For most people, EURO 2020 started on 11th June, but for me it began on the 28th May. I've been volunteering on the accreditation team, and we are the keyholders who dish out passes which give people the right to enter the tournament... or not.
Essentially, it works like this: during the tournament, Wembley is divided into different zones, such as the pitch, dressing rooms and media areas etc... The accreditation team is the team that provides the different groups of people with access to the zones in which they operate. These groups include players, volunteers, media, officials, service providers, public authorities and sponsors. In order to be able to access the area they need to be in so they can do their role, each person, be it a journalist, a volunteer, a cleaner or even Gary Lineker, needs to be in possession of a valid accreditation pass, which they receive from the accreditation centre.
Our accreditation team takes up the foyer of Wembley Arena, up to (and including) the bit where you usually buy your merchandise. It was strange to be in there, because the last time I was there was for a Megadeth concert many years ago. Memories...
Anyway, once you've managed to fight your way through the queue and past the security guard, you are through to the centre, which has four sections:
The Welcome Desk - where we welcome you, ask you to show your certificate to prove that you have passed the mandatory UEFA Covid training and the ID that you used to pre-register for your accreditation. If you don't have the correct ID, or the details are wrong (e.g., you put Steve instead of Stephen, you skip to section 4).
Production - this is a back of house position based in the bit where you buy your t-shirts when you're at a gig. This is where once the accreditation passes are printed, you digitally check them with two RFID machines before putting them in pouches and giving them to the Delivery Desk.
The Delivery Desk - if all goes well at the Welcome Desk, the accreditees are sent to sit and wait on a chair so that the Delivery Desk can, well, deliver the pass to them. Once the pass has been printed, each person is called up where they have to produce their ID again (to double check that all is well) and we issue them with their pass. Once issued, they can't post it on social media, must always have it on them and if they forget or lose it, it's £150 to replace and another background check.
The Help Desk - this is the place where you really don't want to end up. It's where you have to go if your details are wrong. You might have brought the wrong ID with you (passport instead of driving license) or you might have transposed your date of birth so the day and month are the wrong way round, or if you might have called yourself Ollie when your birth name is Oliver. If this happens, the info has to be sent to Switzerland (electronically, of course) and they will then have to do another background check to see that your details are correct which can take up to two hours. The majority of people are cool with this, but some people get a bit shirty. Most of the time, it's their own fault, but you do get cases where PAs or company representatives filling out job lots of applications (e.g., for a contract caterer) and they get it wrong for a whole group of people. That's quite inconvenient.
The accreditation centre is open from 8am every day, seven days a week. On matchdays it closes at 8pm, and on non-matchdays it closes at 4pm. It was super-busy to begin with, as we had to deliver passes to everyone from catering staff, to cleaners to Rio Ferdinand. Once the tournament started though, it started to quieten down, and then it got really quiet... I've found this quite difficult, especially as there isn't much in the way to keep you busy and it can be difficult to stay motivated for eight hours when there isn't much to do and you're giving up your valuable time to do it.
Can a few of you nip over to the stadium to help out the Ceremony Team?
On the Saturday after the England v Scotland game it was, somewhat unsurprisingly, a very quiet shift. The amazing people on the cleanup shift at Wembley had spent the night blitzing the place so that the stadium was spotless after the carnage the night before, and the rain had washed away anything else that might have tried to stick. There were eight of us volunteering in the accreditation centre and we'd only dispatched about 15 passes, so we were scratching around for something to do. We'd already completed the week's stocktake, and there is a lifetime supply of snacks in the delivery room (KitKats, Toffee Crisps, Twixes, Snickers Bars and crisps) which makes it even more difficult because you're pumped up on a sugar high and not able to work it off. Notably, there is no fruit in the accreditation centre which makes me feel like I need to get Ronaldo on the case. Seriously, not an apple to be seen.
We had a call from Carly, who manages the ceremony team, who coincidentally I met and got chatting to on my first day. As the tournament is so big and there are about 1,000 volunteers, I didn't expect to bump into her again, but she needed some help and the accreditation team were flagging - here was an opportunity to flag some more, only differently.
It started with a spot of rain...
So you know those MASSIVE flags that they put on the pitch when the teams are lined-up signing their national anthems? The England and Scotland flags are shaped like shirts, and there is another flag that's about the size of a whole stand. Well, when it rains, they get quite heavy, and during, before and after the England vs. Scotland match it was absolutely peeing it down. The flags themselves were on the pitch for no longer than 15 minutes during the national anthems, but the rain was so heavy that they soaked up a shedload of water. After the opening ceremony, they were unceremoniously dumped back of house, and were left in a pile to dampen up.
It was then left to poor Carly the next day to mobilise a team of people to help lay the flags flat so they could dry out a bit - I'm not entirely sure why the team didn't fold the flags the night before. The Scotland flag would be going back to Glasgow, where sadly, it would experience its final outing of the tournament, and the England flag would be staying where it was. The problem was, they were really damp and needed drying out. Carly got the stadium team and some security guys involved and, as a team of about 20 people, we started to heave the main flag around the back of house in the stadium, so that we could stretch it over the seats. This was really difficult, because with all the added rainwater it ended up weighing circa 180kgs (which is about the weight of a fully-grown sea lion or wild boar). We then proceeded to stretch it across the stands, which was some feat because we had to be really careful that we didn't rip it - it needed to be reused. I tried taking some photos, but they were so big that no camera can really do justice to what an enormous job this was and what a logistical nightmare it was either.
Anyway, we got there in the end. The Scotland and England shirt flags were dried out in the cavernous space underneath the stadium, stretched across some crowd barriers. As a treat, we had a little tour and got to see the changing rooms, which smelled surprisingly fresh considering they'd only been used the night before.