Up for the Cup

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.

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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”.

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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?!

Here’s a look at some of our pyros up close (that’s Wales running on in the background):
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And here’s one of my choirs out in the middle, ready for action! (semi-final between New Zealand and South Africa)
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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.

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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.

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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!


About gnidrah

Television, books, music, sports, cooking. I only get paid for one of them.
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19 Responses to Up for the Cup

  1. old man fatima says:

    Did you at least make eyes at your co-volunteer?? I’m so proud of you!

    I happened to be in the same city as the rugby championships once upon a time and the entire Welsh team came into the pub I was at and lined up to hit on every woman in the bar, one at a time. Very methodical! They were looking ROUGH, and I assume they came right from the pitch based on how smelly and bandaged they were. You know how annoying it is when you are just trying to have a drink with some friends and a dude hits on you? Imagine that times about 20. It was an awful night. Just “No thanks. No thanks. No thanks. No thanks. NO THANKS. NO FUCKING THANK YOU. LEAVE US THE CHRIST ALONE PLEASE.” That’s basically my one reference point for rugby, so the sport will always be tainted in my mind and it’s all the fault of the Welsh.

    • gnidrah says:

      I’m sure you’re not the only person to say that, but I need you to google ‘Dan Biggar’ for me, and then also I need to ask you why you didn’t call me because I would have been ALL OVER THAT 😉

      I think I might have visibly swooned when he took my hand in his and told me his name. But sadly, I only saw him a couple more times after that, and “MARRY ME!” didn’t seem like the appropriate thing to yell.

    • old man fatima says:

      No! I have two reference points for rugby! I had a boss once who was a rugby coach. The office was 90% women and he was constantly accusing us of being on our periods if we said something he didn’t like, and when I told him that I didn’t think it was appropriate he said that’s how he talks to his rugby boys and if I didn’t like it I needed to man up and get the sand out of my vagina. He had a team-building event at a bar, despite the fact that we had about 15 Muslim girls working with us, and invited all of his rugby boys who aggressively hit on everyone and pushed all of the younger girls to do shot after shot after shot. One of the rugby boys came in on me while I was in the bathroom and started to get naked, but I screamed at him like a crazy person until the bouncers came. This boss, thankfully, got fired soon after.

      I want so badly to love rugby because it seems like a fun sport, but UGH literally every rugby player I have met has been such a penis.

  2. FRQ says:

    Gamesmaker, you say?

  3. hotspur says:

    I love this post. And welcome back!

    Also, since everyone is sharing their personal connection to rugby: my younger sister played rugby in college. She told me her initiation after her very first game was, at the post-game party, all the other players chanted “Shoot the boot! Shoot the boot!” and she had to pound a beer out of her game cleat. She said it was still full of mud and turf, didn’t matter.

    • gnidrah says:

      Honestly, this game has problems 😁
      I like that it has just marginally fewer than football (in all its iterations)

      • hotspur says:

        Oh, she looks back very fondly on shooting the boot, I believe. It is not chalked up as a problem. It was the glory of teamswomanship! In my dorm sophomore year, upstairs lived a couple girls from my school’s rugby team too, and they were among my favorite people. Smart and nice and, as I believe we said back then, pretty chill.

  4. martinmegz says:

    What a great experience! More than anything, I surprised by how big the rugby ball is. Seems tough to move down the field.

    • gnidrah says:

      Much much harder for any northern hemisphere team, it turned out. Perhaps they shouldn’t have used that giant one from the opening ceremony!

  5. Ahh, this so cool! I’d love to do something like this someday.

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