Insight

Final thoughts

When it comes to the Champions League showpiece, success requires tactical nous and forensic preparation. Just ask Craig Thompson…

WORDS Dan Poole | ILLUSTRATION Neil Stevens

“Any little thing that went wrong was a huge problem, because it was the final.” So says Craig Thompson, who oversaw seven Champions League finals between 1995 and 2001. No, he isn’t the greatest manager you’ve never heard of, but he was a crucial cog in the machine that brought the Champions League to life.

Thompson’s first outing in charge of logistics and operations was Vienna in 1995. “The final had been run in the same way for a long time,” he says. “In Vienna, everything changed. We came in with all our checklists and 50 members of staff, all sorts of rigmarole. It was tough.”

So tough, in fact, that Thompson didn’t sleep so soundly the following season. “I started having nightmares,” he says. “The first time was a couple of nights before the Rome final in 1996. Always the same thing: somehow I wasn’t able to be in the meetings in the last few days before the final. And then, in my dream, I didn’t wake up in time on the day and had to be specially driven to the stadium. People would be looking at me, like, ‘Where have you been?’”

Another nightmare was the pre-mobiles mode of communication that Thompson and his colleagues used when on site. “We had to put our radios on six different channels: one for broadcasters, one for sponsors, one for security, etc. You would say, ‘This is Craig Thompson, switching from channel 1 to channel 2.’ Then, ‘This is Craig Thompson on channel 2, can I please speak to…’ You’d have that conversation, then, ‘This is Craig Thompson switching from channel 2 to channel 3.’ And everyone had to keep a list of who was on which channel. It was crazy.”

Those radios must have been busy on the morning of the 1996 final, when the police arrived to inspect the hospitality village outside the Stadio Olimpico. “They said, ‘You cannot serve beer in a public place!’ We said, ‘This isn’t a public space! You need a ticket to get in.’ They said, ‘No, no! Remove the beer!’” Fortunately that issue got ironed out – and the village visitors who came by later were pleased with the outcome. “Everyone was having such a good time that they didn’t want to go to the match,” says Thompson. “Finally we just had to get everybody out.”

“it was so interesting working in Europe because every culture is so different; they’re all wonderful people but just such a different approach to life.”

“Any little thing that went wrong was a huge problem, because it was the final.” So says Craig Thompson, who oversaw seven Champions League finals between 1995 and 2001. No, he isn’t the greatest manager you’ve never heard of, but he was a crucial cog in the machine that brought the Champions League to life.

Thompson’s first outing in charge of logistics and operations was Vienna in 1995. “The final had been run in the same way for a long time,” he says. “In Vienna, everything changed. We came in with all our checklists and 50 members of staff, all sorts of rigmarole. It was tough.”

So tough, in fact, that Thompson didn’t sleep so soundly the following season. “I started having nightmares,” he says. “The first time was a couple of nights before the Rome final in 1996. Always the same thing: somehow I wasn’t able to be in the meetings in the last few days before the final. And then, in my dream, I didn’t wake up in time on the day and had to be specially driven to the stadium. People would be looking at me, like, ‘Where have you been?’”

Another nightmare was the pre-mobiles mode of communication that Thompson and his colleagues used when on site. “We had to put our radios on six different channels: one for broadcasters, one for sponsors, one for security, etc. You would say, ‘This is Craig Thompson, switching from channel 1 to channel 2.’ Then, ‘This is Craig Thompson on channel 2, can I please speak to…’ You’d have that conversation, then, ‘This is Craig Thompson switching from channel 2 to channel 3.’ And everyone had to keep a list of who was on which channel. It was crazy.”

Those radios must have been busy on the morning of the 1996 final, when the police arrived to inspect the hospitality village outside the Stadio Olimpico. “They said, ‘You cannot serve beer in a public place!’ We said, ‘This isn’t a public space! You need a ticket to get in.’ They said, ‘No, no! Remove the beer!’” Fortunately that issue got ironed out – and the village visitors who came by later were pleased with the outcome. “Everyone was having such a good time that they didn’t want to go to the match,” says Thompson. “Finally we just had to get everybody out.”

“it was so interesting working in Europe because every culture is so different; they’re all wonderful people but just such a different approach to life.”

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

Munich hosted in 1997. “We were starting to hit our stride now,” says Thompson. “And it was so interesting working in Europe because every culture is so different; they’re all wonderful people but just such a different approach to life.” Yet in Amsterdam the following year, it was an unexpected fellow countryman that Thompson had for company. “At the last minute, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger turned up. There was a big kerfuffle – US secret service were all there so they had to come in too. We didn’t have any seats arranged but you’re not about to say, ‘Mr Kissinger, I’m very sorry, you can’t come to the final.’ Turned out he’s a huge football fan. He totally enjoyed himself.”

