Shad does the rugby

Planes, trains and automobiles are not the only things that roar as I discovered on a recent photography field trip to the Honourable Artillery Company stadium in London for the pre-season friendly between Saracens and London Scottish.  As a thrifty feline adapted to conserving energy, I don’t normally approve of unnecessary physical exertion although I am accustomed to guttural grunting having lived with John for the last 6 years!  There was quite a cacophony of snorts and bellows coming from the pitch during this physically demanding match but I can’t say I was surprised given the extraordinary stamina and strength these lads displayed.

As a cat I’m genetically programmed to nap for 18 hours a day and chase various objects to practice my hunting skills and maintain my muscle tone, as well as gawp at anything that moves and seek out nourishment in preparation for my next nap.  Therefore I am naturally fascinated by the human condition of competition – the innate impulse in 99% of human beings to excel at a task and try to beat others at the performance of that task.  These lads were a great example of a contest between rivals using strength, speed and strategy to move a ball around in an opponent’s territory.  I understand the need to protect your territory and I guard mine furiously with daily patrols around the garden, a strict regime of scenting and guard duty at every window in the house.  Any potential invaders, usually consisting of neighbours, dogs walking by and impudent pigeons that delight in cooing and flicking their tails at me just after dinner, are given my most fierce stare.   A skill the rugby players have also mastered judging by the scary scowls and shoulder shoves they gave each other throughout the match.  The strange thing was, as soon as the game was over, they all started cheering and the twisted expressions of pain changed quickly to happy smiles like jovial buffalo.  In case you were wondering, Saracens proved their might with a 73 to 7 victory.

Shad reflects on his work

Being a cat who likes to spend a large proportion of his free time pondering life’s mysteries and reflecting on his role in the ecosystem, I am a firm believer that there is always something more to learn from being alive, providing of course that you choose to live as opposed to simply survive.  Whether it’s learning how to improve your chocolate chip brownies or trying to understand why your cat swipes your legs as you walk past him, life always has more to teach those of us who will listen.  One way to learn is through experience but as Oscar Wilde said …”experience is the hardest kind of teacher, it gives you the test first and the lesson afterwards”…  So John and I often opt for an easier method of learning which involves going to school.  Luckily it’s not the kind of school where the teacher yells at you for not pulling your socks up and you get essays for your homework, it’s the Mark Pain Sports Photography School.

Mark Pain is an internationally recognised award-winning sports photographer and an excellent teacher who is well connected in the world of sports having covered many major events from the Olympic Games to the Ryder cup.  John and I have joined Mark for many of his sessions as a way to improve our photography skills and seek out new opportunities to shoot different subjects in fresh surroundings.  Sports photography is inspiring because competing athletes feel joy, anger or sadness at their performances and the challenge for the photographer is to capture those emotions and convey them to the viewer.  Like the look of pure concentration on the diver who glides gracefully into the water or the beam of satisfaction on the player’s face as the golf club swings through the best shot of the contest.

Low angle shots give us a different view on the world and these are easy for me to capture because I am so close to the ground.  Mark taught me this technique when John and I attended a mountain bike event earlier this year and it was particularly effective because the riders would hurtle down the slopes and fly off the ramps at interesting angles which when shot from ground level looked even more dramatic.  Well the high-flying moves certainly looked exciting to me as I craned my neck to watch the mud-covered bikers soar fearlessly above me and land with a thud and a skid a few feet down the track.  Honestly you have to be quite brave as a feline photographer and I’ve had many a broken claw and fur loss incident as a result of my dedication to camerawork!

As I write this blog John is in Manchester with Mark working hard to get some first-class shots as official photographers for the Taekwondo 2015 World Championships.   It’s a long weekend away so I decided to stay at home and contemplate my existence while my aunties (that’s John’s daughters and extended family) cater for my needs until John returns.  I got distracted flicking through some of the photos John and I took at the rugby match we attended with Mark over the summer, thinking about the clever techniques Mark taught us to capture the burly players way up the other end of the pitch.  I started imagining the focus and the thrill the players must have felt as they grunted and bull-dozed their way towards the goal posts with the ball in their hands.  I lunged, I scored a try, then I woke up and realised that I was having a dream and had accidently put my teddy bear in the water bowl.  Yes that’s right I have a teddy and I’m not ashamed to admit it!  I dragged him out of the water and popped him on the radiator so that he would be dry and fluffy once more, ready for snuggles that night.  After all, I need something soft and warm to sleep on until John comes home and I can use his belly as a pillow.

Mark Pain Sports Photography School.

Shad talks about the rugby

This game between the Saracens and the Harlequins at Wembley Stadium was what humans call a ‘grudge match’ following a previous defeat of the Harlequins at the hands of the Saracens.  With record attendance for a club rugby match (in the region of 84,068 people) and enough testosterone-fuelled bulging biceps to give Arnold Schwarzenegger a run for his money, it was an occasion that John attended without me.  The baying crowds and mischievous language would have been too much for a respectable chap like me, plus John doesn’t like taking me to crowded places in case I get lost or squashed.

Wembley

John was so animated about the experience when he got home that I felt as though I had been there and you would have thought it was the biggest event in the history of competitive sports.  I suppose for me as a laid-back feline whose interest in physical exertion is reserved for chasing mice and running between John’s feet to beat him to the kitchen, such fierce opposition around who can catch a ball and chuck it on the floor is confusing.  But I guess its serious stuff when you’ve trained for years and been involved in contests so the rivalry between each team simmered close to the surface.

 

As the players warmed up, the crowd was treated to some music by a young pop-star called Pixie Lott who by all accounts had a very nice voice but had neglected to put on a pair of shoes.  Pixie’s chilly feet were soon forgotten once the match got underway and the spirited players started charging, grunting and head-butting their way towards victory.  There were several stops throughout the game for mopping up blood from various injuries including the occasional stray fist and the unfortunate referee was accidently floored by a Saracen player after being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  In case you’re wondering, the score was 42 to 14 to the Saracens and the poor old Harlequins went home with their tales between their legs (metaphorically speaking).

Shad does his first premiership rugby match

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!