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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Apeman - The Kinks

Pictures to follow once the embargo is lifted.
Today's blog is a tired blog. On the 40 minutes home on the train tonight, I fought sleep, reading Ray Davies autobiography "Americana" (he's one the the two Davies brothers in The Kinks.) Whilst it is hard manual work, it is great fun. The stadium has changed so much today. It no longer looks like a football stadium - 28 arrests last night and one trashed pub, it is slowly changing into a football stadium. Ironically the World Cup colours look so good against the Claret and Blue of the Villa, enhancing the look of the stadium. We have delivered furniture and equipment to the Press Room, Photographers' Rom, Technology Room, Changing Rooms, Medical Rooms, and Match Manager.
We've hunted down clocks, padlocks, batteries, crowd control barriers, whiteboards to name but a few. The contents of the room are dictated by Room Data Sheets which relate to the different rooms. 4 of the support rooms are in a row. 4 times I carried over a table, and 3 times I came back again with it as no one wanted it and we couldn't track it down. In total today, I have walked over 22 and a half thousand steps today or over 9 and a half miles - in safety boots. Most of the steps have been accompanied with some sort of equipment or other.

There's been some really strange jobs today. Apart from bumping in, we've made whiteboard stands, shelf units. changed batteries in lockers, torches and clocks, and made cardboard lids for re-cycling containers. I've watched the technology guys set up the music systems for the day, taken delivery of paper flags for the neutrals to wave, watched the Media Manager try to prepare for the request to have a media or TV report from the pitch before the posts go up and the pitch marked. I met the Brand Managers IMG and asked them what they did. They look after the interests of the brand that sponsor the World Cup, (Coca Cola, Heineken etc.) This may involve the hospitality boxes, or it may be to protect the brand against Guerrilla Marketing. This is when similar brands, such as Pepsi Cola giving away free samples near the ground. Part of the contract guarantees that there is an exclusive zone around the ground where only the sponsor brands can be involved. There have been incidences where burger vans can get in trouble and be asked to leave.

Sadly the food remains grim. Pig on stale white bread today. My digestive system is crying out for vegetables. The good news is that we have loads of liquid to drink now - mostly Coca Cola products, so I am wired with so much caffeine.

Tomorrow we prepare for the Captains' Run on Friday. I wish I could show you the pictures to see how the stadium is changing, almost on an hourly basis as the RWC branding is applied to cover up Villa's history, sponsors etc.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

C'est La Vie - Stereophonics

I bought a step counter as I know I need to exercise more. On day one, of being a volunteer, I managed 17,500 steps or 8.5 miles, today, only 17,000!! Most of the time, I was carrying weight, so that's got to be worth a Snickers Duo? Two days in, 4 sandwiches and I have a craving for vegetables.

A smooth journey into work again this morning, and I am beginning to get my bearings in the shopping mall that is kidding people is a brand new station. The platforms are still dark and dingy, and the layout disorientating.

I got to the Villa ground in good time, and the day's vehicles were already there. as soon as our supervisor was in, we started unloading. One guy, who disappeared due to work issues yesterday came in today with his phone welded to his ear. He took responsibility for check the contents of the vehicles, whilst the rest of us lifted and shifted... In between times he took more calls, or pretended to. he also supervised a lorry of branding that was nothing to do with us. The fork truck driver had 9 years experience of unloading and counting, but this guy obviously knew more.

His lack of the 'piano shifting' was winning others up as well. If he wanted to be part of the team, then he needed to graft, not play at it, which he continued to do all morning. It's funny, we'd only been there for a day, but we'd started to work each other out and pull together, and the new guy has to break in. The supervisor commented how easy it was to work with volunteers. We all wanted to be there, we wanted to do our bit for the 'team' and task. He said at the Olympi
cs, the people he worked with just wanted to be sacked so that they could claim dole again. Sadly from past lives I recognised that. (No political discussion to follow, I promise).

It was one guy's birthday, and we had pop (well Asti) crisps, sausage rolls and chocolate cake with candles that he had to blow out.

For all the training that we'd done, to make this team, the ice breakers, the games at Milton Keynes on the first day, the thing that really worked was a focus, an end game, getting the Villa ground game ready.

