One of the perks of being on the sports desk in the campus newspaper is that we get to be involved in major sporting events. I am also a football fan. A big one. And so when my lecturers told me that it was not possible to get media passes to cover the Brazil vs Japan match held at the new sports stadium on Oct 14, I was disappointed.
And then the email from the World Sport Group (WSG) arrived – the Japanese Football Association (JFA) would be happy to take on 11 media volunteers from RP. We would get to see first-hand what happens when a match this big takes place.
And what an experience it was.
The day before the match started with a Brazil training session followed by Dunga’s (Brazil’s coach) press conference, and then Japan’s training session followed by Japan’s Argentinian coach Javier Aguirre’s press conference. We were given our volunteer t-shirts and shown what, where and how things worked. There were four stations for us to man at the new billion-dollar national stadium. They were the media tribune, media reception, pitch-side and the press conference room.
We stayed to watch the teams train, where it was already evident the pitch was a problem. The training session for the Japanese and Brazilians was to give them a feel of how it was like to play in the new stadium. Little did they know that they would soon be building sandcastles and get covered with sand, thanks to the poor maintenance of the football pitch which seemed like it had more sand than grass!
The players had a hard time controlling the ball due to the sand and frustration was clearly written on everyone’s face. It didn’t just end there because during the press conference, both Dunga and Aguirre didn’t hold back their criticism of the state of the pitch.
The highlight of the first day however, was a simple fan boy moment. What I had always day-dreamed about came true – casually walking around a stadium and bumping into a star. And who do I bump into? Neymar! The Brazilian superstar gave me a friendly nod, acknowledging my star-struck moment. I stuttered so hard and could not even make up a word as simple as “Hi”.
Next to him was Robinho of Santos FC and they were laughing and joking about something, perhaps the condition of the pitch. You see these guys on YouTube or live television performing the most insane tricks that you can only dream of doing, so when you see them in real life, the moment is surreal.
We went home to catch some shut eye and were back at the stadium less than 12 hours later. Tickets for the match were soldout and we were expecting 52,000 people. Behind the scenes though, things were heating up.
It got chaotic one hour before the match started because the wi-fi in the media tribune stopped working and the journalists got quite worked up over the fact that they couldn’t get their job done. One Brazilian journalist came up to me and claimed that he was about to lose his job in Brazil because he couldn’t send his articles in time. The concept of deadlines, which we are taught in school, suddenly hit a very real chord.
But no amount of drama could make eclipse the pure magic that was taking place on the pitch.
Neymar was simply dazzling, showing Singaporeans how easy it was to score four goals. I feel lucky to say that I witnessed a legend-in-the-making leave his mark on our very own soil. We trooped home way past midnight, unable to shake off the stars in our eyes.
The best part? Bragging rights to jealous friends.
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