Thursday, June 7, 2007

Champions League

My son Ben and I were in Athens for the soccer. It was the Champions League final, and there is nothing like a world class sporting event to get the juices flowing. We were hosted by Nick Drake, who heads up Adidas Rugby, and caught up with a lot of old friends from around Europe, including the indomitable Andrea Formica, Head of Marketing at Toyota Europe, a staunch Milan fan. Was Ben happy or what! The game was a superb chess match with the result going down to the wire. If Benitez had brought on Crouch immediately after half-time, and moved Gerrard into central mid-field, who knows what might have happened. It was also great to see Paolo Maldini, who will be 39-years old this month, still standing. Maldini collected the cup as his father had several years before. His young son looks like he can play too.

The Olympic Stadium in Athens is a terrific venue for a big game, although the police had their hands full when 15,000 Liverpool fans turned up without tickets. The authorities had mistakenly let many fans with forged tickets onto the ground, creating some unrest (to say the least) amongst those who had real tickets and were denied entry. Liverpool received only 17,000 tickets for the game with 30,000+ going to neutrals/corporates. This is completely unsatisfactory. The sport urgently needs to find a way to balance commercial realities with the passions of grassroot fans.

Ben and I finally made it to bed at 3:00am and had to get up at 6:00am for an EasyJet flight home to London. We arrived at the airport only to be shepherded into a “holding pen”. I now know how New Zealand sheep feel before slaughter. On top of that, there were 4,000 red-shirted Liverpool fans, many of whom had slept at the airport all night, surrounding us as we struggled to get on the charter flight. No food, no refreshments, no toilets and a reminder of how the real world operates. Two hours later we finally made it to the plane only to find no crew - their bus hadn’t picked them up! So we lost our spot with air traffic control. Then it was revealed that we had seven people on board with no boarding passes and bound for Liverpool, Dublin and Glasgow. This was not so flash because the plane was heading for London Gatwick! When we finally relocated the magnificent seven, we were two and a half hours late and had been up for five hours. As we finally took off for our four hour flight, we were then told the plane had no food on board. But such is our love of sport – it was worth every second.