The hardest task today, was finding our lunch, It took an hour and half to find it. A search party went into the ground into our rooms to find it. Not there. Not in the kitchen, or in with the IT or Accreditation team. As a last ditch hope, someone opened the fridge door........

We knew that we would finish early today because of the football game in the evening. 450 stewards to stop half of Birmingham killing the other half. We had to hide anything that was worth nicking, water and pop, tools, freebies etc. When we left, the Police Incident van was pulling onto site. watching the game tonight, with a Villa win, I wonder what we will face in the morning?

You really got me - The Kinks

I had a relaxing train journey in yesterday, as getting to Birmingham to start work at Aston Villa for the World Cup for the World Cup for 9am would have meant me being in huge queues of traffic, which would have stressed me through the roof. I read a newspaper, a book, and arrived relaxed for the challenge ahead.

The morning was all administration - how to pick up a box, report an accident, read a data sheet, bump into a space using a space code (put furniture into a room with a room number) and plan to bump out again.

We had a tour of Aston Villa (soon to be known as Aston Nilla) starting with a Health and Safety talk in the Police Station. There were two cells, home and away,  and  monitors for the police to watch for those who cannot watch a game without starting a fight. We were also warned not to take any photos of Villa's internal rooms and post on social media, otherwise, we would be thrown off site, therefore, my photos are somewhat limited.
The ground, being an old one, had many tunnels, back routes, stairs that you can easily get lost in, but providing we find the right space code away we go.

The e-mail promised a bottle of water, which still hadn't come when morning break came at 11am. Tea of Coffee? When you don't like either, it might as well have been cyanide or arsenic). The first vehicle arrived as we were ready for lunch, but we quickly got into work mode, and unloaded it in the rain. The contents were tables, chairs, safety boots, hi-vis jackets, but no water.

Lunch was a cheese sandwich with crisps and a Snickers Duo. With no water it was like eating rubber bands and sandpaper. We called Aston Villa, the RWC staff, did a rain dance, but still no water.

Our afternoon was spent unloading another lorry and a van, and breaking down pallets to put everything into a container. This wouldn't have been necessary, only Villa play the Bluenoses on Tuesday. Police Leave cancelled the ground was in lock down, with security on every door. WE counter stuff off and we counted it into the container. The we started to furnish the rooms that we could. "Where's the Clocks?" came the question, "Back of the container on the left," came the reply. "Where's the flip charts?" came the question, "Back of the container on the left,"came the reply. Mmmm. Think we should have planned that one a little more. Luckily we still have three days to get everything ready for the Captain's Run on Friday.

We were told that we would finish at 5pm, but we all had thrown ourselves into it and smashed it by 4pm, including getting rid of the stretch wrap and cardboard, which allowed me to leave early.

I was glad I did, as I then remembered why I gave up travelling on trains. Because by mid-afternoon, they all go badly wrong. The first call was 'the 16.30 to Edinburgh (calling at Derby) is delayed by 45 minutes, as there is a trespasser on the line. Second call: "the 16.49 to Nottingham, calling at Derby disappeared off the board. This train had broken down. Miraculously, they'd found a 5 carriage instead of a 2 carriage train. and it pulled onto the platform. Everyone assumed that this one was the 17.03 to Edinburgh (calling at Derby). I eventually get onto the train with the 100s of others. Three train loads of people onto one train. I was lucky, I had a seat on the luggage rack, most stood. I got back into Burton 10 minutes late, flustered as I was worried that I'd miss the second event of my day: The Official RWC welcome to the Ireland Team.

I had to get changed in my car. That was really difficult, as people kept walking past my car. Still eventually I did it, and walked back to Burton Town Hall, found a seat as close as possible to the team, and then looked down. I only had one sock on!!

It started over 30 minutes late, mainly because the Irish team spent time signing autographs, having selfies with everyone outside. When they entered, there was a rousing welcome that took them by surprise. Things like this don't happen in Burton, and when they do, the locals respond. 400 clapped and cheered the team in. Devon Toner, 6' 10" tall, didn't only have to duck to get through the door, but also duck to get under the balcony on the way in. A school in Coventry started the event off with their version of 'A World In Union' and it was a damn site better than the murdering of the song by Paloma Faith which starts the ITV coverage. The children couldn't wipe the smile off their faces.

