I travelled to Rio to experience the atmosphere of the World Cup and brought my Na Gaeil GAA jersey with me with the intention of getting a few autographs (maybe two or three) and if I got more I would sell/auction it to charity. Luckily it quickly became five, six etc. and when I managed to get Diego Maradona, the most talked about World Cup legend ever, it really gave me motivation and confidence to get more. When it became known at home through the media what was happening it really took off and I put myself under pressure to achieve more for the selected charity. The selected charity being CRY –Cardiac Risk in the Young. I choose CRY for a few reasons. I wanted a young people’s charity, I wanted a small charity that would really benefit from the funds and because cardiac risk is so prominent in sport, CRY stood out to be a perfect fit. The following piece is a short insight on how I made the impossible possible.
Here is the list of 24 players that signed the jersey. This list is composed of 5 World Cup winners including 2 captains and 4 Champions League winners.
Leighton Baines, Leroy Fer, Michael Vorm, Tim Krul, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Danny Murphy, Robbie Savage, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Roberto Martinez, Santiago Solari, Ian Wright, Diego Maradona, Gary Lineker, Martin O Neill, Patrick Vieria, Fabio Cannavaro, Gordan Strachan, Phil Neville, David Trezeguet, Alan Shearer, Christan Vieri, Jamie Carragher, Mesult Ozil, Zico
All players were very obliging and willing to sign and take a selfie. Security with most former players was not an issue. For example in relation to Diego Maradona a number of security guys were helping me find a way in without getting themselves in trouble. The first autograph I got on the jersey was English player Leighton Baines. The hotel was closely guarded but I decided to walk in anyway and when I entered I saw Baines and quickly took advantage, he obliged signed and posed for a photo. I was then escorted from the hotel.
The following day I made my way to Ipanema beach and luckily came across the Netherlands team hotel, the team were leaving the hotel to make they’re way to the training ground and I wriggled my way through to get a few more autographs from the likes of Leroy Fer, Michael Vorm, Tim Krul the star penalty stopper and Klaas Jan Huntelaar the former Real Madrid striker.
I realised early on that I had a knack of figuring out where players could be, what time of the day, where they are staying and I had confidence in myself that I would find more. Danny Murphy the former Liverpool star was the first to help me in a way after I asked him and explained the jersey and charity idea. He gave me hints as to where some players were at certain times and near the end he was probably sick of me because I was bumping into him so often which was all by chance.
One day stood out more than others. I managed to come across Danny Murphy and Robbie Savage doing media work on the beach and after having some craic and recording an interview with them I made my way towards the hotels and bumped into Manchester United legend Ruud Van Nistelrooy. Van Nistelrooy was so obliging and after explaining the charity idea he called two more friends in for a selfie including current Everton boss Roberto Martinez and former Real Madrid star Santiago Solari. I met Marcelo (my Brazilian host) for lunch and he mentioned that he read Maradona was in town. I said what an autograph that would be, so, with some help from a friend of Marcelo’s we took a road trip with a 5% chance of meeting Maradona, it was enough for me. Kerrymen are known for being cute so I used this cuteness to charm my way to meeting one of the greatest player ever, certainly the most talked about ever Diego Maradona.
Even-though it sounds like work, I loved every minute of the rush and meeting the players. The BBC and ITV had studios at the end of Copacabana beach. The first group matches of the day started at 1pm and at 12pm. One afternoon I decided to sit outside the media centre to see what happens. Within minutes I met Gary Lineker, Patrick Vieria, Martin O Neill and Gordan Strachan and later Phil Neville, David Trezeguet and Christan Vieri. During my travels I visited Flamengo football club and happened to bump into Jamie Carragher the former Liverpool icon who was very polite.
Social media also became my friend, especially twitter. Fabio Cannavaro the Italian World Cup winning captain is a regular tweeter. He tweeted a photo of himself on the beach wearing a tweed hat, similar to a tweed hat I later bought myself and I recognised the background. I was having lunch at the time and quickly paid my bill and ran to where he was. He again was very kind and was impressed with the idea and the jersey.
There is a very well-known hotel in Rio called Fasano. I was sitting at the bar drinking a coke, yes a coke, and nibbling on some nuts when in walked Cannavaro whom I already had met along with Danny Murphy and Alan Shearer. Murphy commented “are you still here” and Shearer took time to sign the jersey and pose for a photo.
I was lucky enough to have the honour of attending a World Cup Final. The atmosphere was one highlight but another was getting so close to the winning team Germany after the match that I could smell the hard work. One man was particularly memorable and that was Arsenal star Mesult Ozil. He signed the shirt and doodled on my neck in the process, the media had a field day and I ended up live on Argentine television I was later informed.
The jersey and trip was a huge success but I was missing one thing…a Brazilian autograph.. Zico was without doubt the most talked about legend aka Brazilian footballer in Rio, mainly because he was the most successful Flamengo fc player. Flamengo being the most popular club in Rio. I received information that Zico had a football academy not too far from Rio therefore I decide to act on it After gracefully avoiding security I met a man who directed me to the president of the clubs office. I explained my situation and he hit me with some bad news. Zico was in Sao Paulo and was travelling to Japan in the morning. I was very disappointed but…this “but” is positive for a change. Bruno the president said he might be meeting him in between flights and hopefully he can help. It was my final day in Brazil and I decided to contact Bruno which was planned. Marcelo aided me and rang Bruno Coimbra, recognising the name he realised it was Zico’s son. Bruno was very kind and sent on images of Zico signing the jersey. I was ecstatic. I achieved what people and I would have thought was the impossible over an unbelievable six week period. What an experience.
The Jersey will be auctioned for CRY this Friday 22nd August on ebay-
To view Michael’s video of his world Cup experience check out his video.