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Neville Williams profile: Cahill Blues photo was my finest moment
Paul Brown chats to club photographer Neville Williams.
1st Mar 2013
Neville Williams profile: Cahill Blues photo was my finest moment


Brown

Gary Cahill's famous scissor-kick against Birmingham City meant a lot to our fans - and it was picture-perfect for club photographer Neville Williams too.

Cahill's famous goal in 2006 helped Villa to a famous 3-1 win over our arch-rivals, ensuring in the process the double over the men from St Andrew's.

As luck would have it, the moment was captured clearly and concisely by snapper Williams - and it stands out as his best-ever picture.

"That was special," he said. "It's a great picture and it means a lot. It was just one of those amazing moments.

"There was so much relief when the goal went in, so much joy and I was delighted with the photo.

"It felt like we had finally got on top of Blues again.

"In terms of capturing the moment with the camera - you simply don't know it's going to happen. I was concentrating on him because I actually thought he was going to head it.

"The ball looped up, he did what he did and I pressed the button at the right moment. Everything was perfect - it was sharp, it was exposed - everything I needed. It defined the season.

"I bought a bottle of champagne after the game. That was the sea-change between Villa and Blues. That was the end of the romance for them.

"People always assume that I can't get involved in the cut-and-thrust of the game. I can't when I'm taking the photo. But when the players were heading back to the centre-circle for the kick-off, I gave it a fist pump next to my camera."

Gary Cahill

That afternoon encounter went perfectly for claret and blue fan Williams - husband to Claire and father to Henry and Felicity - just as it did when he decided to take his first steps into the industry.

"I got on the bus one day and went to the career office in Coleshill and asked for a YTS form to work at Newsteam, the agency for news and sport. I did four years there as their dogsbody.

"I did all the sport - badminton, horse racing and football. That's where my big break with Villa came.

"I left there at 21 to become freelance. But at that point, due to my friendship with fellow photographer Bernard Gallagher, who at the time was editor of the Villa News & Record, I did a lot of work for the club.

"I worked on some big games like Villa v Inter Milan early on. But my first assignment for the club was a magazine spread for Claret and Blue magazine, the old publication that Villa used to produce.

"The premise was that it was 'A Day With Gary Shaw' in his role as a rep for Tetley.

"I got home and I discovered the pictures were terrible. I realised I had a lot of improving to do. It was a steep learning curve.

"All I had ever really done was live sport. I had not done a proper magazine feature before which required artier snaps. It woke me up. I just worked harder. I looked at other pictures, what other people did and sought to get better and better."

That incident may have shook him to the core but there was never any real doubt he would be a photographer, as the industry was in the blood.

Dick Williams, his father, was a Fleet Street legend with the Daily Mirror, working in tandem with the likes of Monty Fresco, Jack Kay and Peter Jay to bring the tabloids to life.

"I love photography. But when I first started I did it because it was what my dad did. I realised very quickly he was getting paid to eat cakes, watch football and drink coffee. I worked out very quickly he had a different job from other people's dads.

"I remember going to Jimmy Rimmer's house with my dad and seeing Jimmy's European Cup medal. And I sat on Mohammad Ali's knee when my dad snapped him.

"I wasn't going to be anything other than a photographer. I was born into it. My dad was really enthusiastic too. It wasn't a job. It was a way of life."

Lowton

The same can be said of Williams Jnr, who covers every match home and away, as well as being on call for the moments that matter, like high-profile transfers or celebrity visits.

"I love matchday. It's going to a game and getting a goal picture - the actual goal and the celebration. It's like scoring a goal for me.

"If there are five goals in a game and you miss one though, it's gutting. There's nothing worse than missing a goal. That's the time when you want to bang your head against a brick wall.

"But when you do have a good game - good goals, good celebrations, I do get a sense of pride. I look at my photos the next day and have a critique of them. I analyse myself. The mood can change from week to week.

"I love action pictures. But I quite like a player shouting straight into the camera, more of an arty shot.

"I get my equipment ready the night before. That includes my Cannon 1DX and my other camera, the Cannon Mk 4.

"If it's a 3pm, I get here at 1pm. I do a bit of warm-up and then we do the manager just before kick-off. We congregate outside his box.

"Then you cover the game. I can sit anywhere. But you use your common sense.

"In the first half I go by the tunnel. In the second half I go where Trinity meets the Holte End. That's where I used to sit as a kid, weirdly.

"You take your chances, sometimes. I moved for Swansea because of the sun and I managed to capture Matt Lowton scoring. That was perfect.

"But in the West Ham game I moved to get something different because all the photographers were in my usual area. Unfortunately, both celebrations - Benteke and N'Zogbia - were towards where I had moved from. I was grumpy that night!

"It's a lot different now because of the move from film to digital. Now we take a thousand pictures. Back in the day it was a hundred. I actually whittle the thousand down to a hundred, the sharp ones, the good ones."

But what of his favourite projects during his nineteen seasons covering Villa?

"I was handed the responsibility of photographing the coin toss at Wembley for the 1996 League Cup final. It was Andy Townsend and Gary McAllister.

"I looked around at one point and it just hit me: "I'm standing in the middle of Wembley Stadium.' It was sold out and a sea of people.

"I thought - Geoff Hurst ran down there, Gazza ran down there. It just felt like: 'This is more than a job'. I felt so privileged. I thought: 'This is it.'

"Darren Bent was the biggest transfer I've been involved in. Over three days I think I worked twenty-four hours solid. Bent was the biggest I have done.

"The most surprising one was Peter Schmeichel. No-one knew anything. We were called and there was Schmeichel.

Hanks

"In terms of celebrities I would say covering Tom Hanks at Portland Timbers. Everyone was excited about him was going to the game. I was sceptical. But he surprised me. He was such a nice fella.

"He got into it. He knew what to do. He asked: "Is this for moving camera or stills?" He knew the drill as you'd expect. It was really good. He was fantastic.

"And I truly think he's a Villa fan. I think he takes an interest. That was eye-opening. We had credibility.

"In terms of offbeat moments? I would say covering Villa in Steau Bucharest in 1997. I was nearly stopped from photographing the game because of soldiers with machine guns and dogs!

"Away from football, I remember a pony chasing me. It was for Real People magazine. It was a hotel for dogs.

"The owners had a pony and it just stormed at me. That was unnerving!"

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