From there a couple of speeches by the alikadoos, and eventually the bit everyone was waiting for started. Led by Paul O Connell, the team came on stage one by one to receive their participation medal and caps. At this stage, their 'honours' were read out. Many of these players had played on Lions tours and I had cheered for them, including, delivering my pipe dream, a Lions tour victory.

Paul O Connell gave a speech, which showed the aura of the man; he has a presence that is difficult to  explain. You look up to him, follow him, a gentle giant who grows in stature on the pitch. He was surprised at the level of support in the crowd outside. Perhaps he needed a quiet word. The Midlands, including Burton is full of a diaspora of second, and now third generation Irish who came over in the 50s and 60s to work in the manufacturing, in Burton's case the breweries and Pirelli in particular.

The Mayor of Burton spoke about the origins of Burton, when an Irish nun St Modena turned water into Pale Ale bitter - I think that was her miracle, but up until the mid 2000s was the mainstay of the local economy, sadly replaced by low skilled warehouse jobs that blight the Midlands. He presented Paul with an engraved tankard and a bottle of stout. I was disappointed at the choice of beer. The Irish are bloody good at stout you know. Burton is brilliant at pale ale - its in the water don't you know, St Modwena lived to 125 so it must have been good! and we should have let the boys try that.

A friend's daughter sang to finish the evening off. A Wonderwall sandwich (I didn't know the song in the middle) that reminded me of the Lions tour.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sweet Caroline - Neil Diamond

I managed to con some work mates to come with me down to the Fan Zone. What goes on around sporting events is important, how the area embraces the sport and what it makes of it. Birmingham is a Football town, with the Seals and Bluenoses dividing the city, unlike Leicester where both sports are equally as important, although rugby has enjoyed more success. Rugby does the stuff around a game very well, making a game an occasion.

The first time I saw a Fan Zone was at the France World Cup in 2007, on that fateful day when England didn’t come second – a wonderful birthday present. 36-0 and the alcohol in Stade de France was non-existent. Euro-fizz without taste, colour or alcohol. 3 pricey pints of it I drank as well. The Fan Zone alongside was fantastic though. Stade de France is in a very poor part of Paris, Sant Denis, reminding me of Wembley, a deprived area with an opulent sports arena. The area has a high Moroccan population, who probably have never seen a rugby ball before, and they run the local bars, and cafes. Many sporting events are sponsored by multi-national alcohol companies, for rugby, Heineken and Guinness, who often have an exclusion zone around the stadia. What France did was clever though. They worked with the local bars and cafes, and got them to have stalls within the Fan Zone as well as their bars and cafes, providing they sold Heineken and Guinness, at the approved prices. They made money form the event, rather than their bars lose out and they could sell food, which was quality ethnic food rather than the standard burgers and hotdogs that pass for edible at too many sporting events these days. French rugby is associated with Jazz Bands, and they had hired one to build the atmosphere. The opposition, South Africa contributed some Zulu dancers and there was a brilliant party atmosphere. My lasting memory, however, was the ragamuffin young boy, probably about 8, holding hands with his Arabic dad, wandering around soaking up the experience, with a huge smile on his face as he took it all in. His first experience of a World event, and the Fan Zone allowed him to take part, where there is no way he would have been able to take part otherwise.

In New Zealand, my first Fan Zone was a much sadder affair. A frosty foggy afternoon in Christchurch, 6 months after the devastating earthquake that took the World Cup away from them. Christchurch, the ’English City’ in the South, with its Cathedral in rubble, the city centre closed or operating out of converted shipping containers, and New Zealand’s spiritual home for rugby. All taken away from them. In true Immigrant ‘Can Do’ style though, the fan zone was open, with bars, food, exhibitions of cultural life and more importantly, their plans for re-building the city. It was a much more down beat experience, but it will rebuild itself.

