Edmonton photographer talks about dream job with Netherlands at World Cup
By TERRY JONES, QMI Agency
Dale MacMillan doesn't have a Dutch bone in his body. He doesn't have a single solitary Holland ancestor of whom he's aware. And he also had a severe lack of orange apparel in his closet when he left Edmonton.
But he's in South Africa at the World Cup this month as one of two official photographers with the Netherlands team, witnessing the world's second-largest sports event not only through the lens of his camera as he's done three times before but this time from an insider's perspective which few get to experience.
"It's great to be shooting for the Dutch team. It has really opened my eyes with the amount of detail and and personnel that accompany this team. It's certainly a team which spares no expense winning.
"They have 300-plus people behind the team that do the little things that make them the team that they are. These people come here to work directly with them and put in countless hours to ensure the finest details are taken care of. As tough and as long as the days are we always seem to end up smiling and laughing over a fantastic dinner.
"I love the Dutch. Or did I say that already? They are beautiful people. I really hope they win. They deserve it because how great they are, not just on the pitch but in their hearts."
So how does a guy go about getting this gig?
"I ended up shooting for the Dutch through a now very good friend of mine I met in Korea at the World Cup in 2002. Eric Verhoeven is the Dutch national team photographer," explains MacMillan.
"We had exactly the same schedules that year and we'd see each other every day. We finally ended up having a dinner and a beer together following a game. We travelled together after that for the remainder of the World Cup.
"He came to Canada later that summer and we've been very good friends ever since. I shot the last World Cup for his former agency, Pics United, and now he is the Dutch team guy. I just happened to go over to surprise him on his 40th birthday in Holland and ended up helping him shoot a job with the alumni and sponsors for the Dutch national team. It went extremely well and they liked my work, etc., so they asked him if I would come shoot for this year's World Cup."
It's a gig that doesn't just involve the games.
"They actually flew the two of us into a safari for three days prior to shoot the wildlife with sponsors. They take 600 sponsors to the Kruger National Park and the luxury hotel there over the course of the World Cup, 150 at a time."
A day in the life of Dale MacMillan of Edmonton, official Dutch World Cup photographer?
"If we go to training, we will head to the stadium a couple of hours before the team to get set up to send out all the images to the websites for the Dutch team. Then we shoot the players and the coaches non-stop until they leave the stadium. We'll discuss plans after training with the staff of the team and figure what sponsors are where and what we need to be concentrating on throughout game day. Then we go to the media centre and upload to the Dutch websites.
"We will join the staff for
dinner and drinks later on where the conversation is light and laughter is easily found with these people. I think it is the sign of a very good organization.
"Game day is similar. We arrive four hours before game time and get our assigned pitch positions to shoot from with Eric and I taking one end each to assure both ends are well covered. We enter the stadium two hours before the game to shoot fans. I will go to the Dutch bench before kickoff and shoot the coach coming out with the players. Eric will cover the 150 sponsors in the stands for each game, taking several shots of sections of them. Obviously, we'll shoot the heck out of the game and 15 hours later we're having dinner and drinks with the staff again."
He's also shooting for the largest football magazine in Holland with assignments to shoot a steady stream of games involving other World Cup countries as well.
"As a sports fan and soccer player myself it's a big thrill to cover the World Cup in whatever capacity. There really isn't anything I would compare some of the games to as far as excitement and atmosphere goes.
"France '98 was great for me. It was my first one and I was able to do it and make the expenses balance because I had friends living in Paris who came home for the month to avoid the crowds and gave me use of their flat. And their car!
"I must have put 10,000 kilometres on the car that month driving to and from everywhere. It broke down twice, including after a quarter-final against Brazil. One resulted in four French guys pushing me in rush hour traffic and the other time ended up at a venue manager's party. I actually did a jersey swap with one of the volunteers. He wanted my Canada jacket and offered up his in a gesture you see after many games involving players. I still have that jacket."
Accommodations have always been interesting. In Korea, he stayed in sex hotels.
"In Korea there are so many people living so close together and usually with several generations of family members living together in a one-or two-bedroom apartment, they need a place for intimacy.
"Introducing Yeogwan's! These were sex hotels. In order to get away from the grandparents, cousins and siblings, etc., who would all be living in the apartments, they'd use these places. Many members of the World Cup press, including myself and my new friend Eric, used them as regular hotels.
"They were new and cheap, about $20 a night, and almost always close to the train stations, which was perfect for covering a World Cup. The beds were sometimes velvet red and round.
"They offered free porn videos and other items at the front desk to get things going and I have a picture of Eric wearing a robe and the belt tied to his head like a samurai. He couldn't stop laughing at the idea these hotels existed with such amenities.
"And I should clarify that we had separate rooms."
In Germany, a lasting memory is driving 209 km/h on the autobahn in buddy Eric's car, their World Cup record with our man MacMillan driving and Eric sitting in the back seat with the front seat folded down to edit from the games the night before.
"I remember informing him as we sped to the next game that we'd hit 209 km/h and his calm response without taking his eyes off the screen was 'You know, if the tire blows now we are both dead.' "
Experiencing some of the great moments in soccer history through the eyes of a lens is not to be scoffed at, but MacMillan says for him the World Cup experience is much more than that.
"The Cups are always exciting and it's great to see the cultures come together in the stadiums. It's always exciting to enter a new stadium with new teams and hear the crowds and see the people preparing for heir team to enter the pitch.
"I love the singing of the fans. This World Cup has the vuvuzelas, the horns, which are very loud and the focus of attention in every stadium. I don't mind them, but it takes away from all the singing that you would normally hear."
So how does a guy get started on a career path which leads to being an official photographer for the Netherlands at the World Cup? For MacMillan, it started with the Edmonton Sun.
"I met Perry Mah through an old roommate," he said of the Sun's longtime star shooter.
"He got me in the door to meet Gary Bartlett and Tom Braid," he said of the paper's photo editors, the latter who is still in the position.
"I was in the NAIT photography program and wanted to work with the Sun on weekends. It was July 1992 and they sent me down to the Big Valley Jamboree to do a set-up shot before it started. That was my first picture in the paper.
"The following weekend they sent me to the folk festival in the rain on the Saturday. I took a picture of the main stage with the city skyline in the background and umbrellas all the way down the hill. There was a lightning bolt over the downtown and I managed to catch a bolt in one of the frames. They ran the picture two pages wide in a photo spread."
He bottled lightning from there.
"Gary got me an NHL pass that September. I was never so excited about anything. I couldn't believe I was going to Oiler games to shoot. I loved sports and shooting sports is what I wanted to do for my career."
He is forever grateful to Bartlett, Braid and Mah for his start. But though the Sun offered him a full-time job, he turned it down because he wanted to become a sports shooter exclusively.
His clients now include Upperdeck Hockey, Getty Images, the Edmonton Eskimos, Northlands, Molson, Edmonton Rush, Tec Edmonton, Edmonton Tourism and many others. He's also done NFL football and PGA golf events on assignment as well.
But every four years he heads overseas to do his all-time favourite assignment, and shooting it as an official photographer for Holland is as good as it gets.