A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about 30 things I’d like to do before I’m thirty. Last week, I ticked one of those off by volunteering at the 2017 UEFA Champions League Final. The trip to Cardiff was brilliant for so many reasons, but there are a few moments away from the football that I’ll remember forever, moments that make volunteering worthwhile.
Armed with just a small piece of hand luggage, I made my way to the airport to catch a flight to Bristol on Thursday. Initially, I was supposed to fly to Cardiff and stay there, but prices were through the roof by the time I was selected as a volunteer so I had to come up with somewhere else to stay.
Shortly before the final itself, I posted in a volunteer Facebook group to see if anyone from Cardiff had any recommendations of cheap places to stay. A lady named Clare Brophy sent me a private message inviting me to stay with her in Bristol, despite us having never met. The thing we shared in common was that we were both ‘Games Makers’ at London 2012. We had stayed in contact for the past five years, and when I needed a place to stay, she was the first to offer a helping hand. One of the great things about volunteering is that you build a network of great people who are more than willing to help other volunteers out at very short notice. And Clare really couldn’t have been any more welcoming or friendly.
Thursday afternoon, I got the train in to Cardiff for my first volunteer shift at the women’s final; although I arrived and was not needed, so I was given a complimentary ticket to watch instead. The game was contested by Lyon and Paris Saint Germain, with Lyon the clear favourite of the two French sides.
The first half had little chances, so I left a little before half time to get a drink when I bumped in to a man from the Netherlands. We got chatting, and he told me that his daughter was the substitute goalkeeper for Paris Saint Germain, and he introduced me to another man whose daughter Katarzyna Kiedrzynek was the first choice goalkeeper. They invited me to sit with the player’s families to watch the remainder of the game. From then on, I was cheering for Paris Saint Germain and in particular, keeping an eye on Katarzyna’s performance ; and in no uncertain terms – she had an absolute blinder.
The game went to extra time, and inevitably penalties, and Katarzyna kept glaring over at her father each time a penalty was taken. Eventually, all the outfield players had taken their penalties, and it came down to the goalkeepers. Katarzyna steps up for her penalty, and fires it wide of the goal, and in a matter of seconds, Lyon’s goalkeeper scores her penalty and the dream is gone. The crowd erupts, the Lyon players pile on top of each other, and they rush to the fans to celebrate; they spend a lot of time with their supporters taking pictures.
After the game, I had to make my way back to Bristol, but as always, I made it hard for myself by missing the last train back. Setting myself a budget of £50 a day didn’t last long as I had to get the last train from Cardiff to Newport and then a taxi back to Bristol. I had 7% battery left on my phone, and I had to arrange a taxi back to Bristol, so I called multiple taxi ranks looking to see if anyone could take me back for a cheaper price as I was a volunteer and I had gotten stuck in Cardiff. I was quoted £75 until I called a particular firm who offered to bring me back for £30. The man on the phone said that the driver did a lot of volunteer work, and was more than happy to bring me back.
So I waited at the train station in Newport for the driver, who pulled up 10 minutes later than expected. My phone died and I had no way of communicating with anyone other than the man in the driver’s seat. He asked me about my volunteer work, seemingly very interested in what I had to say. I reciprocated the question, and asked him about what he liked to do; and his response was not what I was expecting.
‘I spend a lot of time in Syria’.
Not going to lie, at this point I was completely shooketh. I wasn’t really sure how to react, especially after what has happened across the UK recently. Part of me was scared, and strangely the other part of me felt as safe as I had ever felt. This guy broke my heart when he said ‘I wish people didn’t think the same of all of us’.
The reason he went to Syria was to help. He spent his own hard earned money on helping other people; and in return he was subject to many air strikes and almost died – all he wanted to do was help. This one particular Thursday night taught me a lot – especially because it was an experience I did not expect to have, a conversation I did not anticipate would ever happen, and a situation that I never thought I’d be in – all because I missed my last train home. I guess these things happen for a reason.