A sports photographer for over 40 years, Dave Rogers is one of the best known snappers in rugby. Here he talks about his career in the industry

The Forward Pass Podcast – Dave Rogers

Welcome to The Forward Pass, a series of conversations with leading rugby union journalists, broadcasters, presenters and photographers who will offer the next generation of media professionals – and fans – an insight into how they cover the sport.

The latest industry veteran to join host Graham Jenkins to reflect on his career covering the sport and what he has learnt during his 41 years behind a lens is Getty Images’ sports photographer Dave Rogers.

Read extracts from the podcast and listen to the complete conversation below.

When did you first pick up a camera?

“A long, long time ago now, probably about 50 years ago. I’d just left school and went along to my local horse racing and fancied having a go…but I got interested in it when I used to go to Molineaux to watch my football team Wolves play. I remember thinking I wouldn’t mind doing that.

“I went for a couple of interviews with my careers adviser and he said ‘don’t bother you’ll never get into it’ and told me to just train as an accountant or something which I did for a week but I hated it. I just couldn’t work in an office and after a week I left and started at college the following Monday which was amazing.

Most journalists will remember the day they first saw their name in print, but do you remember the first picture of yours featured prominently in a paper?

“The first sporting picture I got used was from the 1975 League Cup Final and it was Aston Villa versus Norwich City. It was one of the first jobs I ever did and my first trip to Wembley Stadium so I was very nervous. I couldn’t drive so my Dad took me down there. It all started there as I managed to get a picture in the local paper.”

Ron Saunders

Starting out: Rogers first assignment was at the 1975 League Cup final between Aston Villa and Norwich City

Who were there key figures who shaped you and your approach in the early days?

“My main interest in those days was football and I can remember doing the 1978 World Cup qualifying match at Liverpool – it was Wales v Scotland. It was quite a controversial one and I was sat next to a guy called Colin Elsey from Colorsport – he was the top man and I was in total awe of him. He was a big rugby man as well and over the years I got to know him really well. It’s quite funny, at the start you’re scared of these people but you get to know them and they become big mates.”

Where did your passion for photography and rugby union first meet?

“I didn’t do much rugby at first, I just did local rugby at Sutton Coldfield for the local paper but in 1978 I was offered a job in Northamptonshire with a guy called Bob Thomas who’d started up his own agency. He asked me if I could join him – I was his first employee – and after a couple of years he said I’m going to send you on the Lions tour to South Africa in 1980.

Dave Rogers

First rugby gig: Rogers went on the 1980 Lions tour to South Africa

“I was amazed as I hadn’t done much rugby, I’d only done a couple of internationals, but I loved it. I was away for nearly three months and if I remember right they played 19 games which is quite a long tour in this day and age where England have just come back from Australia where they played just three games.”

Did you ever consider working in hard news like front line war reporting?

“Definitely not, I’m a born coward! I’ve never even played rugby in my life – I’m too scared to do that! I know my place in life and it is behind the camera at a nice safe event.

“It doesn’t mean we haven’t seen a few bad things to see. I was unfortunate to have been at the Heysel Stadium disaster in Belgium. When you go to somewhere to do a football match and you end up covering a big news event with people dying in front of you it is a real shock. It took me a few months to get over that and I’m not really over that now.”

Is there immense pressure to capture THE moment in a game?

“Yes, very much so. I think if you lose that, the pressure of the atmosphere, you lose one of the reasons you want to do the job. It sounds corny, but it is as near to playing the game as you can get without actually playing the game. You get the adrenalin rush and you are as close to the action as the players are.”

John Bentley

Picture perfect: John Bentley embodied the Lions’ inclusive ethos for Rogers

Which shot are you most proud of from your personal portfolio?

“Probably the Jonny Wilkinson drop goal to win the World Cup in 2003. It’s one of those lucky ones that we spoke about before because as you know he kicked the winning kick with his right leg which was unusual for Jonny as he normally kicks left-footed.

“If he had kicked the other way then all we would have got would have been a picture of his backside and his leg going the other way. But thank heavens he kicked this way and we see a gap, as there was a little opening in the crowd, the group of players in front of us and we could just see through the gap and Jonny winning the match with his drop goal.”

When you find yourself in the changing rooms after a World Cup Final, do you find yourself pinching yourself when it comes to the access and insight you get

“It certainly does because it is a very fortunate position to be in. It is a very privileged position to be in and I realise how lucky I am. You do see things you obviously can’t report or take photos of and that is all about trust. If you can keep the trust between you and the people you are working with, whichever team it is, then you will have that forever.However if you renege on that deal that you have got then you have lost it forever. There is no comeback after that. I am a big believer in showing respect to them and I do appreciate what they do for me in return.”

Sir Clive Woodward

Inside access: Rogers was in the thick of the action after the Rugby World Cup final in 2003

You almost have a friendship with some of these people rather than a working relationship?

“I like to think so but you have got to keep it professional too because sometimes you have to take pictures that you don’t like. I am big friends with Jonny Wilkinson and his family are lovely people. In fact, I’ve have had to take many pictures of Jonny that I didn’t like to take, pictures of him injured here and there. You do feel guilty when he’s being carried off and you’re taking photographs of him in such pain but you have a job to do. It’s not a matter of keeping your distance as such as they know you don’t want to do it but you have to.”

I doubt anyone else has had a better view of how the game has developed over the last 30 or 40 years – do you think the game is in good shape today?

“Yes, definitely. But if you look at the old days, there were some great things like the access to teams and players. You got to know them a lot better than you do now, there were a lot more characters, people like Jason Leonard. They weren’t professional as they had other jobs. They had another life outside rugby. The current generation have come straight from school, college or other rugby clubs, straight through the system. They’re a different kind of person. It’s a different kind of game these days.”

Nelson Mandela

Iconic moment: Rogers pictures Nelson Mandela handing the Rugby World Cup to Francois Pienaar in 1995

Dave Rogers top tips for a career in sports photography:

Persevere – “You will get loads of people who will say you can’t do it but when someone says you can’t then have another go.”

Embrace the pressure – “I think if you lose that, the pressure of the atmosphere, you lose one of the reasons you want to do the job.”

Follow the silverware – “What I have found over the years is that it is best to stick with the trophy as everyone wants to see a winner with the trophy and not just somebody celebrating because they could be anywhere.”

Accept luck plays a part – “It does, fortunately or unfortunately, which ever way you want to look at it. You can be sitting at one end and there are four tries down the other end.”

Don’t betray the trust – “If you can keep the trust between you and the people you are working with, whichever team it is, then you will have that forever but if you renege on that deal then you have lost it forever too.”

Social shortcomings – “If you want to be out with your mates every Saturday night then don’t be a sports photographer as you will not get that chance!”