By Steve Cotton
THE eyes of the world were on Kiev as Real Madrid beat Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League final – and JMP UK photographer Robbie Stephenson captured one of the standout images on a crazy night of football in Ukraine.
Robbie’s image of Gareth Bale’s stunning bicycle kick for Real’s second goal in their 3-1 win adorned the front page of the following day’s Sunday Times and gained widespread use in the British media. Among other uses, it was also the main image on the back page of Monday’s Sun and the front page of The Observer sports section on Sunday.
For Robbie, who was positioned at the opposite end of the stadium, the image itself and its subsequent use were huge causes of satisfaction.
“I remember the ball going wide and the cross coming in, and just a bit of instinct telling me something was about to happen,” said Robbie. “I saw the way he shaped his body, as if he was going to do something, whether an overhead kick or trying to control it.
“A little bit of instinct definitely kicked in – and then he scored that amazing goal – but you’re never really sure you’ve got the shot, especially when it’s down the other end.
“After the Real Madrid celebrations, and the Liverpool players walking back dejected, I quickly scrolled through to find a frame – and was happy to see it was in focus!”
After captioning and sending the image from his stool in what was a tight working space behind Keylor Navas’ goal, Robbie carried on shooting the match – and was then thrilled to see where his image ended up being used.
“When I saw it had made the front of the Sunday Times, it was mind-blowing,” said Robbie. “I was not expecting that. There were something like 110 photographers there, including a lot of guys at the right end, others at my end, and some in the stands. You are competing against four or five from Getty, then guys from PA and everywhere else. So when you see that, out of all of the images yours get picked, it’s so satisfying.
“It was so great to see it getting used so widely, especially after travelling such a long way. It definitely made all the travel worth it.”
With flights to and from the Ukrainian capital hard to come by – and hotels hiking up their prices – JMP UK and Robbie had to improvise where his travel plans were concerned.
As managing director Joe Meredith explained: “Champions League games are not really a money-maker for us, but as an agency, if there is an opportunity to cover the final, then we have to make sure we take it.
“The logistics of getting to Kiev were challenging. It wasn’t as if the game was in Spain, Portugal or France, so everyone from supporters to members of the media had to take different routes to Ukraine.
“Not only did Robbie do a good job of covering the match, he also tackled the logistic challenges really impressively.”
That meant Robbie flying to Krakow in Poland on the Wednesday before the game, before heading to Kiev on the train via Przemyśl near the Poland/Ukraine border – a journey that took 12 hours. After three nights in Kiev, he made the return journey to Krakow on Monday, eventually getting back home in the early hours of Tuesday.
Joe Meredith added: “Robbie has made really good progress since coming in three years ago; he has worked really hard and has a great attitude. Going to a Champions League final, where there were more than 100 other photographers, and getting such a good showing for his image of one of the best goals ever in a Champions League final, is testament to how far he has come in a relatively short space of time.
“He was competing with some of the best photographers in the world in Kiev, but he was not overawed and his images got a great showing, which underlined exactly why he was covering a Champions League final in the first place.”