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The life of a sports photographer

From taking pictures of Maradona at a World Cup to being at the heart of crowd troubles – Finish Juha Tamminen has experienced it all

Tell us more about yourself. When and how did you fall in love with sports photography?

It was a gradual process, as a kid I used to go to horse races with my father, because he had horses - trotters - but then one day at the races they started to follow the law and they would no longer sell betting tickets to under 16-year-olds, and I stopped going. In the meantime, English league football was on TV on Saturdays, and my grandfather always watched it, so did I, that’s how I got interested in football. I used to support Nottingham Forest even before Brian Clough arrived there, and Forest were in the second division. I went to Nottingham many times to see them play, not taking photos. Photography came when I got a summer job in the local newspaper in 1980. I first travelled to South America in 1980-1981, and went to the World Cup in 1982, all just as a fan, not working. Then in 1983 I went to South America for the second time, this time with a Canon camera, and I started to take photos at the matches, also interviewing some players.


Just recently you’ve posted on Twitter a few unique Bulgaria pictures dating back to the 1986 and 1998 World Cups. Were you the one who took all those pictures? What kind of memories do these shots evoke?

Those photos of Bulgarian players in Mexico in 1986 were taken at the team hotel before the first match against Italy. In Mexico I was at 3 Bulgaria matches, then in 1994 I attended Bulgaria’s games against Greece, Mexico, Germany, Italy and Sweden, taking loads of photos. As for the most memorable moment – it was when Iordan Letchkov scored against Germany, that one was incredible, indeed.


What’s the sports event you’ve been most excited about?

I only covered football until 2008, when I moved back to Finland to stay there also for the winter, and I have been shooting many sports events ever since, even a rugby match between Finland and Bulgaria! The funny thing is that now the only sport I regularly watch on TV is rugby, I very rarely watch football, got fed up with Blatter & co, also with FIFA – Infantino is just another criminal, like Blatter. Practically, all photos I now post on Twitter, I took myself at some point.


And can you show us the picture you’re most proud of? What is its story?

There is not just one photo that I could say it's the best shot of my life, there are many good ones that I like, but I can't name just one.


Being a sports photographer is anything but easy – you’re working in a highly dynamic environment, with everything around you happening at a great pace. How do you make sure you don’t miss the perfect shot from the best angle?

The difficult thing about sports photography is that you never know what will happen next, you just have to be alert and keep your eyes wide open, and hope for the best - there are no action replays like on TV, everything can be over in a matter of seconds. Like at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico during the game between Argentina and Belgium, I had only one frame left in the film when Maradona got the ball… there was no time to change the film, so I just followed him, and I managed to catch the moment he put the ball past Pfaff for the second goal.


Often the photographers are right in the middle of the action – for example when there are crowd troubles in the stands you, guys, are very close to what’s happening. Have you ever had fear for your life when things have gone out of control?

Many times, I've been hit by various objects, been spat at (it happened in Holland with some Ajax fans), and once in Rio de Janeiro somebody threw a mug full of piss over me when there was a fight on the pitch and I was too close to the fence! Always when fans are invading the pitch, you have to take care of the cameras, or they will disappear.


What’s the one picture you would love to be able to make one day?

Argentina or Wales winning the Rugby World Cup would be the photo I'd most love to take!

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