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When I applied for media accreditation for EURO 2016 back in January, I wanted to do as much as I could and so applied for a total of 11 matches over 13 days - I was going over on the ferry and had my car so it would be a breeze! I was absolutely amazed when I was given the green light for all of my choices and I still count myself extremely fortunate to have been given the opportunity and without doubt will fondly remember this tournament for years to come. I had a permit to park at each stadium so that meant I wouldn't have the hassle of trying to find parking and also wouldn't have to go far with all my camera kit. Once the group stage was finalised, I was then able to apply for the next round and so I did a further three last 16 matches and following that, two Quarter Final matches.
On collection of my accreditation pack (bib, media pass, tournament backpack and parking pass), I thought I had everything I needed for my first match which was between France and Romania - amazingly, I almost watched the game from the stands as I hadn't collected my match 1 pass from the photographers room and was refused entrance; despite looking the part in my official bib! Photographers had to collect this pass or it would then be given to one of the photographers on the waiting list. Alas, I was saved by a posse of volunteers who were assisting another photographer who was running late - a lesson learnt!
With so many games in so few days, most of my time was spent inside stadiums, driving, in hotels or camping! The car was packed with stuff and as security was strict when parking at each stadium I often had to empty the car and show security exactly what was being brought into the stadium. Then there was another queue at the scanners that you had to walk through; similar to the ones at airports.
In the media centre, it was strange brushing shoulders with the likes of Glenn Hoddle, Chris Waddle, Martin Keown, Danny Mills, Steve McManaman and Ray Houghton - the thought of getting a selfie crossed my mind but bottled it. There was bottled water available to media but anything else had to be purchased from the cafe. If you were lucky, you could pick up an official programme but they were soon snapped up so you had to be quick! At the end of each match, beer was made available thanks to one of the tournament sponsors and depending on which stadium you were at determined how much beer you could help yourself to!
Canon and Nikon had offices in the media centres - I initially thought it was to take equipment to so it could get repaired. I was later told that in actual fact you could borrow the latest equipment from them - anything from the latest cameras to an array of lenses; it was like being in a sweet shop - the only downside was it was first come first served and so if you relied on them you might not get what you needed and there was always a queue there when they opened their doors! On one occasion I borrowed a Canon 1D X and a 400mm 2.8 Mark II lens - I would have been invoiced for approximately €14,000 had I not returned their equipment!
Some of the photographers were great and I really got on well with a few of them. However, some of them were inconsiderate and frankly quite rude especially when trying to take the team photo at the start of each game; we were herded into position like cattle and then the jostling for position commenced - I really wondered whether it was worth the hassle! I was hit in the face with a monopod, elbowed, shoved and even slapped on the top of the head!
I met one fan from Norway who was attempting to go to as many matches as possible. He hadn't bought tickets he would just negotiate outside the stadium on match day and apparently he was getting tickets at a good price - lower than face value! He went to a game every day and sometimes even managed to squeeze in two matches! Unlike myself in the car, he was up and down the country on the high speed trains.
In the end, I went to 16 matches over the course of the tournament. I had hoped to go to the semis and final but that meant staying for a further 8 days and the four weeks away was quite sufficient; had Ireland or England or even Slovakia made it further I would have stayed.
Tournament highlights and memories that'll be cherished for years to come in chronological order:
1. Dmitri Payet's goal in the opener against Romania
2. Marek Hamek's goal against Russia
3. Ronaldo frustrated versus Austria
4. Michael McGovern's performance in goal against Germany
5. Ireland beating Italy 1-0 to qualify against the odds
6. Wales denying Belgium 3-1 in the quarters
7. Witnessing the sheer passion from the Icelandic as they faced hosts France and despite losing, they were massive winners in the hearts and faces of their fans.
Lastly, I met some really sound lads from Wales, Slovakia, Luxembourg and Ireland and spending time with them really was the cherry on top!