So the next World Cup has arrived, and the earliest opportunity, we went down to the Fan Zone in Eastside Park. This is the regeneration project for Birmingham of this decade, the plans starting in my previous role, it has been interesting to see it unfold before me. I had been looking forward to this and the BIG kick off all week, how would Birmingham do it, what would it offer? The vision for the legacy of this World Cup is more people involved in the sport, whether than be playing, watching or volunteering at the local club. We had 1quite a walk to the Zone, but it was well laid out. There weren’t a lot of people there, mostly teachers and coaches to let the local school children try out the game in Tag form,  or to take the skills challenges – passing the ball through the holes etc. Pictures on TV will show Birmingham has a young and vibrant city and the setting certainly gave that feel, with modern buildings surrounding the park.  Unfortunately they were showing the England Scotland game from the last World Cup, in Auckland, where it was hard to believe just how bad England actually were, but still not quite as bad as Scotland, although it was close!

Food was a little limited, and slow service, but having said that, it was cooked to order. Fish, Chips and mushy peas (no faggots!) in the fresh air can’t be beaten, but a little disappointing that the variety of food was a little limited. The bar was empty, but the call to go back to work was stronger (really?!?) But it did give a great sense of expectation for later.

The toss up was whether to watch the game after work there or go home to watch it. The weather forecast tipped it towards my comfy sofa, although I intend to re-visit the Fan Zone before it closes. 

The excitement of watching the opening ceremony was tempered by the fact that we could see and hear the crowd in the background having a whale of a time signing Sweet Caroline, and we had to listen to John Inverdale, with his love in with Jonny and Sir Clive Woodward. I would think most of the global audience would have rather watched the build up in the stadium, rather than be reminded about 2003.

Fiji scored a stunning try, which was given, only to be pulled back before the conversion was taken for it to be checked. It was quite rightly cancelled out, but the so called experts protested that the try should have stood, and the referee got it wrong. The experts were wrong. Until the conversation is taken, the referee can change his mind. In this case for the right decision. 

Sport always throws up shocks, and despite Fiji playing the better rugby, their fitness levels fell off towards the end and the final result flattered a stuttering England, and the shock wasn't to be. The real shock was yet to come in Brighton, where little Japan, (in both rugby terms and physically) beat the mighty Boks. Rugby has become stodgy in recent years, too many Rugby League defence coaches, and South Africa are one of the best proponents of this rugby style, but they were outdone by a quicker Japan who attacked the space. Hurray for Japan, I hope that this wasn't their Cup Final, after losing 24 games in the World Cup on the bounce, and they win another game playing the same way. Rugby needs more of that style in this World Cup if it is to reach out to the likes of the little boy in Sant Denis.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Rule the World - Take That

N.B. Not a Take That fan, but had to use a second song as a theme is emerging.

I set off with Geordan Murphy, or at least his book, from Snow Hill station to get down to Marylebone to attend the  #WearTheRose send off for the England Rugby Team with Take That. On arrival, a call of nature meant that I had to dig for change in my purse. The 30 pence I paid to go was well worth it, as the loo had been decorated like a Monopoly Board, with each cubicle having a different token on the door, (hat, dog, car etc.) and in the cubicle, a street card on the wall. (I went in ‘Regent Street’, certainly wouldn’t use ‘Old Kent Road’.) I took photos and jumped on the Tube to go to the O2. I went in my rucksack for some reason and couldn’t find my purse. In a hot and cold sweat, I jumped off the train at Baker Street and went back, not expecting to find it, but it had only been 5 minutes, so maybe I would be lucky. I don’t know whether it was the excitement of seeing something I wasn’t expecting, the dodgy zip on my ruck sack, or just plain carelessness, but as I arrived back at Marylebone, my name was being called over the tannoy. Someone somewhere had been honest and handed my purse, plus money in. (Thank you whoever you are, not only this act had restored my faith in human nature, but it pumped me up for the evening’s events.

On arrival at the O2 Arena, the ‘Make Them Giants’ marketing and posters were everywhere, the success of the #WearTheRose clear to see as white shirts were in the majority, although the occasional Take That fan hadn’t quite got the message. I met my sister and we ate in a Pie Shop – Pie and Mash, what else to eat in the East End? (drinks paid for by O2 Priority – great marketing!)
We took advantage of the Sky Marketing and went into the Sky Backstage, for pre-event drinks. Like ‘Talk Sport’, Sky Sports only really featured Premiership football, not even the different levels , even the International team didn’t get a mention. I wondered if that’s why Premiership Rugby jumped ship?

