There were gasps as we climbed the steps of the mighty Banqueting House on Friday and stepped into a room as big as a barn to witness the “handover” of the Champions League trophies to London.
It was hard to tell whether the sharp intakes of breath were for the ceiling, a mile high affair littered with painted cherubs and fancy chandeliers, or for the front row, littered with Chelsea players sat with the men’s trophy at their feet.
In She Kicks’ case, any gulps for air were prompted by a glimpse at a press release that revealed that Champions League ambassadors Faye White and Graeme Le Saux had just carried the women’s and men’s trophies across London during rush hour.
“It’s not every day you get to see the most prestigious trophies in European club football on public transport,” Le Saux was quoted as saying.
Indeed it isn’t, though quite how the two retired England defenders managed to mind the gap on the Tube, find a seat on the buses, hail a taxi and pose for photos with scores of commuters was mind boggling.
But that’s the kind of razzamatazz you expect from the Champions League and once the two of them had delivered their silver pots to the Banqueting House near Trafalgar Square, matters were about to get even more thrilling.
For a start, there was that amazing room, and once you got over that, there were the chairs, gilded affairs with moulded tassels upon which were sat the likes of Hope Powell, Sir Trevor Brooking, Michel Platini, Lotta Schelin and five chaps from Chelsea.
Then there was that nice Matt Smith from the telly, who after introducing us to Hugh Robertson the minister for sport and David Bernstein the FA chairman, let us watch a fabulous video montage of the men’s competition.
The great teams, captains, scorers, coaches, nights and goals from across the years all flashed up on screen, a mixture of grainy black and white and grainy technicolour, backed by rousing music.
The seasoned hacks in the back row chatted their way through most of it, no doubt recalling their own special memories of reportage on those great European nights. She Kicks just sat on a leather banquette in the aisle and wondered where the women’s film was.
But we needn’t have worried, before we knew it, grainy clips of victorious Olympique Lyonnais beamed into the room, Uefa president Platini was standing on the jet black stage and Kate Hoey MP was accepting the women’s trophy on behalf of London from Lyon striker Schelin.
“It has been really amazing and it has done something for women’s soccer in France,” Schelin said of her club’s success in the competition before another film showed those teams hoping to quash that dominance this time round.
Hoey, the mayor of London’s commissioner for sport, praised Uefa for giving the women Champions League parity and hinted that as an Arsenal fan she’d quite like to see a London team in the final at Stamford Bridge on May 23.
And afterwards John Terry, who gave the men’s trophy over to Hugh Robertson for safekeeping ahead of May’s other Champions League final, praised women’s football and said he wouldn’t mind a London team getting there either.
“I’ve been quite heavily involved over the last few years in the Chelsea Ladies,” he told She Kicks. “I’ve been to watch a few games and the quality year after year is improving and it’s great to see. So it’s great for us for it to be at Stamford Bridge, I will hopefully be going along myself – and I wish Arsenal the best of luck as well.”
With that the Blues skipper swept out of the Banqueting House, along with all the other famous football faces and the razzamatazz was over. We’ll find out which teams are to feature in that women’s final very soon, but regardless of who makes it, there’s bound to be plenty more Champions League glitz to come.
Here’s to May.
SHE KICKS – the online community for women’s football