FPA Member Profile

Matthew Ashton – AMA Sports Photo Agency
All Images © Matthew Ashton / EMPICS / AMA Sports Photo Agency

Career

Highlights

  • Began photographing Shrewsbury Town FC at the age of 17
  • 1989 Achieved a distinction in photojournalism at the National Council Training of Journalists
  • 1990 News and football specialist at the Shropshire Star
  • 1995 International Football Photographer at EMPICS
  • 2006 founded AMA Sports Photo Agency
    • FIFA World Cup (6)
    • UEFA Champions League Finals (25)
    • FIFA Club World Cup and Toyota Cup (24)
    • Copa Centro Americanos
    • CONCACAF Gold Cup (7)
    • African Nations Cup (2)
    • AFC Asian Cup (4)
Q&A with Matthew Ashton

What came first, sport or photography?
“Sport. I started watching Shrewsbury Town at the age of five. I was rubbish at football despite being leading scorer in my cubs team but later played ice hockey. I badly broke my ankle during my school holidays falling of a rope-swing into the river. 

Photography came later at Art School, when I then also discovered I was naturally left footed, but by then I decided to stick with photography!”

What was your career path?
“All I wanted to be was a TV cameraman. That changed when I learnt to process and develop film and print photos. It was a real unique skill, and I felt like a magician! Although I loved working in the darkroom, my picture taking enthusiasm grew when I started to attend Shrewsbury Town games with my camera.”

What awards have you won?
“I don’t normally enter awards, as in the past I feel awards are given to photographers with the emphasis on the event or subject, and not the merits of the actual picture. I did win Best Illustrated Title in the British Book Awards with my book on the old home of Shrewsbury Town – Gay Meadow.”  www.goodbyegaymeadow.com

Do you have a favourite memory or anecdote from your time as a football photographer?
“Too many to mention. I have been the official photographer of the Nadeshiko – the Japan Womens National Football Team, UEFA Champions League Photographer for 11 years and covering Manchester United winning the 1999 UEFA Champions League was obviously a highlight. 

Every tournament around the globe is fun, especially the AFC Asian Cup and I have done all but one of the Toyota Cups / FIFA Club World Cup competitions since 1996 –  but I will alway fondly remember spending time with Steve Perryman in Japan. He was manager of JLeague champions, Shimizu S-Pulse. 

When I attend a FIFA World Cup, I consider that to be my job, but being in Japan with Steve was a real privilege. The other memory was when Scotland won 0-3 at Estonia when Estonia did not turn up. 

But, answering the question – if I had to relive a day of my life again behind the camera, it would be LA Galaxy v LAFC when Zlatan made his debut. It was utterly sensational.”

If you weren’t a photographer what would you be?
“No idea. Perhaps a sound engineer for Simple Minds, Kylie Minogue’s personal helicopter pilot or some sort of TV producer so I could watch and edit The Big Match Revisited everyday.”

First football match photographed?
“26 March 1988 – Oldham Athletic 2-2 Shrewsbury Town on their plastic pitch, with a Nikon F301, a 135 f2 lens and two rolls of Tri-X.”

Who did you look up to as a youngster and who were your mentors?
“I always admired the work of David Cannon. Although he is known as Mr Golf, to me he is still a wonderful football photographer. At the Italia ’90 World Cup, when I looked at newspapers, his pictures were the ones that stood out for he. He will laugh his head off if he reads this, but travelling around Japan with him at the 2002 FIFA World Cup made the event that bit more special for me.

Like others I attended the NCTJ Photojournalism course in Sheffield. This is where I learnt to mentally think like a photographer. Every assignment I had, I tried to involve football. Even though quite probably I could have ended up as a feature photographer, course leader Paul Delmar saw my love of football and introduced me to some of the Allsport photographers.

When I was at EMPICS, Neal Simpson and Tony Marshall helped me immensely, and with the likes of Mike Egerton and Adam Davy pushing each other, the competitiveness improved my consistency. Peter Robinson – FIFA’s Official Photographer for many years – also influenced me.”

Favourite footballer to work with, and why?
“Both my answers relate to one person – Gary Neville. When he was at Manchester United he was such a difficult character to deal with. Now he is a pundit on Sky Sports he is the nicest guy in the world, and I’d love him as a next door neighbour. I’ve told him too, and his answer was that I am not the only one to say this!”

Favourite football ground to work at and why?
“Despite photographing football in over 90 countries, my answer is easy. I loved being at Shrewsbury Town’s old ground, Gay Meadow. 

I have seen Borussia Dortmund’s Westfallenstadion grow and grow, but the over all winner is simply the San Siro in Milano, Italy.  For me, it is the best football theatre in the world. Just everything about it is sensational.”

Biggest lesson learnt
2001 FA Cup Final – Arsenal v Liverpool: I captured Freddie Ljungberg scoring what I thought was the winning goal in the 72nd minute, along with a marvellous celebration picture and thought that I had achieved greatness.

Ten minutes later, Michael Owen scored two goals for Liverpool down the other end, and my pictures meant nothing. Nowadays, I am always at my best when I am numb. I never get too excited or down, as anything can happen until the final whistle.”

Canon, Nikon or Sony?
“I started off on a manual focus 600mm and 300mm lens with a Nikon F3HP. Now I use Canon (and Leica)”

Best advice to youngsters
“Be your fiercest critic. I believe that those starting out never appreciate how many years us older photographers spent developing our skills, making mistakes when it did not matter and practising. 

I had been shooting every week for 7 years before joining EMPICS. I thought I was OK but got bombed out of the Euro 96 Final and after that really worked hard and tried to master my craft! 

Everything has to be spot on, focus, composition, colour balance, timing, seeing shapes. Not being a perfectionist means being 2nd best.

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