We entered the Arena early and watched the white shirts slowly come in. A few rows in front of us, a large couple in All Blacks black shirts came in with beers, hotdogs and chips. (I don’t know where they put it!) Suddenly on the other side of the Arena, there was a kerfuffle, as men in suits walked in. The light wasn’t good, but it was the England team and their wives, girlfriends, and in Maku Vunipola’s case, his sister. (Just think of Benjamin Button, he’s a young man with an old face).
Not watching TV, I didn’t know who the camp man with the sequined jacket was. He could have been famous having his own game show to win a holiday in Ibiza, or making losing on the National Lottery fun, I really don’t know, but he got the crowd going with stirring renditions of Sweet Caroline. Of course Swing Low was there, but none of verse or proper actions, which could have been fun, teaching people. I suppose that the event was a family one though.

He left the stage and Vernon Kay, who I know is famous, although not quite sure what for, came on to start the event. It was then that I found out that it was on TV anyway, so the stress of flying down and flying back the next day, could have been on my settee with a cup of tea and a biscuit, PJ’s, slippers, and no bra on.

Laura Wright was first on, and she looked nervous. Having met her, she is an ordinary young lady with an extraordinary voice, so this was another big occasion for her. Next on was a singer that Jools Holland recommended, Andreya Triana, so good enough for me.

 In between each artist, a group of players came on stage. The first group were the front five. The players that determine whether a game will be won, who play with their heart on their sleeve, the ones that always have tears at their national anthems, unlike the cool clinical backs.  There were 5 Sarries players on stage, with the player I predict to have the biggest impact, as he was on no one, other than Sarries’ fans’ radar,Jamie George, falling up the stage. As he is my ‘little’ boy, all 17 stone of him, my heart went out to him. How not to look cool, but then again, the front 5 are rarely considered cool anyway.

Callibro, a boy band opera singers ensemble came on. I was getting frustrated at this point. I never realised how incontinent the public had become, and how desperate they were for food, as there was a constant stream going up and down the stairs, during the acts and even when the players were speaking. £85 to eat and drink – cheaper to watch it on TV, when you can pause and go when you want.

The player interviews were bland, as expected. Teamwork, respect, hard work, excitement. All the things that you would expect from pre-staged questions and answers. The players themselves were taking selfies with each other on stage, no longer club rivals, but members of a new team. One of the highlights for me, was Stuart Lancaster’s speech about the journey the players were on. He went through the various stages. The first and most important, was family. For his first game in charge, he asked every player’s parents to write a letter to their sons, explaining what it meant to them that their son was playing for England. He asked the players to pick 5 people in their lives, to do the same. Stage two was to build the culture, of honesty, trust, team work through hard work and working for each other, demonstrated by the players forgetting their teams and grouping into their new teams – functional areas like the front 5. He then stated that he felt that being English, we have been on the back foot for long enough and it was time to get on the front foot and be proud of being English again. Hurray. Too often being English is seen to be a crime, we’re racist, too arrogant, aloof and a 100 other reasons to be disliked. No one seems to value the good points, the integrity, openness to other cultures – there’s a diaspora in the team that covers at least 5 other cultures. Why won’t our politicians state that? I wanted to run on the pitch and play for him. In 5 minutes he’d showed more leadership than any home grown politician has done for years, more passion about the real values in life and work and what team work can achieve. If only work was like that, with people pulling together with a common vision, teamwork, and values, to share a common goal. England won’t win the World Cup, haven’t quite got the pizzazz in the players, but I believe that it won’t be for the want of trying or working for each other.

The final act of the evening was Take That. At first, I didn’t get the connection. Not an obvious choice for a rugby event, but as they played their set, it became clearer. ‘Greatest Day’ ‘Shine’, ‘Rule the World’, maybe there was a fit. Their final song was ‘Never Forget’ and the players came on to  
sing it with them. I went home buzzing, next week can't come soon enough.