by Chris Falvey, UCFB Events Manager

Chris worked for The FA before joining UCFB; operationally supporting the men’s and women’s England teams. Chris travelled to two FIFA World Cups, with England Women and England Women’s Under-20, was part of the UEFA Champions League Final Wembley 2013 project team and worked alongside UEFA hosting an Under-17 Euro Finals in England. Chris also managed the Men’s Youth operations department, working with Gareth Southgate in his role as Head of England development teams.

The team behind the team

At the start of a major international football tournament, I don’t find myself thinking about how well England are going to do. Having spent seven and a half years as an England Teams Operations Manager, giving my everything to support England men’s and women’s teams, I always find myself thinking about the amount of hours, days and years people like me have put in way before the opening game kicks off. I’m thinking about the amount of time those people have been away from their homes and families and how many hours a day, non-stop, they will work during the tournament.

For the England team, the planning for Russia 2018 literally started years ago. Before some of the stadiums had started being built, before any of the teams had begun their qualifying campaigns and before some of the current squad had their first sniff of first-team football, let alone representing their country at a World Cup. The Head of Operations, Travel Manager and Security Manager were on this project as soon as Russia was named as the host, assuming that England would qualify as they have to, and will have lived and breathed it every day until the team get back on the plane to come home.

The England team training in Russia

There will have been countless project meetings, briefing documents and reconnaissance trips to Russia to ensure that everyone involved could be as informed and well-prepared as possible. The motto always, from the team behind the team, ‘we take care of everything off the pitch, so they can concentrate on the pitch’. Now it could be argued that the latter hasn’t always happened (!), but I can guarantee you that off the pitch, the England back room staff are up there with the most diligent and prepared teams in international football.

And so, fast forwarding to the tournament itself, putting aside the day to day work of planning for and travelling to friendly and qualifying matches, the team will have been in camp at St George’s Park for 2 or 3 weeks. The players may have had the odd day off in that period, or maybe a few days at home before travelling to Russia, but it’s likely that the operational team could not switch off. Because what comes next? 3 – 6 weeks in Russia! There will be long days (travel days being the worst!) and little down time…and the downtime you do get is always with your work colleagues…so it can be pretty full on, with no escape! The best and worst bit…you don’t know when it’s going to end! A kick of ball will decide that bit.

Chris during his time at the Women’s 2011 FIFA World Cup

So why do people do it? It’s because sporting events are something special. Yes, there’s the glamorous bits…having a police escort stop all the traffic on the motorways in Ukraine never gets old! But it’s the drama, the uncertainty of the result, the prospect of being part of something that you will remember for the rest of your life, the camaraderie, being part of a team that achieves something. That’s why people, like me, devote so much of their lives to this intriguing sport industry world.