After just a few hours sleep, I was up and ready to go again for my first volunteer shift. As a spectator services assistant, I had no stadium access so it was likely that I’d be plopped in the middle of nowhere in Cardiff, giving directions to people about a city I had no familiarity with. But I struck lucky, arrived 30 minutes late and was given temporary accreditation to join a group who were working inside the stadium.
I joined a small group of volunteers and made the short trip from the accreditation centre to the stadium; with security on top form, checking all of our bags and guiding us through airport-like metal detectors. Our role for the day was relatively simple – putting stickers on seats for the sponsors. We spent a few hours moving from stand to stand in the stadium, allowing ourselves a few minutes after each section was done to take a few photos. At one point, we had to make our way to the opposite side of the stadium, and our team leader brought us the complete wrong way which resulted in us walking through the tunnel and on to the pitch. At this point, everyone was so in awe at their surroundings, that the actual work needing done took a back seat.
A lot of the accredited media were getting in their last minute practice, and us volunteers just slotted in to the background as if we were doing something important. In reality, we were exasperated by what was going on around us. Walking down the tunnel was one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences none of us are ever likely to have again, and we took as much time as possible before we had to go back and actually do our job. We sat in the ‘dugouts’, we walked by the side of the pitch, and we lived out our dreams, imagining ourselves as Cristiano Ronaldo walking down the tunnel to the Champions League music blaring and the crowd erupting.
The euphoria didn’t last long, as our shifts finished early afternoon, meaning we had to get out of the stadium and find something to do to entertain ourselves until the next shift. I had already made plans to meet a friend in Cardiff so we decided to meet down at the Bay where the festival was being held. The Bay was jam packed with tens of thousands of fans who had mainly showed up to see the ‘legends’ game on the floating pitch, an event that had huge names such as Ryan Giggs, Roberto Carlos, Luis Figo and Cafu on show.
My friend Natalie I hadn’t seen in about three years, having initially met when we lived and worked together in Orlando, Florida. We were both on the Disney International Program together in 2013/14, and had stayed in touch until this day. Originally from England, she’s now living in Cardiff, and we just happened to be in the same place at the same time. Having friends across the world, no matter how near or far, is heartwearming and fulfilling.