Talk about being in the right place at the right time. MotoGP™ and football are two sports so alike yet so different. The major football tournaments the World Cup and Euros are also held during a MotoGP™ summer season and this year is no exception with the Euros already in full cry. So many times, during these summer months, the MotoGP™ paddock has been divided by patriotic pride as events unfurled on the pitches at these major tournaments. On a couple of memorable occasions, we have watched first-hand the passion and pride generated by being in the right country at the right time.
Up till a few years ago the Dutch TT was always held on a Saturday and in 1988 they chose June 25th. It turned into the Saturday of all Saturdays. It is probably the most important day in the sporting history of this proud nation, and we were there. The day Holland won the Euros and the day we soon discovered just how much the Dutch love to party.
After watching World Champion Wayne Gardner win the 500cc race in Assen from Eddie Lawson and Christian Sarron and Juan Garriga and Jorge Martinez bring Spain success in the 250 and 125cc races, we set off for Amsterdam. It was a night of no sleep and far too much consumption of beer watching a game of football in a sea of orange. Large screens through the city showed the Euros final and when Holland scored their second goal to beat the Soviet Union by two goals to nil the whole City exploded. I remember struggling to Schiphol airport the next morning to fly back to London. It was chaos because it appeared the whole population of 17 million of the Netherlands had descended on the airport to welcome the victorious team home. All KLM staff wore a Dutch tulip in their lapel and the party was continuing. Somehow, I caught the flight home and had a rare Sunday lunch in the summer.
Roll the clock on to seven years ago and the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina in Rio De Janeiro. It was July 13th, the day of the 2014 German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring. Of course, Marc Marquez won the MotoGP™ race from Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo. Dominique Aegerter was the popular Moto2™ winner with Jack Millar victorious in Moto3™. The trip to Leipzig airport after the races was so easy. The roads were deserted because once again a nation was watching a sporting event that meant so much to them. We watched the game on the television in the airport hotel lounge surrounded by excited German fans. I sat next to Diego, the Dorna photographer and it appeared the only Argentinian in Germany that evening. When Germany won a single goal in extra time, I commiserated with him but quietly.
I would love to be telling you about English success on the football field while working at MotoGP™ races, but I cannot lie. It has been a complete nightmare. Desperate nights in the IRTA Office conference room surrounded by empty beer cans and half eaten pizzas watching England losing yet another penalty shoot-out. Being told halfway through the qualifying press conference at Donington Park in 2006 that talisman Wayne Rooney had been sent off in a World Cup game. Waking up in the middle of the night in Barcelona to watch England lose a World Cup game to Italy much to the delight of Rossi and co the next morning.
Despite the England disappointments, we loved our football and tried, when possible, to watch games in the countries where we were working. Benfica in Portugal just up the road from Estoril and CR Vasco da Gama in Rio. We were determined to watch a game in Rio and asked the receptionist in our hotel how to get to the Estadio Sao Januario stadium. He was adamant we must not go because the stadium was situated in a dangerous favela, and we would not be safe. We were equally adamant we wanted to go. We reached a compromise, and he came with us. We had a great night receiving a fabulous welcome and returned with CR Vasco da Gamma shirts but safe and sound thanks to our fellow football-loving receptionist.
Football and MotoGP™ will always be linked. What other motorsport championship would be able to stage a pre-Grand Prix event at one at a truly legendary sporting venue. The MotoGP™ riders football team took on Moto2™ and Moto3™ riders on the hallowed turf of the Nou Camp Stadium before the 2013 Catalunya Grand Prix in Barcelona. Not just a visit with some photographs but an actual game on the hallowed turf.
For once I did not care who won.