Leechy’s dilemma: Ford Cortinas vs. expensive lenses

Just found an old negative of Stan Bowles, during a tidy up operation around the lightbox at Offside and after a quick bit of research discovered that it was taken on October 3 1978.

Not that 36th anniversaries are a big deal but as I own a memory that only remembers things connected with football or sports photography, something about this picture started to make the cogs revolve.

Mark Leech: 36 years ago today, Stan Bowles was looking none too happy.
Mark Leech: 36 years ago today, Stan Bowles was looking none too happy.

Back in that pre-Thatcher era life really did seem much simpler and then a new fangled, internal focusing range of lenses were launched, along with what seemed like extortionate price tags.

Having been struggling along, working as a freelance for eighteen months, I knew this 300mm 2.8 lens could become a game changer if I could manage to focus a telephoto lens with such a wide aperture, as my current long lens of choice was a 300mm 4.5.

I’ve probably already lost those that don’t get the technical photo blurb but I’ll carry on regardless.

My Ford Cortina Mk II wasn’t very well at that stage and a good friend, quite rightly, said: “what’s the point of buying a fancy lens when your clapped out car won’t get you to the matches?”

Good point, which I promptly ignored.

Anyway let’s get back to the football.

Can’t exactly remember buying the lens but I probably took it straight from the camera shop down to Loftus Road, for QPR v Swansea City in the Football League Cup. A good match to test out my new toy.

Swansea were on their way up the leagues with John Toshack in charge, a team full of good Welsh players with the steel of Tommy Smith in defence—the same Tommy Smith who had scored in the European Cup Final 18 months earlier who was now playing in Division 3.

Mark Leech: A picture from the previous season of Tommy Smith in action for Liverpool versus Chelsea.
Mark Leech: A picture from the previous season of Tommy Smith in action for Liverpool versus Chelsea taken with a 500m mirror lens.

Let’s take time to reflect on that.

Tommy had upset Tottenham fans during a 2-2 draw in the previous round by kicking Ossie Ardiles all over the Vetch. Don’t look that up in a medical dictionary, it was the name of the old Swansea stadium.

This act led to death threats for Tommy on his appearance at White Hart Lane for the replay, which Swansea won 3-1. He laughed them off by saying “One guy said he was going to ‘shute’ me, didn’t take him seriously”.

Where was I?

That’s right Loftus Road and trying to focus this lens was much more difficult than I’d imagined. Halfway through the match, I was thinking that a new Cortina would have been a better investment.

The pic above of an angry Stan was one of the few sharp images that night but a few days later at Norwich, in the beautiful low light that streamed down the Carrow Road pitch, I took a shot of Graeme Souness which made a magazine front cover.

Mark Leech: Are you ready for your cover shot, Mr Souness?
Mark Leech: Are you ready for your cover shot, Mr Souness?

The shots I was capturing were still somewhat static until I went to Cambridge on October 18th.

Cambridge University were playing the touring All Blacks. Hard to imagine now but all that was needed for me to walk past the gatekeeper was my new fancy lens.

Mark Leech: Mark Donaldson on the move with the ball versus Cambridge.
Mark Leech: Mark Donaldson on the move with the ball versus Cambridge.

Somehow at that match it all started happening. I began to capture fast moving, close up action pictures of the New Zealand rugby team.

Mark Leech: Grahma Mourie leads the charge.
Mark Leech: Graham Mourie leads the charge.

Then that final Saturday of October arrived, which was always a big day: the final chance to get some colour film shot before the clocks went back.

The rattling Cortina got me up to Molineux for Wolves v Manchester United; again another stadium with hardly a shadow on the pitch in late October.

Mark Leech: Martin Buchan goes for the ball against Wolves and ends up as a cover star.
Mark Leech: Martin Buchan goes for the ball against Wolves and ends up as a cover star.

This match provided me with some big photo spreads in Shoot Magazine and the lens was beginning to pay for itself.

My work through the next few dark winter months, with my new investment, meant that by March I was actually buying myself a new car with the money earned with this revolutionary piece of kit.

Only trouble was, it was a bloody Reanault 5 Ts, which obviously wanted to live on the Cote D’Azur as I spent every damp day with jump leads or asking somebody for help to push the useless piece of French crap.

Should have bought Japanese, like my lens.

Offside is the UK’s leading independent sports photography agency, home to an extensive collection of classic football pictures and images from across the world of sport. Explore Offside’s unique library at www.welloffside.com.

Follow Offside on Twitter at @welloffside.

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Author: gregianjohnson

Football writer for The Blizzard, FourFourTwo, The Mirror, Squawka and VICE amongst others. Follow me on Twitter at @gregianjohnson.

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