Friday, June 09, 2006

Rhapsody In Bleu …

Unless you’ve been living under a stone, you can’t help but notice that the Football World Cup begins today. I’m no footy fan but this event is something different. It’s special. And for someone who dislikes football to admit that … well, it is fascinating and it does draw us all together. The hopes of the qualified nations etc ...

When hosts France won the Cup (geez that was freaky, wasn‘t it?), I was picked to be international pool cameraman at the Elysée Garden Party on July 14th. Dressed in a suit and carrying the usual array of kit, I reported to the back door of Jacques pad. There were 4 of us altogether: French TV, French Photo, International Photo and me, International TV.

The Garden Party in the grounds of the Elysée takes place after the Bastille Day parade, starting about midday. The borders around these delightful gardens are decked out with a collection of open marquees, wherein lies cuisine of the highest standard (government fodder is always the best) along with a never-ending flow of wine and champers. A few hundred invitees are escorted through the gates and are let loose on this feast fit for a … well, they executed the last one so ‘fit for a President’. It’s like watching the doors of an asylum being flung open and the inmates going berserk.

The men are shouldering other men out the way, paper plates scatter across the lawns and plastic cutlery is drawn for the kill. The high heels of the women folk are churning up the hand reared turf while the Palace gardeners are openly weeping in the arms of the President.

Being the snotty press, a Palace official marched the four of us to a small pen at the top of the garden which faced the veranda doors and were told “stay there, you bastards”. We waited in the July afternoon sun. No food, no drink and nowhere to sit. The masses had now turned the gardens into a living museum to the Somme. A sea of enormous hats wafted about the place and tinkling jewellery sounding like a cutlery tray being dropped.

The hour had come and all eyes spun towards the unfolding veranda doors. The gardens went quiet as an announcement was made. Our cameras rolled and out stepped ‘Le Pres’ flanked by the French National Team, holding the World Cup. The well-heeled went crazy. It really was quite moving. There was Jacques, smiling like a simpleton and the cup. The prize. The Trophy.

Stu’s Interesting Facts coming up: did you know that the World Cup Trophy is made of solid gold and malachite and was designed by Italian sculptor Silvio Gazzaniga? The current FIFA World Cup Trophy cannot be won outright, as the regulations state that it must remain in FIFA's own possession. The Cup winners retain it until the next tournament and are awarded a gold-plated replica. Furthermore, the base is made up of two layers of semi-precious malachite and has room for 17 small plaques which bear the names of the winners - enough space for the World Champions up to the year 2038. No? I didn't know that either.

So, a few weeks later I was sent to interview the French Sports Minister. On his bookshelf was this ‘copy’ of Gazzaniga’s creation. It wasn’t locked away behind layers of bullet proof glass, simply on show for all to see … and touch. I asked him if I might hold the Trophy. He agreed and left the room! Alone in his office, I grasped the Trophy firmly in my hands, held it aloft and took a triumphant run around his desk. I carefully replaced France’s dream-come-true on the shelf, packed up my kit, thanked his secretary and went back to the office, laughing like a hyena.

For 30 seconds I had lived the fantasy of billions of football fans the world over. Despite being a soccer non-believer, that simple copy of the real Cup(since photographed planet-wide for every paper and magazine) was in my hands. Football in general drives me into a hasty retreat … but the World Cup?

Special.

Stu

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