To Barcelona in 1999, where Thompson was keen on a particular double act for the opening ceremony. “A few years before, a song called Barcelona had been made famous by the 1992 Olympics. It was sung by Freddie Mercury and Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé. We wanted Caballé to perform live. Mercury had passed away but we found a video of him singing that we could put on a giant video screen, with her on the pitch. But she wouldn’t do it: since he’d died, she’d promised herself she’d never perform the song again.

“It turned out one of our colleagues there knew José Carreras, the famous tenor, who was good friends with Caballé. We convinced him to go and get her to change her mind – and he did it. We were so happy. She came out before kick-off and it was quite a contraption we had to rig up: we put her on a golf cart with a hoop around her waist, anchoring her so that she couldn’t fall over.

“We’d done opening ceremonies before and the crowd hadn’t paid attention. But when the music started and you saw Freddie on screen, you could hear a pin drop. I have goosebumps to this day. That was the best moment of my football career, when the whole stadium went silent in this love of football, of music, of life. It was reverential.”

The 2000 final was in Paris. “By this time the hospitality was up to 4,000 people, production crews were putting 50 cameras around the pitch – when we started in Vienna it was maybe 20. There were double the number of reporters too.” And then, for Thompson’s last final as co-ordinator, it was a trip back to Italy – Milan this time. “The day before, I found out that the city of Milan wanted to get 75 more people into hospitality and the VIP section. UEFA found the tickets but on the night it meant that Franz Beckenbauer and Lennart Johansson couldn’t get into the hospitality suite. The president of UEFA couldn’t get in. Disaster.” Of course, Thompson found room for them eventually.

Was it time to rest up? “If you care about what you’re doing, this is one of the most stressful things that you can do in your life,” says Thompson. Still, 20 years on, no lasting signs of trauma. “There were always problems but we always solved them. It was a really special time with really special colleagues.”

“Any little thing that went wrong was a huge problem, because it was the final.” So says Craig Thompson, who oversaw seven Champions League finals between 1995 and 2001. No, he isn’t the greatest manager you’ve never heard of, but he was a crucial cog in the machine that brought the Champions League to life.

Thompson’s first outing in charge of logistics and operations was Vienna in 1995. “The final had been run in the same way for a long time,” he says. “In Vienna, everything changed. We came in with all our checklists and 50 members of staff, all sorts of rigmarole. It was tough.”

So tough, in fact, that Thompson didn’t sleep so soundly the following season. “I started having nightmares,” he says. “The first time was a couple of nights before the Rome final in 1996. Always the same thing: somehow I wasn’t able to be in the meetings in the last few days before the final. And then, in my dream, I didn’t wake up in time on the day and had to be specially driven to the stadium. People would be looking at me, like, ‘Where have you been?’”

Another nightmare was the pre-mobiles mode of communication that Thompson and his colleagues used when on site. “We had to put our radios on six different channels: one for broadcasters, one for sponsors, one for security, etc. You would say, ‘This is Craig Thompson, switching from channel 1 to channel 2.’ Then, ‘This is Craig Thompson on channel 2, can I please speak to…’ You’d have that conversation, then, ‘This is Craig Thompson switching from channel 2 to channel 3.’ And everyone had to keep a list of who was on which channel. It was crazy.”

Those radios must have been busy on the morning of the 1996 final, when the police arrived to inspect the hospitality village outside the Stadio Olimpico. “They said, ‘You cannot serve beer in a public place!’ We said, ‘This isn’t a public space! You need a ticket to get in.’ They said, ‘No, no! Remove the beer!’” Fortunately that issue got ironed out – and the village visitors who came by later were pleased with the outcome. “Everyone was having such a good time that they didn’t want to go to the match,” says Thompson. “Finally we just had to get everybody out.”

“it was so interesting working in Europe because every culture is so different; they’re all wonderful people but just such a different approach to life.”

Final thoughts
Insight

Final thoughts

When it comes to the Champions League showpiece, success requires tactical nous and forensic preparation. Just ask Craig Thompson…

WORDS Dan Poole | ILLUSTRATION Neil Stevens

“Any little thing that went wrong was a huge problem, because it was the final.” So says Craig Thompson, who oversaw seven Champions League finals between 1995 and 2001. No, he isn’t the greatest manager you’ve never heard of, but he was a crucial cog in the machine that brought the Champions League to life.

Thompson’s first outing in charge of logistics and operations was Vienna in 1995. “The final had been run in the same way for a long time,” he says. “In Vienna, everything changed. We came in with all our checklists and 50 members of staff, all sorts of rigmarole. It was tough.”

