Cesar Azpilicueta and Romelu Lukaku.

'I checked for blood at half-time!'

Manchester United’s crunch Premier League match against Chelsea last Sunday was critical, not only to the top-four hopes of both clubs but also to the health and physical wellbeing of longstanding club photographer John Peters.

John achieved some long-overdue fame in the 38th minute of the game when – with the Reds leading 1-0, thanks to Juan Mata’s opening goal – Romelu Lukaku cranked up the power to ease Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta off the ball, knocking him off the pitch and hurtling in the direction of John and his cherished equipment.

The Blues’ captain tried all he could to stop his momentum, but the sloping pitch sent him spiralling into John, who had no choice but to take evasive action.

“I was a bit sore yesterday, I have to tell you!” John told us the following day. “I was a bit bruised! I’ve got the video on my phone – someone sent it me – and I think I was a bit lucky really. He’s a stocky lad, but if it had been someone bigger I could have been dead!

“You can see on the last two frames I took before he hit me,”
he continued.
“They’re not the best, but I got the last two frames and then just put my camera down and thought: ‘Oh, s**t!’ 
 
“You could see he was a lot more concerned for me than himself. I mean, he’s a bloody professional footballer! But he was fine, too. It all happened very quickly. Obviously the game was still going on, so he just apologised and I told him: ‘Don’t worry, mate, no problem.’ I just sat there a little bit dazed with only one lens, because the other one was in pieces!”

It’s the first time that Peters has collided with a player since his early days in football photography, when he was working for the News of the World as a teenager, covering Stoke City.

“Usually, you [can] read it and you have time to get out of the way, but that happened with such force, and so quickly. But it wasn’t a foul; it was just a strong challenge which propelled him in my direction. It is hard for the players to stop [with the slope at Old Trafford].

“The crowd, the fans, behind [me] were lovely. They were all asking if I was okay, because I usually sit there, around that area, so I know them to speak to.

“Once it happened, I quickly got about 15 text messages, emails from as far away as America and Barbados – from people I know that were over on holiday watching it – and about four or five WhatsApps from the family. Some people I’ve not heard from for a while, actually, too which was quite nice. Peter Schmeichel was one of them! Gary Neville mentioned me [on TV], which was nice.”

Cesar Azpilicueta and Romelu Lukaku.
Seconds before the collision, John takes a final snap as Azpilicueta lurches towards him.

A bigger concern was John’s equipment, and a recent knee operation, which kept him out of action for a period earlier in the season.

“I had a new knee in December,” he explains. “That was my first thought when he was coming towards me. I had a big bruise on my right thigh, so that was a bit sore. I just checked at half-time to make sure there was no blood involved!”

Thankfully, John is bearing up well, and is hopeful he can pass a late fitness test for United’s penultimate game of the season away to Huddersfield Town on Sunday (kick-off 14:00 BST).

“Twenty-six years I’ve been here, and that’s the first time that’s happened to me while working here [at OId Trafford]. I’m okay, just a bit bruised and a bit stiff!”

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