6.  East Midlands Women's Regional Football League Division 1 South
Sunday 3 March 2024
Northampton Town Women's Development Team v New Bradwell St Peter FC Ladies
I cover this Women's Tier 6 Game at Northampton following the postponement of the Sheffield FC v Northampton Town First game to be played at the same time. and was due to cover.  The match was played on the 3G pitch at Moulton College in Northampton and this will be the first time I cover a match from Moulton College.  For me it is game of mixed loyalties, I have been a fan of Northampton Town football club for over 40 years, and I am enjoying being the photographer covering the Ladies First team away fixtures and even the occasional men's professional team.  However I grew up living in New Bradwell and started my Sports Photography Journey there covering their Cricket Team that uses the same facilities in Bradwell Recreation Ground as the St Peter Football Team.  I also have many friends in the New Bradwell Sports association some of them are Cobblers fans I regularly meet up with when I go to support the Football Team
On arrival at Moulton Collage I see Josh Oldfield who is the Joint Manager of the Women's first team and like me should have been at the Sheffield game..  I also meet up with the joint manager of New Bradwell Ladies Football Team Ben Riches whom I know through covering new Bradwell Cricket Team.  Ben tells me that New Bradwell's regular photographer Dales James is not at this game so he would be happy if I can share some images with the New Bradwell team.   The main Northampton Town  Club Photographer Pete Norton is also covering this game and providing photos to support the Northampton Town Media feeds.  This means I am free to cover the match though Northampton prefer me not to shoot at the same angle as Pete.
As the 3G pitch was being used up to 30 minutes before the Kick Off.  The teams went to a grass pitch on the far side of the playing fields to warm up.  As this  pitch was down a bank from the rest of the sports ground I was able to get some long shots of the teams warming up in a looking down angle.  The Northampton team is much higher in the league on 21 points than the New Bradwell who have 12 points going into this match. Northampton have a number of players that either are making the first team squad or have played for the first team in tier 4 Women's National League last season.  This made the Northampton Team clear favorites for this 
With Pete Norton covering the Northampton Team I decide to cover New Bradwell Attach providing the possession is not dominated by Northampton so that the game is mainly played in the New Bradwell half.  I choose an end which I though would be where New Bradwell will attach however Northampton are kicking in this direction.  I capture a few good images of the Northampton attach, though I notice the play is quite well balanced so I decide to move to capture the New Bradwell attach.  Pete Norton is covering the Northampton attach  so moving does fit my brief to avoid shooting at the same angle. 
I change ends so as to cover the New Bradwell attack.  I position myself on the side to try to get a better sunlight angle as I much prefer to shoot with the Sun (when it shines) over my shoulder.  After a few minutes new Bradwell take the lead when Lucy Hopper breaks through the Northampton Defense and shot beats the Northampton keeper.
At half time I move back to the other end an take position behind the goal.  The Sun is very over my shoulder in this position  so I stay here for the rest of the game.  In the second half. Northampton equalise with a shot from their striker Kaitlyn Crouch.  I was blocked to capture the shot from Kaitlyn but capture the ball as it cross the goal line betting an outstretch Shayla Burgess in the New Bradwell Goal
Northampton get an opportunity  to take the lead through a penalty awarded mid way through the second half.  I decide to turn the video in my camera to capture the action as I always struggle to capture all the action from a penalty in a single frame.  However the penalty is missed when Kaitlyn Crouch blasts the shot over the bar! 
Then in the 90th Minute New Bradwell win the game when substitute Emily Hale goes around the keeper and fires home to score the winning goal 2-1 to New Bradwell.  I was pleased with the images I captured of the goal and the celebrations afterwards.
