Number 1 son, ( I only have one), wanted to be out of the house by 7.30, otherwise, I'd have thrown a sickie. 2 bottles of caffeine later, I still wasn't reviving. I realised I forgot my coat and the weather was looking decidedly dark and cloudy to sit in a stand all day. Still, the journey down to Milton Keynes was a relatively smooth one, and I parked easily.
After a free hot chocolate, I bumped into a couple from BRFC, who had come on the train, with a well functioning shuttle bus, (they must have listened to my email feedback from my visit to Stadium MK). Lawrence Dallaglio was interviewing people waiting, and rugby legends started to mill around. The morning felt good and my excitement grew, even when 20 minutes late, the morning finally started.
John Inverdale, the scourge of Celtic rugby, took ages to mention Jonny, as he introduced the timetable for the day, including the new RFU President, the youngest ever, Jason Leonard. Talk about poacher turned gamekeeper. Less than 20 years ago, he tried to nick the baths out of the changing rooms in his Transit van, now he will be attending committee meetings, meeting royalty and dignitaries. He will be very good at eating and drinking though.
He was greeted with a well deserved standing ovation, and talked about the legacy, the showpiece of the sport and on how The Pack are the face of the England 2015. He's a charmer, no wonder he's been appointed.
Laura Wright, opera singer, worked with us to get us to sing Jerusalem, not difficult for most of us, but with people coming from Germany for the day to be part of it, and a big Welsh contingent from the Cardiff venue, it may have proved a challenge. There are 74 different countries represented in The Pack, such is the power of sport and global events, to engage people, The Rugby World Cup being the third biggest, but in my world the best. By splitting the 4000 there into 3, we each sang two lines, or at least tried to, its not easy for tenors, baritones, and a failed alto (me) to get anywhere near Laura's soprano voice. Me, and the rest of the Villa contingent (Ugh how that sticks in the throat as a Baggies fan), wouldn't cease from mental fight, but we all joined together to build Jerusalem. Before lunch we all sung it together, it echoed off the other 3 empty stands, and made the hairs stand on the back of my neck stand up. (RIP Andy, you were right, it should be England's anthem. The last time I sang it was at his funeral).
On a lighter note, we were lucky enough to have three legends of the game telling stories, answering questions. Maggie Alphonsi, World Cup winner, and probably the greatest ever women's player, Serge Betsen, French flanker, and Ickle Shane Williams. All good sports. The question to poor Shane was by a Sarah Williams (a relative perhaps, but in Wales, they prefer not to vary surnames too much so probably not.) She asked him, as he wasn't very big, who worried him the most. Shane said that his size was a common complaint by women, but as a small player, he was scared before every game, as players were about 4 stone heavier than him. It didn't stop him though, as rugby is a game of all sizes and as Will Greenwood noted, they couldn't find the little bugger in the 2003 quarter final.
Will Greenwood was probably the highlight of the morning. For non rugby readers, Will is lanky, thin and blond. An excellent motivational speaker, he must charge a fortune on the after dinner circuit. He reminded us all that as a team, England 2003 really were World beaters, but nearly cocked up against Wales, and an inspired Shane Williams. As he left the pitch at half time, 4 lads from Ponty called out to him, 'Oy Rodney Trotter, you are F-----ing Useless'. Had the last laugh though.......
He talked about the time with the Marines, who talk about the strength of the wolf is the pack and the strength of the pack is the wolf. The team work better as one, and is only as strong as the weakest. Need to keep changing and adapting to stay in front. A lesson for all of us to work hard as The Pack, the face of the event.
The afternoon was a bit of an anticlimax. It started about 20 minutes late, we spent the afternoon singing and dancing to a made up song about being part of The Pack, bit of fun perhaps, but as it was being filmed for the website, I hope I wasn't on there. (I have to find a new job later in the year - will this be career limiting?)
The directors spoke about the role of The Pack, the recruitment, the vision and all that corporate stuff,we've all been through to please our companies, whilst secretly wanting to hear more juicy stories, in this case rugby ones, like Will Greenwood calculating that Mike Tindall was a light airplane crash away from being King before Charlotte was born, now he's an A380 away.
Bill Beaumont came to speak. Top guy, respected and liked by all nations, well received by the crowd, but his knees are shot. He could hardly walk, and stumbled along like an old man. (He's probably 62-3?) I bet he'd still play the game again if he had his time over. Sport gets you like that. I felt it today. The camaraderie, the desire to sing better than the other choirs, wanting to be part of something bigger, being a success. Winning.
We were shown our uniform. Phew, thank goodness, it was pretty ordinary. The jacket was Royal Blue with Black trim, and pockets, black trousers, and blue trainers. It was just the hat. It was yellow with the pink, blue and green trim. Don't think I'll be wearing the hat. I'm sure that I will be inside (I hope so), carrying boxes, so it will be no use there (I hope). There was also a film with Jonny in. It broke down. Bit like his career really. Blighted by injury.
All in all, it was a professional set up and presentation. We will be unpaid. Free lunches, uniform, sticker book and being part of a global event, our reward. But a cautionary note about our sport. I was talking to a guy at lunch about his son who played for a Level 5 team. For winning their county cup, he got a £500 bonus. I played hockey at Level 5 for love and paid subs for the privilege, most sports clubs at that level survive on local sponsors and goodwill of the likes of the Pack. At some point I wonder if volunteers will start to say we are working hard doing this to give people sport and they expect payment? Not anymore.
The day finished with Laura Wright singing Jerusalem, so we go out on a high with such a rousing tune. In the words on Ed Sheeran, I'll love rugby 'til I'm 70.
PS and probably beyond.