilveren (Silver) Camera. In 2007 he won the Prague Award and the World Press Photo top award for Sports for his sequence of pictures of Zinedine Zidane’s infamous head-butt against Marco Materazzi during the 2006 World Cup Final in Berlin. Of the hundreds of seasoned professionals ringing the pitch that night, Peter Schols was the only one to capture it as it happened.

© Peter Schols/Dagblad de Limburger

Peter Schols proves his ‘off-the-ball’ shooting skills by being the only photographer at the 2006 World Cup Final to capture Zidane’s head-butt on Italy’s Marco Materazzi as it happened.

Peter explains: “A great football picture is one that captures your interest, makes you inquisitive or surprises you. It’s the picture that demands your attention. That can be due to the action in the picture, the position from which you made it, the format, the emotion, the journalistic importance of the moment or even the light. It’s the picture that impresses you for more than five seconds, one that possesses some, or all of these qualities. For me, when I’m shooting football, there is no difference between kids playing in the street or a Cup Final. In both situations, I try to find these elements.”

He adds: “Long before I started to work as a photographer myself I was always impressed most by sports pictures. Now I photograph not only football but a lot of other sports as well. I am not a photographer who makes a lot of pictures during a contest. I look and try to read the game. I am constantly asking myself ‘What is important now, what is happening, what am I doing here?’ And with this knowledge I try to achieve something. So I may not always follow the ball, or the action. My picture of Zidane’s head-butt against Materazzi is probably the best illustration of this.”

Kai Pfaffenbach – Reuters, Germany

Kai Pfaffenbach

Kai Pfaffenbach began taking pictures after he quit playing goalkeeper for a local team where future Bayern Munich and Germany keeper Oliver Kahn was both an opponent and a friend. Kai would visit all the local football grounds and then offer his black and white pictures to newspapers. While at university he freelanced for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung where he built his reputation as a solid sports shooter. In 1995, at the age of 25, he was offered a staff position with Reuters. He has shot every World Cup since 1998 and the last 13 Champions League Finals.

Kai says: “It always depends on the character of a game whether your picture is average, good or great. In a final of any championship a simple picture of a guy kicking the decisive goal will make it into all of the papers and online sites no matter if you took the greatest action shots before. Pictures that come as close as possible to the action or that show the emotions after a goal is scored are the ones you remember from every game. On the other hand, that’s what it’s all about - just don’t miss the shot, don’t always follow the ball but try to predict where the long pass is flying to and, of course, be sharp!”

© Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Giant Netherlands defender Jaap Stam bravely puts his head in close to Czech Republic star Milan Baros’s boot.

“During big international tournaments and Champions League Finals at Reuters we are fortunate, as we always have great editors with us, so we don’t have to worry about sorting out the best pictures and getting them out. They find them, crop them in the right way and move them on to our clients all over the world as quickly as possible. This makes it quite easy for the photographer to concentrate on his primary job - making the best pictures,” reveals Kai.

He adds: “I love to shoot soccer so much as I play the game myself, on a semi-pro level when I was young, and I haven’t lost the passion for it. Despite the fact there’s not much time left to play over a weekend – as I have to cover Bundesliga matches – I try to find some weekends to help my team. On the other side, taking pictures of a nice game is as interesting as playing myself. Watching talented upcoming stars facing the ‘oldies’ of the sport is as challenging for the photographers as for the players.”

Kai reveals: “There are a lot of photographers younger than me trying to find their way into the business and getting their share of newspaper and online impact. There’s no time to lay back and relax, thinking about the pictures you have shot here and there. As Sepp Herberger, the famous coach of the German 1954 World Cup winning team once said: ‘After the match is before the match’. So, concentrate on the next one, predict the upcoming action and always remember the journalistic part of our job in a news agency such as Reuters: capture the right moment!”

Gavin Barker – Backpagepix, South Africa

Gavin Barker

Gavin Barker began his career as football journalist with Kick Off, a leading football publication in South Africa, and quickly took up photography. Once South Africa was readmitted to FIFA in 1992 the world opened up for its football teams, and for Barker, who was sent around the globe to cover the fortunes of the South African club and national teams. In 2000 he created his own agency, Backpagepix, which is now a media company that publishes football titles in print (Amakhosi Magazine) and on the web ( He has photographed the game in over 50 countries and covered three World Cups, seven African Cup of Nations, two European Champions League and five African Champions League Finals. He was a member of the FIFA Photographers Pool at the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan.

© Gavin Barker/Backpagepix

Former South Africa President Nelson Mandela weeps tears of joy after his country had been confirmed as hosts of the 2010 World Cup.

Gavin says: “I believe that if you have a passion for something in life then working within that field is not a chore, it’s a pleasure. As a fanatic of the global game, I could not have asked for a better career than covering football through a lens over the past 12 years. It’s not only the action on the field that makes football captivating; it is everything that goes with it – the human emotion, the drama, the politics. I’ve covered football matches where a referee’s decision has indirectly lead to the deaths of fans in the crowd violence that followed and I’ve see warring factions in a civil war lay down arms for an afternoon so their national team could play a Nations Cup qualifier. Football is a reflection of life and we are in a lucky position, as photographers, to be able to freeze-frame it in a few images.”

Gavin adds: “One of my favourite ever football images is that of former South Africa President Nelson Mandela holding the World Cup trophy, tears of joy on his face, after it was announced that his country had been bestowed the honour of hosting the FIFA 2010 World Cup. There is so much in that picture that is significant. Mandela, through his humanitarian deeds, ensured the peaceful transition of a racially divided country into a unified nation that was powerful enough on a political, social and economic level to host the world’s biggest sporting event. Mandela remarked to members of the Bid Committee, in the aftermath of the announcement, ‘Now I can die’, emphasizing that all that he had envisaged for South Africa had been fulfilled.”