5. EFL League One Saturday 23 February
Burton Albion V Northampton Town
On Saturday 23rd February I take the short drive to the Pirelli Stadium in Burton Upon Trent to cover the EFL League One game between Burton Albion and Northampton Town.  For this game I will be shooting for Northampton Town under their Dataco Licence and being the their second shooter as the main club photographer Pete Norton was also in attendance.  My brief was to shoot the game at an alternate angle to Pete and also capture wide shots and Northampton Fans.   On arrival at the Pirelli Stadium I park on the main car park and was joined by Jake Sharpe and Tim Oglethorpe of BBC Radio Northampton Sport who parked a few spaces away.  After a short conversation I go to the ground to check in as a photographer to the match, then briefly go to the press room to take the coffee thart had been provided by Burton.  I then head out to the pitch and note most of the media had already arrived and Northampton Fans are beginning to arrive.
I take some photos of Northampton Fans in the stadium prior to the match commencing.  I also touch base with Northampton Club Photographer Pete Norton to understand what position he was taking to shoot the game, so I formulate a plan of the positions I will take to shoot the game.
The Pirelli Stadium has very limited photographer zones only at each end of the ground.  With Pete staying in one position at the Northampton end throughout the match.  I proceed to the Burton Fans end to shoot the first half in anticipation that Northampton will be  kicking in this direction in the first half.  This is confirmed after the toss of the coin between the two captains and ref.  Quite a relief for myself as recently I have been guessing the wrong end and having to sprint with my gear in the opening minutes to take good position. The first half commences with Burton Albion pressing towards the Northampton Goal.  I was able to capture some excellent defending by the Northampton defence under severe Burton pressure.
Against run of play in the first half, Northampton take the lead. I was completely blocked from shooting Marc Leonard as he chips the ball into the Burton box then surprisingly takes some wicked deflections off Burton defenders  to fly into the back of the net.  I was about as surprised as the Burton keeper Max Crocombe but was able to capture this photo as the ball crosses the goal line.
Northampton extend their lead with a great strike from Mitch Pinnock.  The goal came from a poor ball from a Burton player that when straight to Pinnock, this meant I did not anticipate the goal scoring shot and although I got frames of the goal the auto focus on my camera had not locked in thus the frames were mis focused.  I was in perfect position to capture the goal celebrations as seen above.  This frame was used by Northampton on their Social Media as Pete Norton at the other end of the ground was blocked on this image.
It was great to look across the stadium to see the scoreboard showing Northampton Town leading 2-0.  This is the fourth time I have shot Northampton Town first team and on all other occasions Northampton have lost and have never been in a leading position.  As there is still the second half to go there is plenty of time for Burton to come back so lots more football still to be played.
In the second half I move to the Northampton fans as I much prefer to photograph players running towards me to capture faces rather than backs of heads.  Northampton were far more dominant in the second half and the intensity of Burtons attacks diminished.  Northampton also nearly added to the score when Northampton Substitute  Shaun McWilliams shot beats Max Crocombe in the Burton goal but hits the bar.  This is my best frame that captures this moment.
Northampton hold on to win 2-0.  I keep capturing photos as the players salute the Northampton Fans.  I am then surprised as Northampton goal keeper Louie Mouden salutes the crowd doing fist pumps for he has his first professional clean sheet.  I quickly try to capture this but my camera focusing system does not engage until his fist pumps are complete however I capture this frame of him celebrating with the fans.

4 .  FA Women's National League Division 1 Sunday 4th February
Notts County Women v Northampton Town Women
On Sunday 4th February I travel the short distance from my Derby home to Hucknall Football Club to cover the Women's National League Div 1 Midlands match between Notts County Women and Northampton Town Women.  Hucknall Town ground known as the RM Stadium is a new complex though it had a Turf pitch.  This game  scheduled for December however got postponed twice due to the weather before Christmas!  With the pitch being Turf no problems this time going pitch side.  However the weather conditions very similar to the previous day at Sutton Coldfield, with this in mind I tried to go so that my back was to the wind to prevent the problems with the light rain being blown on the lens and my glasses.
I capture some frames of the girls warming up and get so images sent back to Northampton.  Due to the wet weather I simply used my mobile to load the photos to my lightroom album using the mobile app rather than risking getting my computer wet.
I was also approached by one of Notts County Media  who asked to use my photos as they currently do not have a photographer,  I even obliged by capturing a few shots  for them including their drummer boy.
