We strolled on to the sidelines with our rucksacks full of equipment and cameras dangling around our necks, a pack of photographers on the prowl, each of us using our eagle-eyed vision to judge where the action would be and plan the best shots. The venue was the impressive Allianz Park stadium in London, home to the Saracens Rugby Club since 2013. The site was developed according to best practice in sustainable building design to ensure a low environmental impact and is used primarily for rugby and athletics. The main stand runs the length of the pitch and features 3,000 permanent seats, although there are also demountable stands that allow for a capacity of around 10,000 at rugby matches. The new £500,000 artificial pitch is designed to provide the ideal playing conditions regardless of the weather and is high-tech stuff, comprised of 3 layers – a shock pad, a fibrous layer and a rubber and sand mix which gives the feel of natural glass.
The smell of hotdogs, coffee and lager drifted across from the tents as I lifted my head up to the sky, following the lines of the huge H-shaped goalposts at each end of the field. The air was filled with anticipation and excitement and the growing crowd chattered eagerly as the LED banners on the stands and entrances flashed their messages to the spectators. Everyone was in high spirits and the photographers were milling around, making adjustments to their shutter speeds and comparing the size of their lenses. Suddenly there was silence, then the crowds erupted with cheers as the Saracens and the Worcerster Warriers ran on to the pitch, all beefy and testosterone-fuelled.
The game started and boy was it rough. I had no idea what was going on because the referee communicated using hand signals and terminology I was unfamiliar with and the players spent half their time huddled together in scrums. However I did witnessed a considerable amount of grabbing, pushing, stamping and grunting as the players leapt and barged their way around the field to score points. Despite the highly competitive atmosphere, the crowd was friendly and looked colourful, with many fans dressed in creative and amusing costumes, faces painted to show their support. After 80 minutes of roaring and body-slamming (and that was just the photographers!), the Saracens were declared winners 44 to 20. Both teams played well and I could feel the exhaustion of the sweaty but smiling winning side as they firmly shook hands with the opposition and waved their macho arms enthusiastically at the people in the stands. By the way, the whole match was televised and if you watch it back, you can catch a glimpse of me and John sitting on our stools with our cameras poised capturing the action as it happens. John asked me to remind you that the camera adds 10 lbs!