Wednesday 6th November 2013
It has got to the point, in fact it has gone beyond the point when I don’t know what day it is anymore. Whenever it comes to writing this diary entry, I have been asking myself the same question recently; “What day is it today?” Thankfully my ‘Crackberry’ is always at hand to help out. Three weeks of hotel living and bus travelling has meant that I’ve lost a lot of perspective on ‘real life’ and what is going on around the world. Of course there are newspapers in the hotels but I have found my time being limited to just the sports supplement before I have another duty or the paper is ‘borrowed’ from me, usually by our sneaky media officer! There are also TVs but any viewing time has been restricted to more football watching or catching up on ‘Breaking Bad’. I admit I was a late starter with this show so I’ve been trying very hard to catch up. I am hoping to complete season 5 before I have to go back to reality this weekend. Of course the best time to watch this has been the evenings when everyone is asleep, which means a lot of late nights. With my wife’s threats of getting me back on my ‘morning shift’ in terms of looking after our son, I have a very tough decision to make these next few days; catch up on sleep or catch up on the series.
With today being a travel day, nothing much has happened apart from everyone resting their weary legs and bodies in preparation for one more battle on Friday. Someone asked me today what a Team Liaison Officer (TLO) actually does so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to explain my role as best as I could.
The best answer to this question is ‘everything’ and ‘anything’. In terms of the team structure and organisation, I am a non entity if truth be told, but that’s obvious and expected. What I do do is provide a direct link between FIFA and the team. But first, I’ll provide a brief account of how things are operated.
There is a multitude of people and organisations taking charge of many aspects needed to run a successful and huge tournament such as this. First of all, you have the General Coordinator of every venue who is basically the top person, then you have his assistant, then there are the media, accommodation, marketing managers. All these people take care of the logistical side of things from FIFA’s side. You then have the Local Organising Committe (LOC) manager who is in the Abu Dhabi Office and is in charge of the logistics from UAE’s side. The Team Services Manager from the LOC oversees the Transport Coordinators, whose job is to make sure buses and the police are ready and on time to transport the team to training and matches. On the matches side, FIFA have the referee assessors, doctors and security to ensure a smooth and safe match, and from the LOC, there is the Venue Manager and his assistants to take care of travel to matches, tickets and other match orientated aspects.
In between all these people and the teams themselves is the TLO; people like myself. Each of the 24 teams were assigned a TLO. Some came from abroad, some came with the teams themselves and some, like myself, were local hires. There is no set duty really. On a given day, my main job would be to organise and accompany a team management member to the mall to get some items for the team ranging from energy drinks to medical equipment. On some days, I would be meeting with the General Coordinator to arrange tickets for VIP guests. Some of my responsibilities include relaying training times to the LOC head in the office and Team Services Manager, who will then inform the necessary bodies to organise transport. I am also responsible for relaying pre match meeting times and various training venues to the team management. Prior to arriving at a new hotel, I have to liaise with the accommodation manager to ensure we arrive at our next destination when the rooms are ready to avoid waiting around in the lobby. One of the first things I do after a match, instead of celebrating with the team is to answer calls from the Team Services Manager of the next training and/or travel time. My work phone is rarely from my side. I even sleep with it next to my pillow because I can receive a call at any time. Thankfully we were given enough credit to cater for all the calls we have to make.
In all fairness, it is a pretty organised and fun job if you are organised and lucky enough to get an ‘easy’ team, like I have been blessed with. I know of other TLOs who have had some pretty tough times with their demanding teams, and some who have really had to utilise their knowledge of the country with requests to visit the local tailors to amend some trousers bought earlier. Basically, there is nothing that a TLO can’t do or won’t be asked to do. Take yesterday’s match for example. At half time, I was asked to source some more water for the team dressing room, and at full time I was interviewing the manager on the pitch for millions of viewers around the world! Once again, I feel blessed to have had such a relaxed, friendly and welcoming team to work with because it has been nothing but fun. I have met some awesome people, stayed in fantastic hotels, been fed great meals three times daily, had my laundry washed and pressed on demand, had a driver at my beck and call for 12 hours a day, visited the inner sanctuary of team dressing rooms and stadium VIP tribunes, learnt more about event organising and media productions and above all, greatly increased my football knowledge and coaching skills by watching the most inspirational coaches I have ever seen on a daily basis. Up until this tournament, the coach I admired the most was my old mate and FA Regional Coach Development Manager, Ben Bartlett. I’m sorry Ben, I still love you but you have been overtaken by these geniuses from Nigeria.
Of course there have been some stressful moments, but that’s not to be expected in a role that is so wide ranging, and because of this bunch of players and staff, who I absolutely love, nothing has ever been too much of an ask. It really is an amazing position and has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If I didn’t have such a great family to go home to, I think I would spiral into a depressing state when this tournament ends in three days! The next step, and the pinnacle I guess, is to be involved in the senior World Cup. If anyone at FIFA or the Brazil 2014, Russia 2018 or Qatar 2022 LOCs is reading this, you know where to find me…