World football’s greatest tournament begins in just days and fans from around the world are descending on probably the game’s most unlikely outpost.
Photographer Ian Whittaker was there to record the scenes in a warm up friendly four years ago. Now the World Cup kicks off with Qatar versus Ecuador on Sunday in a re run of the friendly which Whittaker witnessed in Doha in 2018.
If it is anything like that seven goal thriller, that finished 4-3 to Qatar, fans will be in for a treat. And National newspaper freelance Ian Whittaker was there to capture the atmosphere around the ground and on the terraces.
Numbers then were limited, 13,000 fans showing their support in the Al Sadd Sadium in Doha. It is a completely different story now as the country has geared up for a tournament that will again grip the world. The Al Bayt Stadium, 30 miles down the road, will hold 60,000 fans come opening day. They, and the world, will be watching. And they will be waiting.
It’s been 56 years since England’s momentous World Cup Wembley triumph. Despite such a long wait to revisit those past glories, and all the many false dawns and failings since 1966, England are still the UK bookies’ favourites to conquer Qatar. But as Whittaker’s pictures show, the Qataris’ own fans were getting in the mood four years ago, albeit seemingly glued to their phones like supporters around the globe, expect maybe checking investments and oil prices rather than posing for a selfie or trying to snatch a long shot of a corner.
Not a replica shirt in sight. Traditional robes for all, although some came emblazoned with motives expressing support for the host nation.
Home is where the heart is, after all.
Qataris might not portray the Polish pyrotechnics, the South American salsa or samba or the flare and fervour that surrounds the big guns of Germany, but Bristol born Whittaker witnessed a World Cup story begin to unfold.
Four years ago Whittaker visited Qatar, the host nation for World Cup 2022, on assignment for a national newspaper.
As part of that task, Whittaker took in a match that would be the opening fixture of the upcoming tournament, Qatar versus Ecuador. What he witnessed was a far cry from the packed terraces and stadiums we have come to know and love, particularly across Europe and South America.
Bristol Rovers was his first team, and first game he recalls, running on the pitch after the final whistle at the end of an evening match in the 1970s. Charlie George, and his exploits for Arsenal during the same era, have also stayed long in the mind.
“My father and older brother were involved with local teams,” he said, “my father as a player and running the admin of our local club in the West Country in the late 60s and early 70s.”
After 40 years working as a photographer, Whittaker lists Irving Penn, Robert Frank and William Klein among his influences.
“I have been doing it for 40 years and still enjoy meeting people and making pictures,” he said.
“I like to document a certain look/style a person has created, they might have a very considered look in their choice of clothes and hairstyle or maybe not… maybe it’s what it was first out of the drawer that morning but they have a look and style.”
And Whittaker’s advice after such a long career taking pictures?
“Don’t be shy…. make friends, take lots of images. And learn from your mistakes.”
You can keep up with Ian’s newspaper assignments and his ongoing photo project on Skater Culture on his Instagram.
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