The first half was very tight though I did notice Northampton had most of the play, Notts County did have their moments  forcing Northampton Keeper Katie Mclean to make a couple of good saves.  I did notice Northampton were over hitting their passes and shots in the strong wind. 
Just before half time Northampton take the lead through Kim Farrow.  I took some refuge in the stand at Hucknall to send some images off to Northampton.  As the second half starts I decided to remain in the stand at the end as it was much more comfortable than pitch side in the wind and rain! and there was little problems due to a very low barrier in front of the stand.  Northampton totally dominate the second half score five more goals.  I capture some great shots of some of the goal celebrations  though with the poor light an non optimal position did get blocked and mis focused on a couple of the goals.  The game ended with Northampton winning 6-0.
My Images from this match being used in the Northampton Town Programme for Bristol Rovers game on 17 Feb 2024
3. Midland League Division One Sutton United v Heather St Johns
 Saturday 3 Feb 2024
On Saturday 3 February I cover the Midland League Division One match between Sutton United (of Sutton Coldfield) and Heather St Johns.  I arrive at the Stadium early about 13.45 to find the car park full! I was directed to an overflow carpark where I was able to find a space in a car park that was also full.  Sutton United have a new sports facility featuring a Main 3g Pitch and a small 5 a side pitch.  I notice that both were busy with matches underway when I arrived which explained the full car park.  Shortly after I had arrived the matches finished ready for the Midland League game resulting in the car park emptying considerably.  I noticed there was a high barrier surrounding the main pitch and as I had some football boots we requested I go pitch side to cover the match.  However one of the ground staff challenged my footwear and as I had Astra Turf Boots he said I could not go on the pitch!!    So I had to shoot over the high surrounding barrier and extended the height on Monopod which did work though not as comfortable as normal.
I did meet the Sutton United photographer who was simply shooting with a Canon Rebel (450D) and kit lens, though he was still able to capture good photos to use in the Sutton United Programme.  He certainly made me feel more welcome than the Sutton United groundsman!  I did struggle shooting this game due to the weather, it was very dull which effects the auto focus and there was a strong breeze.
By half time very light rain had started.  I moved to capture Heathers attack in the second half when my problems really started.  The very light rain with the strong wind resulted in the rain being blown up my lens hood to the lens resulting in poor picture quality.  Further the light rain in the wind was also covering my glasses making my visibility even worse.  In the match Sutton United were a much improved team from the side that lost at Heather 4-1 in August.
 Sutton United took a lead through a penalty in first half, Heather equalised through marksman Kyle Jardine early in the second half. 
Late on Sutton took the lead again through a goal that was contested by Heather for handball.  The towards the end Heather were refused a penalty by the ref when Kyle Jardine was taken out by a defender after he had gone around the keeper.  The final score was 2-1. 


2. Midland League Division One Heather St Johns v Chelmsley Town Saturday 27 January 2024
I cover the first home game of 2024 for Heather St Johns as they take on Chelmsley Town in the Midland Football league Division 1 (Non-League Step 6).  I regularly shoot for Heather St Johns a small village football club in north west Leicestershire, Heather is a village close to the town of Ibstock.  Despite being a small village club they have an excellent non-league ground with good facilities with the pitch surrounded by a tall hedge that makes good background for photography.  I arrive at about 2pm an hour, with kick off at 3pm I have an hour to catch up with people at the club and get prepared.  I first go to the Press Box, to drop of my laptop and Photo Printer (which I only use after the game in the clubhouse).  I meet the Heathers Head of Media Phil Owen and his media officer Jess Borne a Journalist Student from Leicester University.  I then proceed to take coffee in hospitality.  I get taking to some representatives from Chelmsley town who advise me Chelmsley will be wearing orange shirts so elect not to wear my newly acquired Orange His Vis jacket to avoid any risk of a colour clash.
