Saturday, June 10, 2006

By the dawn's early light...

The call from the desk came at 0400 hours. Blearly eyed and tired, we awoke to do the few remaining tasks at hand prior to taking our leave of Munich and beginning our journey to Cologne.

With 14 pieces of luggage, cameras and computers shipped ahead by van, we packed our one remaining suitcase and wrapped up the laptops prior to being wisked off to the airport and our departure from Munich on Lufthansa.

At 0600 hours, we were already at the airport and greeted by VIP services, who make traveling a joy rather than the horrible task it has become. They greet you with a smile and then direct you to a special door where the security check is almost pleasant. Yes, the two laptops had to go through the xray machine separately, but in all other respects it resembled a very civilized and courteous process making it all the more tolerable.

We still had an hour to departure, so we walked the few meters to the VIP lounge, which offered a combination of real bread pretzels, freshly brewed coffees and cheeses wrapped as little soccer balls. The big flat screen TV's were showing footage of the fans in the streets of Munich getting ready for the kick off of the Opening Match which was only 12 hours away.

Boarding time was approaching and shortly after returning with the boarding passes and luggage claim check, the agent took us to a waiting Mercedes which drove under the extended airbridge fingers and finally stopped beneath the nose of our jet bound for Cologne. We walked up the metal stairs and quietly made our way to our seats and tucked the laptops under chair in front of us.

It seemed like only a moment and we were coming in for a landing in Cologne. Mary Lynn had for the first time in a week gotten ahold of the Financial Times, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal and found a world of perspectives somehow lost while we sojourned in Munich for a week. She read to me the highlights of the perceptions of our deliberations and meetings but more importantly took note of the crescendo of commentary on the events ahead, the real football and the battles to be won and lost, putting into focus the real meaning of our tasks and responsibilities.

Immediately upon arrival in Cologne, we were met with a placarded escort who welcomed and then ushered us to our car where we met Holger, an intelligent good looking young man whose English was quite good and would be our driver during our time in this assignment.

Once at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, we were advised that the morning briefing meeting was already in session and that if I could deposit my belongings in my room quickly, Hugo Salcedo, the Venue Coordinator, would like to introduce me to the FIFA staff on site. Dropping off the few of my personal things, I rushed down to the first floor offices and joined the meeting in progress. Pictured here are Hugo together with two of the ten people who were introduced to me each with their respective disciplines and responsibilities. I am a lucky man. I have a great team to work with.

By the time I got back to the room, my friend of more than a quarter century, George Tarantini, arrived at the hotel. He had just landed originating in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he coaches the soccer team at North Carolina State University. In reality George does much more than coach soccer. He is truly a key element of the University process. I know George is an important part of the development of the men in his charge both as better students and better people. I am proud of George and it was a great pleasure for me to have him join us here in Cologne expose him to some of the flavor of this World Cup first hand.

Following a brief nap, interrupted by the stacatto of calls by people whose tickets for games in nearby venues I had brought with me from Munich, we got ready to head over to the Volunteers' Lounge, located just outsider of the gates to the stadium. They invited us to join them watching the opening game where they would as a group enjoy the first rush of this World Cup. I was very happy to be invited by them to share in the common experience and was advised by my colleague Hugo, that in appreciation we were providing the beer and pizza.

The pleasure of offering a few words to the volunteers was mine as I had the opportunity of encouraging them to enjoy and cherish the great experience they were about to have. These kids are true champions of events such as the World Cup, the Olympics and every major endeavor that breathes life through the dedication of volunteers. I couldn't have thought of a better way to begin the World Cup than by thanking this representative group of young people who will do so much to make the event a great success.

Although we were hundreds of miles west of Munich, this great group of young people came to their feet at the playing of the national anthems and the anticipation of the referees opening whistle rapidly turned to the real thing as the game began.

The kids were ready for this. Not only were they among their friends, but helpful hands painted war paint on their smiling cheeks in anticipation of a big day for the home team.

They were soon rewarded as Germany tallied the first strike and went onto the scoreboard. Germany's first goal was a great opener. Football historians, looking back at this World Cup will remember the opening goal as one of the prettiest hits one could hope to see. While surpressing the quiet hope that one of my regional teams would succeed I knew that Germany's Philipp Lahm had gained my respect and fans around the world.

We sat back and watched two more goal tip the seesaw before 17 minutes were concluded and then sat back to watch the confrontation continue. Happily, I was just one of a group of kids again watching match that meant a lot to all of those around me.

With a final expression of joy, the Volunteers exclaimed their pleasure with the opening match just one more time as they could sense that this was about to become the experience of their life. I wish them well in the knowledge that this is a very special opportunity and they will make the most of it.

The day was far from over, but like many of you, I returned to the hotel and watched the match of Poland vs Ecuador from the bar in our hotel. Ecuador showed us plenty and after the 2-0 win, we made it back to our suite to check emails and to see the sun set behind the magnificent cathedral of Cologne.

Cologne is a wonderful city with a great stadium. Tomorrow we will meet with the delegations of Portugal and Angola for our first pre-game meeting in this venue. There are many more great games coming. I hope you have fun too.

1 comment:

phil said...

Your descriptions make me feel like i'm there as your guest. Thank you.