South Africa Football

Sometime last year, Sony introduced a new concept to their line of camera equipment – the ‘Exmor R CMOS’ sensor. The light receiving chip had been completely redesigned with the premise that this new system would be far more efficient at noise reduction and allow a greater degree of use at lower light levels.

But how does a global, multi-billion pound company test and market such a concept?

In true Sony style, there was only one direction in which this could go. With the 2010 Football World Cup looming less than 12 months away, it was inevitable that Sony would choose sport as its primary theme.

The Plan; to play 7 football matches, in 7 stunning locations around the world as the sun set.

A floating football pitch in Venice, Italy. An ice capped mountain in Zermatt, Switzerland. In the shadow of a bull fighting arena in Antequera, Spain. Within King Arthurs Castle walls at Tintagel, United Kingdom. Through torrential rain and thick mud beneath the towering Iguazu Falls, Argentina and amongst giant sand pillars in Australia’s Pinnacle Desert.

6 matches would culminate in a grand finale to be held deep in the South African wilderness amid lions; rhino’s and roaming elephants at the Aquila Game Reserve – and this, would be my destination.

With my camera strapped, batteries charged and my father in tow, we boarded the plane from London and headed for Cape Town with a quick change in Dubai. Not the shortest of journeys, but certainly the most comfortable flight (Emirates).

Upon our arrival, we were booked into the delightful Cullinan Hotel for 4 nights before making our way out for dinner at a local restaurant that Sony had booked. Having failed to account for our current time zone, we arrived late but soon got stuck in and began to meet a huge array of people. Amongst the other diners were Dutch journalists, German magazine editors, Americans, Australians and many other people from all parts of the globe.

Although the football matches were to take place on the same day, the experience was to last 4. We had expected to have had a lot of time to ourselves before the main event – however, this was not the case.

Day Two – Table Mountain

Day two, the Sony reps handed us a couple of memory cards and various cameras containing the Exmor R sensor for our own personal use. On top of this, Sony had organised an optional tour of Cape Town and its’ over towering “Table Mountain”.  As you can imagine, only an idiot would have stayed in the hotel given such an opportunity!

We took the tour coach through the winding streets and up towards the mountain, changing for a cable car at the half way mark to traverse the steep cliff-face. From the top of the mountain there was a clear view over the city. The Atlantic and the Indian Oceans blending together in front of us as it housed Nelson Mandela’s iconic prison on Robben Island. As the clouds rolled over the flat mountain top, they spilled over the harsh rock face like a waterfall in slow motion – what the locals refer to as the “Table Cloth”.

After a visit to the “Lions Head” and “Signal Hill”, we made our way back down the mountain on our coach ready for a tour of the city itself.

Along with the rest of the group, we disembarked from our ride for a walk around Bo-Kaap (Malay Quarter). A quintessential township sited on the slopes of Signal Hill. Bo-Kaap is rich in history and culture, dating back to the racial segregation that was abundant in South Africa between 1948 and 1994. The roads were covered in a romantic cobblestone and the houses painted bright and colourful.

After our tour we broke for lunch at another local restaurant before making our way back to the hotel on foot.

It was time for dinner again and we were off out once more. This time a traditional location containing an onsite museum. Trees were allowed to roam freely throughout the building, often breaking through one wall only to exit another. We made our way to our table upstairs, ducking under the branches as we went. Now what you must realise is that when a company like Sony take you out for dinner, they don’t just book you a table. They book the whole building. The restaurant was exclusively theirs …and ours. Dinner consisted of an 11 course meal containing many traditional and local cuisines. Interspersed between courses were dancers, drummers and singers parading around in masks and colourful outfits creating a visual feast for all of the photographers present.
Match Day

It was the day of the big match, Sony reps were running around like headless chickens in preparation for the big event. Along with the others, we were called into a brief. A bit of a product overview and tech spiel as well as a quick note from Australia’s top sports photographer – Deli Carr – on technique and desired shots and we were back out to prepare ourselves.

