At first I thought it was a scam. You know those emails that sneak into your inbox — “Congratulations! You won…”? I usually delete them with one click. But this one was different. This email was personal (“Dear Marcela”) and that is what caught my eye as I was about send it to the trash. So I read it, and then I reread — and I read it a third time out loud. At that point, everything clicked. I remembered that night a few weeks back when I entered Delta’s Behind the Blues contest while procrastinating from my work.
I entered because, as a huge soccer fan, I was thrilled that Delta was supporting a Premier League soccer team. I thought that was a great step for soccer in the United States. And it was a great opportunity for Chelsea fans, and fans of the beautiful game, to be able to experience firsthand what it is like to not just watch Chelsea play, but to also feel the stadium vibrate with excitement and anticipation when the team takes the pitch. We hear about big companies supporting the NFL and the MLB, but supporting soccer…that is something to be celebrated for sure.
So before I tell you about our amazing experience in London, I want to first and foremost thank Delta for being an avid promoter of Chelsea, the Premier League for supporting soccer fans here in the U.S. and of course for this once in a lifetime opportunity.
I don’t think the reality of the trip truly hit us until we were on the Delta flight to London. In the days before the trip, I had to fly to Mexico for a conference, fly back, and pack up and move my entire apartment. There was no time to process or plan. So once we were on the flight, the excitement and reality of winning this contest finally began to set it. Needless to say, we were ecstatic for the entire eight-hour red eye flight.
When we finally arrived in Heathrow, we realized how lucky we were to not only win a trip to London but to win this trip for August 2012. Our timing could not have been more perfect. We arrived just after the end of the Olympics and days before the start of the Paralympics. The city was still vibrating from the festivities earlier that month, but the crowds had greatly subsided. As a result, we were able to experience the atmosphere of London 2012 but on our own time and at our own pace. We took in all of the sites: London’s Tower Bridge (and the Olympic rings!), the London Eye, Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus, Big Ben, Parliament, Leicester Square. And that was only the first day!
Day 2 was the big match: Chelsea vs. New Castle at Stamford Bridge. We headed over the stadium 3 hours early. Even the gloomy forecast (“torrential downpours and high speed winds”) couldn’t dampen our excitement. Once we arrived at Stamford Bridge, we headed straight to the Chelsea megastore, where we spent a good portion of the $500 spending money on Chelsea merchandise.
Decked out in Chelsea gear, including Chelsea rain ponchos, we made our way to the VIP lounge at the Copthorne Hotel to meet up with the Delta representative. At this point I think we were still a bit incredulous about the whole experience. Yes, even after flying to London, checking into our hotel, and spending our traveller’s checks, we still didn’t quite believe that we had won this incredible contest. As we stepped into the VIP lounge, I realized that I had been holding my breath since receiving that initial “Congratulations” email. I had been expecting something, anything, to go wrong — “What if we can’t find the Delta representative?”, “What if they don’t know we are coming?”, “ What if something went wrong or there was a mistake?”. But sure enough, everything worked out perfectly. We met the Delta rep who handed us our tickets and introduced us to an extremely friendly group of Delta employees. We chatted about the game, drank some beers, and headed into the match just as Chelsea was taking the pitch to warm-up. As we took our seats in the stadium, I finally allowed myself to accept that I had been chosen as the lucky winner of the Behind the Blues contest. I realized that this stuff actually happens, and that it happened to me!
Side note: watching Petr Cech warm-up was definitely on the top of my list of amazing moments!
The game was everything that I was hoping it would be. We got the win (of course). A Fernando Torres goal and some incredible saves by Cech (to be expected). But what I loved most of all was the atmosphere of the stadium, and the fervor surrounding the match. Both Chelsea and New Castle fans were engaged in a verbal joust — singing, cheering, and chanting in unison — from the time the teams hit the pitch till after the final whistle was blown: “We know what we are…Champions of Europe, we know what we are!”.
The stadium was very much alive with the energy and passion of over 44,000 fans. Even as an “outsider” you can’t help but be swept up in that energy and drawn in by that passion. It is contagious to say the least. For those people out there who say that soccer is “boring”, they have clearly never experienced firsthand what it is like to be at a soccer match like this. They have never gone hoarse from singing for 90 minutes straight. They have never felt the stadium vibrate with anticipation as the ball soars towards the goal. And they have clearly never “bled blue” chanting: “We’ve waited so long, but we’d wait forever. Our blood is blue and we would leave you never. And when we make it, it’ll be together…Oh oh oh!”.
What an incredible experience! The rest of the trip was just as amazing and memorable. Highlights include: afternoon tea, carnival in Notting Hill, Billy Elliot, Sheppard’s pie, boutique shopping, Harry Potter Studio Tour, strolling down the streets in the West End, the London 2012 Festival, and minding the gap.
Thank you Delta and Chelsea for these wonderful memories!