Postcard from the Edge of a Cup

So when Germany announced it would host the Football World Cup in 2006, I thought it would be a bit of a wheeze to be part of the fun and applied to work as a volunteer, not dreaming that I would actually make the cut. But surprise! After an exhaustive (well, 20 minutes at least) interview and training program, I was accepted.

I was envisaging my role as a aid to the English team, you know, translating when it came to critical points in the match, sorting out disputes with the referee, handing out towels in the changing room and hanging out at the bar afterwards, but unfortunately it was not to be. Due to my “experience and excellent language skills” I was assigned to the ticket office.

Being an official volunteer had several peripheral benefits. The first is a nice outfit and trainers (emblazoned with Adidas logos). The second was an invitation to the opening ceremony in Frankfurt the week before the first kick-off. The town fathers of Frankfurt spent €3 million on a 35 minute “multi-media spectacle” involving 40 high resolution projectors (of which there are only 60 in the world) – but this issue was what to project on? Well Frankfurt has a load of sky scrapers, so why not use them? Eight screens were erected on skyscraper facades and at as darkness descended at 11 p.m. the light show began. Thousands of people crammed the bridges and river banks to watch pictures of old German footballers scroll languidly across disjointed screens. Not really a worthy effort.

But the matches more than made up for the dreariness of the opening ceremony. All in all, 12 stadiums in Germany hosted 64 world-cup matches. I was assigned to the Frankfurt stadium, the closest to my sunny abode, which hosted five games, four first round and one quarter final.

For the first game (England vs Paraguay) our work call was an early 7 a.m. for a 3 p.m. kickoff. This meant getting up at 5:05 am – far too early, but I was at the stadium at 6:50 for a full tour. The preparations for the game were in full swing, but it was pleasant to watch the camera men setting up, the pitch being mowed, corner flags being scrubbed, the fresh rolls being delivered and the seats being cleaned. The serenity of the early morning arrangements contrasted in the extreme to when the fans flooded in.

Most striking in the stadium was the VIP area. The gorgeously appointed lounges, restaurant, reception and hugely padded seats contrasted nicely with the hard plastic shells and the crappy hot-dogs the plebs had to be content with. FIFA regulations even necessitated physical changes to the stadium for the most VI of the VIPs – FIFA insists that there has to be a least 4 seats “on” the center line. In Frankfurt this meant putting extra chairs in a stairway and rearranging traffic flow. Still, I am sure Prince William appreciated the extra effort.

This was not the only change to the stadium, again due to FIFA regulations, several rows of chairs had to be removed to accommodate press tables, and a prime viewing area was designated so that 10 visually impaired (blind) people could “watch” the match. All these changes played havoc with the ticketing system, as it merrily churned out tickets where the press tables now resided or merrily split handicapped people and their care-givers, placing them in different stands.

There were many other issues we had to cope with, such as the backwards way the ticket allocation worked. People who applied for the ticket lottery had the money immediately debited from their accounts – despite the fact the chances of winning tickets were pretty slim. Many people arrived claiming that the debit on their bank account statements was “proof” they had tickets. This along with the “lost”, “stolen”, “left in lost luggage”, and 101 other sob-stories of people trying to get tickets was fairly draining over the 5 hours before the match. But the ticketing team sorted out all problems, identified numerous con- artists and had several people arrested. Our work done, we then secretly crept in to the stadium with 48,000 other fans.

During the five match days it was fascinating to watch the different behavior of the fans grouped by nationalities; the English happily mobbing the ticketing center, the orderly Koreans sleeping overnight and forming a perfect queue, the Iranians with their weird music, the dancing Brazilian’s joie de vivre and the amazing costumes of all the teams, most noticeable the orange of Holland.

We were lucky enough to see to all of the Frankfurt games with excellent views of the pitch; the last day was slightly marred as England exited the tournament while we were on duty, preparing for the Brazil vs. France game. But the mood was quickly lifted as we were swept away by the tremendous atmosphere in the stadium; despite the only goal being scored was by the French.

All in all a really fun time, with great co-workers and as they say a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience, well, unless I get picked as a volunteer for the 2010 World Cup Tournament in South Africa. My application is in the post.

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