Hi everyone! Remember me!? I used to post round here a bit! And make semi-witty comments and run sweepstakes about sports competitions nobody really cared about. Then I got a liiiiiittle bit busy but the good news is I am less busy now.
The bad news is, I am SAD. Sad, because the thing that took over my life for the last seven weeks is over. That thing was the Rugby World Cup, and I was a lucky member of The Pack – a 6,000-strong squad of volunteers who, if I say so myself, made that thing happen.
Background: this is the eighth ever RWC, and was held in England and Cardiff from 18th September until 31st October. I was based at Twickenham aka HQ, aka the Home of England Rugby (more on that shower later), and I had a shiny pass that gave me access to the dressing rooms and to the PITCH. Ha! I’m still not 100% convinced I should have been given this, but I kept quiet about it, just in case anyone tried to take it away.
I’ve done a bit of volunteering in the past, locally – for example, at summer school. I was also all set to volunteer at the Athens Olympics in 2004, but work commitments meant I couldn’t take up the position. So London 2012 was sort of a redemption for me. 250,000 interviewed, and 70,000 of us were chosen to be what they called Games Makers. I encountered a LOT of cynicism, people saying we couldn’t pull it off and people saying no one British would be prepared to help others.
Hopefully that photo proves they were wrong (that’s me, by the way, sorry if I scared anyone). I think the nation was genuinely surprised and touched by what we achieved; I know I was stopped in the street so many times when I was in my uniform, by people just wanting to say “thank you”.
So here’s where we kick things off. This is the opening ceremony, and as you can see, I am quite close to the action. This is going to be a key feature of this world cup 🙂 🙂 I was one of a very small team of (incredibly lucky) volunteers assigned to work with the company that produces basically everything that happens on the pitch that isn’t the rugby itself – so, mascots, national anthem choirs, military to carry the country flags, pyrotechnics, fireworks, announcers. Phew! Quite a lot to cover there! Pretty soon I found myself assigned to the choirs though. It turned out I had a knack for marshalling over 50 singers on and off the pitch… who knew?!
Choirs were tough to manage at the beginning of the day – artistes, you know – but by the end of the day, were having such fun and I got invited to join half of them! The nicest compliment I got was from one member who said, “we deal with a lot of people in your role, but you made it the best experience for us”. I’m not sure I can go back to the pool match where the whole choir turned up in the wrong clothes and I had 30 minutes to buy every item of black clothing I could find in the area. *That* was stressful…
One thing that people ask a lot is, don’t you miss getting to watch the sport? Well, yes, I did, but I knew when I signed up that that would be part of the deal. To be honest, I was incredibly lucky that my posting was inside the stadium and allowed me as much watching as it did! Whilst my match days mostly ran from 10am till whenever we finished (8-9pm usually, and if you imagine I had time for lunch… nope! Lost A LOT of weight doing this tournament, and our pedometers frequently had over 40,000 steps per day!) sometimes we were given a ticket for part of the match, so I got to sit up in the broadcast gantry and watch England lose, over and over again.
Yep, the hosts conspired to dump themselves out of the tournament very early on, the first hosts ever to do so. My second team, France, made it to the quarter-finals, where they were on the receiving end of a rather serious drubbing by the eventual winners, New Zealand. Ah, mentioning France reminds me of one of my favourite tasks of the whole event: whilst readying the children chosen as mascots to lead out the teams for France v Italy, I was asked if I would mind going and standing outside the teams’ dressing rooms, “just to make sure the players had all got back in safely”. MY. PLEASURE.
I should also say that I fell head-over-heels in love with one of my fellow volunteers, but never had the courage to do anything about it, but anyone who knows my ex story knows we can call the very fact of falling a positive step.
As mentioned, New Zealand’s All Blacks went on to win the tournament. No surprise there, really, as they are the strongest team in the world right now. You might know that they issue what we called a ‘cultural challenge’ – better known as The Haka (& if you pause about two seconds into that link you can actually see me leading the choir off the field) – so witnessing that in the flesh several times was another highlight.
For the final itself, some clever clogs thought they would invite a choir with 100 members, all of them under 16, so I really really worked hard that day! I wanted to make it really fun for them, as it would surely be a day they would remember all their lives. Then their teacher yelled at them, “you’re singing like muppets!” (NOT a compliment) so that went down the pan pretty quickly. No, I think they did enjoy themselves really. And once they had finished, and were on the bus home, I was so thrilled to be able to watch the second half of the World Cup final, including the fireworks and the cup presentation by Prince Harry.
Here we are, throwing ourselves under the team bus trying to stop them from leaving. That night we finally let our hair down and were able to celebrate, and yep, jagerbombs are still bad news. Don’t drink them kids, however cool you think you will look, you will fall over. An Australian fan tried to flirt with me by standing next to me and staring at me but not saying anything, so that was great, thanks Australian fan man.
Final fireworks, produced by my team:
So now it’s all over. After lying in the foetal position weeping for a couple of days, I finally took my uniform off and stopped sleeping with my security accreditation under my pillow.
I’ve made firm friends, and once again, I have the immense pleasure of knowing that my hard work allowed people to have a great time. I’m not trying to suggest that this makes me a good person – far from it. But I loved it! I need to find my next challenge… and I’m waiting to hear back as to whether or not I have a place in the Rio Olympics volunteer programme! There’s also smaller stuff too, but to anyone who’s asked me over the past few weeks, “but how do I get to do something like that?”, my advice is this: GET OUT THERE!