I choose the Village End to set up my camera in anticipation Heather will shoot in that direction. Though it is very random and the team and management always leave me guessing which end they will be shooting even if they win the toss!  I go to the players and match officials entrance under the press box and get the shot. I then return to my pitch and was happy to find to find Heather take to the far end confirming I had chosen right for once!
Heather start the game well and Heathers Jordon Holmes (#10) scores the opening goal  which is added to by Kyle Jardine scoring after about 37 minutes.  Frustratingly I manage to miss capturing these goals due to the action coming to close to track on my main lens.  I realise I had positioned myself too close to the goal as I normally like to between the edge of penalty area and the corner flag which means I can track people in the penalty area in front of goal at the wide end of my main lens Sigma 120-300 with 1.4 Extender on Canon 1DXMk2. 

I decide to use my other camera the 7DMk2 still fitted with the 24-70 F2.8 used for the entrance shot to capture close shots in the penalty area from my current position.  I capture this shot on this camera as Heathers Jake Finnerty tries to get on the end of a cross. 
The half ends and I take up position at the other end though this time on the sidelines on edge of penalty area.  I prefer this position as the sun shines straight up the pitch from the village end.  Also as the light begins to fade I also remove the 1.4x extender to enable an extra stop of light from F4 to F2.8 on my main lens. I also change from shooting RAW to JPeg as I find the Canon 1Dx denoise function that is performed in camera is better than trying to clean the noise you get with the RAW files which I have normally used.  During the half time interval I find time to upload a couple of frames of the goal celebrations to the Heather Media WhatsApp Group. 
Second half underway and Heather continue to dominate and Kyle Jardine adds two further goals to complete his hat trick.  His 3rd goal was a penalty and this frame catches the moment the ball cross the goal line with the Chelmsley Keeper completely beaten. 
Heather add a further goal when Heather Substitute Kye Wooldridge shot beats the Chelmsley keeper and defender to enter the goal.  The scoring moment being captured in this frame.
The match finishes with Heather winning 5-0.  I rush on the pitch and capture this photo of the team with chairman Simon Bindley and supporter (with the Heather St John's FC Flag) Anthony Clarke.  There is a great togetherness about this team which was formed following the appointment of the Management team of Neil Costello and Shaun Hession last summer It appears to have been a very popular decision. Most of the players come from the nearby North West Leicestershire area and have known one another thorough playing together in previous teams and socialising.
I also captured the Shot of Hat Trick Hero Kyle Jardine with a match ball.  This shot was something I noticed Northampton Town Club photographer Pete Norton capture at the end of the match where a Northampton player had scored a hat trick.
Following completion of the on pitch activities, I collect my computer and printer and set up in the football clubhouse bar where a number of supporters, team officials and players gather. My target is to download and process the frames of the key moments to load to the clubs what's app and also create a Social media post within an hour.  
I also capture a shot of the presentation of man of the match understandably going to Kyle Jardine.  A non step 6 there's no champagne but a hand voucher to a local McDonalds Restaurant at Appleby Magna
 I completed the photo processing (did not have time to connect the printer) however by this time the Bar had closed and the bar staff were trying to get people out of the pub.  I have a fair amount of equipment to pack away and end up being the last to leave just after 6.30 pm!!  with only bar staff remaining.  I walked to my car parked near the far corner flag as cars in the car park.  I parked here to reduce the risk of my car getting hit by the match ball from shots being skyed over the goal.  
I packed away my camera gear and computer, change my shoes (to avoid mud getting in my car) then I proceeded to drive to the exit.  However I find that I have been locked in the car park by the bar staff that had now left!!  I was stuck in the car park with my Derby home over 20 miles away.  However I remember the clubs WhatsApp Media group and was able to contact Simon Bindley who was kindly able to come from his home and let me out the car park. Phil Owen also rang me to offer help which reassured me that support will be on hand and my situation was not desperate.
