The opportunity to attend any football World Cup is a once in a lifetime moment, where one can embrace much more than the sport itself. It’s a time when the host nation can be extremely proud of its culture and inhabitants, which is then showcased to the entire world. While there are inevitably significant language barriers between locals and tourists, the world is brought together with one language, the language of football. This is what Neil Bedford experienced when he made the trip to Brazil this summer and immersed himself in everything, from the opening ceremony festivities and finals, to the culture. Despite already having a keen interest in football by avidly following Bradford City around the lower tiers of the English Leagues, the photographer did not anticipate what he was about to experience. From watching Bradford City kickaround on cold, drizzling days, he was transported to a festivity of constant carnivals where people of all ages participated in the momentous occasion. Through the lens, Neil managed to capture more than a sport, he captured a moment in time when the world forgot about its troubles for a moment to relish the coming together of countless likeminded people, relishing the opportunity of being a significant part of history. For those who did not manage to make it out to Brazil, Neil has compiled a newspaper that documented his story in a limited print run of 125 while below is a short interview.
How did you select the photos?
As you can imagine, I came back from Brazil with thousands of images, everything from the stadiums to the beaches, from airports to taxis. When putting the paper together I focused on images that could tell a story on their own, without having to run as part of a narrative. I also chose the images that I can remember taking or remembering the moment. I didn’t travel to Brazil with any particular objectives, other than to capture the World Cup in the way I had captured similar things before. As I’m not a photojournalist, I look for different things when composing images, sometimes for the better or for the worse, but that’s the only way I know how to shoot.
What the experience was like?
The experience was incredible, as I’m sure most footballs fans would appreciate. Attending any part of the World Cup would be special, but to have the opportunity to be there from the opening ceremony to the final was a bit of a dream come true, especially with it being in Brazil. I remember receiving an excited phone call form James Roper, editor of The Green Soccer Journal, who offered me the job and having to question if it was a wind up or not, as it’s something we’d long since spoke about doing. It was the first time I’d attended a World Cup, so I went into it with my eyes open really, not fully knowing what to expect, other than knowing Brazil would make it a party. My whole footballing life has been spent following Bradford City around the lower leagues, other than the glory days of the early 2000’s when we were playing in the Premier League, so I only knew that side of the game. Once arriving in Brazil, it couldn’t have been any further away from my notion of what football was, it was a complete carnival from beginning to end, families, face painting and costumes with fans of all ages attending games and the FIFA Fan Zones. There was so much speculation about safety before the games started it’s hard to believe after being there, that this was an issue as I was only ever made to feel welcome and part of what was happening.
Favorite part of the experience?
Without doubt it was spending the afternoon with Argentinian fans on the Copacabana beach when they made the final, beating Holland on penalties. The celebrations started on the sand and ended up well into the sea and then back into the streets as the night went on. All the fans were amazing, but there was something special about the Argentinians, their love for their team seemed unrivaled and the way they celebrated was too, making it the best experience for me. Of course attending the Final was also amazing, as far as a sporting event, but its hard to be a football fan and watch two teams that you have no connection with and want one of them to win. There was also a beautiful experience I had when taking a taxi with two lost Mexican fans, who spoke no English and I spoke no Spanish, but it didn’t seem to get in the way. We watched a game with the taxi driver en-route to the stadium and through hand signals and gestures we managed to understand one another, cementing that clichéd saying that football is the only language you need.