David Leah – Mexsport, Mexico

David Leah

David Leah, born and raised in England, moved to Mexico in 1980 to open the Mexsport Agency. Prior to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico he became Allsport’s representative in that country, a relationship that lasted 15 years. Mexsport is the leading independent sports picture agency in Latin America and the Caribbean and is the official agency of both the Mexican Football Federation and the Mexican Olympic Committee. David has covered five World Cups, seven Copa America tournaments, numerous Copa Libertadores matches and regional World Cup qualifiers.

© David Leah/Mexsport

Mexican football action of T. Neza v Santos captured by Mexsport’s David Leah.

He explains: “For me, sports photography is not only an art, but it's also a privilege. The art of football photography even goes one step further, where the love of the game comes into its own. There is no greater satisfaction than actually shooting the game that you love and admire so much – that’s very much the case for me. What I look for in a great football image is not only the great action that a game can give you, but also the feeling of triumph and despair than can be conveyed, depending on the situation that unfolds in front of you. I always try to bring as much enthusiasm as possible to the job, whether it’s shooting a Cup Final or a Mexican League Second Division match, which can sometimes be pretty difficult. But if that is the area that you cover, you always have to give your best every time.”

Alex Livesey – Getty Images, England

Alex Livesey

Alex Livesey left school to study photography at Stockport College, then Newport College, Wales, where he specialised in documentary photography. His first full time job was at the Professional Sport Agency in London in 1992 and he stayed for five years. In 1997 he joined Getty Images as a sports photographer. As well as winning the Barclays Shot of the Season Award 2005/6, Alex has received a number of industry accolades. They include Highly Commended and Honourable Mentions in the International Olympic Committee and UK Sports Awards photo contests and recently Alex’s picture of Liverpool striker Peter Crouch won the second prize Single award for Sports Action at World Press Photo and first place in the Sports News Picture of the Year category at the UK SJA awards. He is currently covering his third European Championships, and has also covered two World Cups and numerous UEFA Champions League Finals.

© Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Liverpool’s gangly striker Peter Crouch twists his limbs into a ‘X’ shape in this instinctively captured image.

Alex says: “A great football picture is one that encapsulates the story of a match in just one photograph - be it a goal, celebration or dejection. For me, football creates more passion and emotion than any other sport. The story of a game can change in a split second and I love the pressure of only having one chance to capture an image. I also really enjoy the physical side of the sport and the challenge of capturing footballers at their athletic peak, whether it’s at a World Cup Final or simply children playing in the street.”

He adds: “Peter Crouch is such a tall, gangly player. In this image, I really like the way he looks, all ‘arms and legs’, as he makes an x-shape when he scores a scissor-kick goal against Galatasaray in the UEFA Champions League match at Anfield. This was a really instinctive shot and there wasn’t any time to think about it. The ball crossed over from the right wing and in a split second he twisted his body and connected with the ball.”

Hans Van der Meer – freelance, Netherlands

Hans Van der Meer

Hans van der Meer is a documentary and fine art photographer who specializes in football. His work, known for it’s sense of place and space, has been published in magazines such as Johan, 11 Freunde, Gazzetta dello Sport Magazine, l’Equipe magazine and Offside, and in the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant. His published books on football include Dutch Fields, KEEPERS, European Fields and The Other Final, a charming look at a match between the two lowest-ranked teams in the world at that time, Bhutan and Montserrat, that took place at the same time as the 1998 World Cup Final in Paris. Van der Meer’s work has been exhibited in venues worldwide. His European Fields pictures will be shown this summer at the Fotomuseum in Winterthur, Switzerland and at the Museum of World Culture in Gothenberg, Sweden. A retrospective of his documentary work opened on 29 May 2008 at Camera Austria in Graz.

Hans states: “A good football photograph for me is one that shows you an overview of the situation on the pitch, a clear recognizable moment of a soccer game. Everybody in the world understands a photograph of a player that appears alone in front of the goalkeeper with some defenders are running behind him and the goalkeeper bending forward in a tensed position in front of his goal. No matter if we are playing ourselves or if we are just watching the game, we keep one eye on the ball while the other is reserved for the overview. The pleasure of watching soccer in a crowd or on television is about sharing these moments of hope in which the situation is unfolding. We see a possibility on the right wing, but does the player in ball possession see what we see?”

© Hans Van der Meer

Shot from the stands – an overview of an Ajax v Juventus match.

He adds: “I always found photography and football could be a generous combination, as a frozen moment starts a film running in your imagination. In our collective memory we have recorded so many football situations, that the only thing a photograph has to do is show us an understandable moment. In a sport that is all about the position of the players on the pitch, photographers gave up one of their most powerful weapons: the overview." Hans continues: "Until the end of the 1950s, games across Europe were also covered from the stands. In the archives you can see a radical change when television comes in. From then on the typical photograph of a football game shows us two players and a ball set against an out of focus background. You have no idea where on the pitch the action happens. But the real drama in football is not a close up of two players. The real drama is the situation on pitch. It is a great mystery to me why photographers leave out space in a football photograph.”

Hans then reveals: “My background is documentary photography. When football came my way as a subject in 1995, it was as if all my ideas on photography came together. I started to look for grounds where the background was significant. Football is an important part of our culture and football grounds form part of our landscape. I needed a world behind or around the pitch to visualize that idea. As a documentary photographer you know that every subject needs a context. For my books, Dutch Fields and European Fields, I did a lot of research to find locations that I could use for this purpose. The football moments I prefer in my amateur football series are usually situations with 'an open end'. Since 1995, every now and then I photograph the games of Ajax Amsterdam, mostly on assignment for a newspaper. And of course I am always sure to climb up in the stands to be able to shoot an overview.”