1. FA Women's National League Division 1 Sunday 7th January Leek Town Ladies v Northampton Town Women
For my first match covered in 2024 will be for Northampton Town Women.  I travel to the North Staffordshire town of Leek for the FA Women's National League Division 1 Midlands Fixture between Leek Town Ladies and Northampton Town Women.  In this fixture I will shooting to provide photographs for Northampton Town primarily to use on their website but also supporting articles in a future Men's First Team Fixture programme which will be against Wigan Athletic on 13th January.  The Ladies First team league away matches played in the midlands are not covered by Northampton regular club photographer Pete Norton.
On arrival at Leek, I travel to the small car park where I was greeted by the Leek Town Chairman who guided to a parking position right outside the clubs main stand.  This carpark is sized basically to take players and officials so there was not much available free parking space for anyone else including photographers and other members of the media.
Leek Town play at a good standard non-league ground, with stands on all four sides.  It also has and a 3G pitch.
I collected my photo kit together with studded football boots from my car then enter the ground through a side gate avoiding Turnstile entry.  I had registered and obtained accreditation to attend this match through Northampton.
This match is rather unusual as it is a 3pm Kickoff, as most Women's National League matches Kickoff at 2pm on the Sunday afternoon.  This means in January, the second half will be played during sunset and be under floodlights.  However on the matchday the light conditions even before the match in Leek were very poor.   My first action once entering the ground was to do a light/exposure test on my main camera that will be used for most of the Football action.  My main camera is a Canon 1DXmk2 with a Sigma 120-300 F2.8 Lens with a 1.4x extender giving a focal length of 198-420mm.  The problem with using the extender is it reduces the aperture by 1 stop to F4.0. My initial plan was to remove the extender as the floodlights come on at half time. Then shoot the second half under floodlights with just the 120-300 @ F2.8.  However the test showed there was inadequate light even before the match kicked off so I decided to simply shoot the whole match without the extender.  To compensate for lack of reach I elected to shoot from the sidelines near the Leek Town Penalty Area rather than my preferred position behind the goal lines.
I get some photos of the ground and also the Northampton Town Team warming up and send selected images back to Northampton so they can use on their social media feeds as the game commences.  ​​​​​​​
Just before the start I am positioned near the players entrance when I am challenged by a Leek Town security official who checks I am wearing studded boots on the 3 G pitch.  He also asks me to put on a high vis vest.  He went to find a vest and his return he hands me the vest  just as the match officials lead the players on the pitch so I missed one of my shots I usually get of the match when  the officials lead the teams out on the pitch!  This was a bad one to miss as this match was officiated by a female referee Ciara Barker which is pretty rare even in the Women's National League 
I capture a shot of the pre match lineout, then go and take up my position on the pitch side around the 18 yard Leek Town penalty box. 
The first half sees Northampton in the ascendancy with the majority of play at the Leek Town goal.  However despite many shots and hitting the post on one occasion Northampton fail to score.  A free kick on the edge of the box  just before half time does not trouble the Leek Town Keeper who appears to having a great game.  
I do notice the day was extremely cold and I was very pleased I had my photographer's gloves on which had been a recent birthday present from my sister. 
A half time I have to send selected images back to Northampton  for them to be put on the clubs social media feeds.  This is more challenging where there have been no goals or celebrations to capture!
Early in the second half Leek Town get a free kick on the edge of the Northampton box in a similar position to the Northampton free kick just before half time.  This time the Leek Town shot beats the Northampton keeper  Katie McClean to take the lead.  Shortly after Leek add a second goal following some poor Northampton defending.  Northampton do try to respond though fail to penetrate the Leek Town defence.  Leek Town now with a two goal lead start to dominate much of the play in contrast to the first half.
Mid way through the second half with  Northampton losing 2-0 and beginning to "chase shadows" as they try to go forward, I take a tactical decision to move to behind the Leek Town goal.  This was to try to capture some of the Northampton Players running towards me which make the best photos.  This was to try to get some good photos I could send back to Northampton as it looked increasingly like they wasn't going to score. 
Towards the end of the game Leek Town add a third goal witch becomes the final score.  It turned out to be a game of two half's with quite a flattering score for Leek Town.  I pack my photo kit away in the bag and return to my car to send photos back to Northampton and complete the day. 
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