The game was to be held on a clearing made in the middle of the Aquila Game Reserve some 2 hours away through the impressive mountainous terrain of the South African landscape. Incidentally, half way through our journey we passed through a small town called “Worcester”!

We arrived amid a frenzy of media and event organisers. Welcome drinks were served in the picturesque garden of the lodge. Despite the heavy traffic it was still light and we had a few hours to kill before kick-off. It was at this point that the Sony representatives made us aware of the next excursion – a tour around the safari reserve. Groups of us boarded the open safari jeeps, with anything from 1 to 20 cameras in tow, and we headed out into the wild.

We made several stops during our trip, encountering rhinos, elephants, lions, zebras and many other native African animals. The sight of so many photographers aboard a jeep could not have been any more stereotypical.

We returned as the sun started to lower in the sky. Disembarking the jeeps we began circling the pitch, with armed wardens encompassing the perimeter keeping the animals at bay the match began. South Africa vs. Ireland. The game started with a ferocious pace, players giving it their all. Clouds of dust rising from the dirt pitch as the ball was blasted from one end of the clearing to the other. The first half ended nil-nil, the sun was falling lower in the sky and a great golden hue was cast over the players and pitch as elephants wondered nearby. Ireland stepped in with the first goal of the match but South Africa fought back favourably, beads of sweat running down their faces. As the darkness closed in the final whistle blew signalling a win for Ireland. Despite the 1-0 victory there was no love lost and the two teams immediately set about exchanging shirts and congratulating each other on a fantastical experience as the champagne began to flow.

By now it was pitch black, the only light was emanating from the event tent and the array of flashes firing from the excited photographers. Unprompted, the South African team burst into traditional song celebrating the victory of their “brothers” as we made our way back to the transport headed for the lodge.

Dinner was served in the great lodge, long thick wooden tables and solid chairs filled the room with a great open stone fire at the centre. The atmosphere was alive with energised discussion and the drink flowed freely. Before long the South African participants were once again in song. Singing of their gratitude and appreciation of having been a part of such an event. As only they could, the Irish team reciprocated with a traditional Irish folk song to bouts of laughter from the crowded tables.

Time went on and the tables slowly grew quieter. We once again boarded the coach and began our long trip back to the hotel through the night. The coach fell silent as exhausted players and journalists alike slipped into slumber.
Heritage Day and the Journey Home

We awoke the next morning, the day was ours. Our time in Cape Town had come to an end. We headed down to breakfast and began formulating our plan for the little time we had left.

We decided to take a walk into the city and to the parts of the area that the tour missed out. Of course, it was also a great chance to see some of the local shops, markets and get those all important cultural photos.

We took the hotel transport down to the Waterfront. A harbour area surrounded by shops and cafes. The architecture colourful and clearly inspired by Cape Town’s Dutch decedents. Buskers lined the streets and the markets were filled with keen salesman eager for us to buy their merchandise.

After getting some shots of the local life and the all important souvenirs for the family we headed past the House of Parliament and through the “Company’s Gardens”. Hordes of people began rushing past us. Bright colours flowing around upbeat drums. Children dancing through the public park in which we were standing. As we rounded the corner towards the top of the open park crowds had gathered around a circle of steps. A stage had been setup and music was pouring through the streets amid banners advertising “Heritage Day”. The small coliseum contained media vans, radio presenters and musicians. Marching bands were interspersed with announcements and music. Everyone was dancing, adults, children, rich and poor. The homeless moved to the rhythmic sounds with smiles on their faces.

But time was drawing short and we soon had to make our way back. We reached the hotel and grabbed our bags, boarding the coach for the last time en route to the airport. Worn out we approached the plane ready for our 18 hour flight home.

And that, I’m afraid, ends my time in South Africa. It was an excellent experience and I would highly recommend a visit if you ever get the chance. You can see some more of my photos from South Africa by clicking the thumbnails below.