So tough, in fact, that Thompson didn’t sleep so soundly the following season. “I started having nightmares,” he says. “The first time was a couple of nights before the Rome final in 1996. Always the same thing: somehow I wasn’t able to be in the meetings in the last few days before the final. And then, in my dream, I didn’t wake up in time on the day and had to be specially driven to the stadium. People would be looking at me, like, ‘Where have you been?’”

Another nightmare was the pre-mobiles mode of communication that Thompson and his colleagues used when on site. “We had to put our radios on six different channels: one for broadcasters, one for sponsors, one for security, etc. You would say, ‘This is Craig Thompson, switching from channel 1 to channel 2.’ Then, ‘This is Craig Thompson on channel 2, can I please speak to…’ You’d have that conversation, then, ‘This is Craig Thompson switching from channel 2 to channel 3.’ And everyone had to keep a list of who was on which channel. It was crazy.”

Those radios must have been busy on the morning of the 1996 final, when the police arrived to inspect the hospitality village outside the Stadio Olimpico. “They said, ‘You cannot serve beer in a public place!’ We said, ‘This isn’t a public space! You need a ticket to get in.’ They said, ‘No, no! Remove the beer!’” Fortunately that issue got ironed out – and the village visitors who came by later were pleased with the outcome. “Everyone was having such a good time that they didn’t want to go to the match,” says Thompson. “Finally we just had to get everybody out.”

“it was so interesting working in Europe because every culture is so different; they’re all wonderful people but just such a different approach to life.”

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

“Any little thing that went wrong was a huge problem, because it was the final.” So says Craig Thompson, who oversaw seven Champions League finals between 1995 and 2001. No, he isn’t the greatest manager you’ve never heard of, but he was a crucial cog in the machine that brought the Champions League to life.

Thompson’s first outing in charge of logistics and operations was Vienna in 1995. “The final had been run in the same way for a long time,” he says. “In Vienna, everything changed. We came in with all our checklists and 50 members of staff, all sorts of rigmarole. It was tough.”

So tough, in fact, that Thompson didn’t sleep so soundly the following season. “I started having nightmares,” he says. “The first time was a couple of nights before the Rome final in 1996. Always the same thing: somehow I wasn’t able to be in the meetings in the last few days before the final. And then, in my dream, I didn’t wake up in time on the day and had to be specially driven to the stadium. People would be looking at me, like, ‘Where have you been?’”

Another nightmare was the pre-mobiles mode of communication that Thompson and his colleagues used when on site. “We had to put our radios on six different channels: one for broadcasters, one for sponsors, one for security, etc. You would say, ‘This is Craig Thompson, switching from channel 1 to channel 2.’ Then, ‘This is Craig Thompson on channel 2, can I please speak to…’ You’d have that conversation, then, ‘This is Craig Thompson switching from channel 2 to channel 3.’ And everyone had to keep a list of who was on which channel. It was crazy.”

Those radios must have been busy on the morning of the 1996 final, when the police arrived to inspect the hospitality village outside the Stadio Olimpico. “They said, ‘You cannot serve beer in a public place!’ We said, ‘This isn’t a public space! You need a ticket to get in.’ They said, ‘No, no! Remove the beer!’” Fortunately that issue got ironed out – and the village visitors who came by later were pleased with the outcome. “Everyone was having such a good time that they didn’t want to go to the match,” says Thompson. “Finally we just had to get everybody out.”

“it was so interesting working in Europe because every culture is so different; they’re all wonderful people but just such a different approach to life.”

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

Munich hosted in 1997. “We were starting to hit our stride now,” says Thompson. “And it was so interesting working in Europe because every culture is so different; they’re all wonderful people but just such a different approach to life.” Yet in Amsterdam the following year, it was an unexpected fellow countryman that Thompson had for company. “At the last minute, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger turned up. There was a big kerfuffle – US secret service were all there so they had to come in too. We didn’t have any seats arranged but you’re not about to say, ‘Mr Kissinger, I’m very sorry, you can’t come to the final.’ Turned out he’s a huge football fan. He totally enjoyed himself.”

To Barcelona in 1999, where Thompson was keen on a particular double act for the opening ceremony. “A few years before, a song called Barcelona had been made famous by the 1992 Olympics. It was sung by Freddie Mercury and Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé. We wanted Caballé to perform live. Mercury had passed away but we found a video of him singing that we could put on a giant video screen, with her on the pitch. But she wouldn’t do it: since he’d died, she’d promised herself she’d never perform the song again.

“It turned out one of our colleagues there knew José Carreras, the famous tenor, who was good friends with Caballé. We convinced him to go and get her to change her mind – and he did it. We were so happy. She came out before kick-off and it was quite a contraption we had to rig up: we put her on a golf cart with a hoop around her waist, anchoring her so that she couldn’t fall over.

“We’d done opening ceremonies before and the crowd hadn’t paid attention. But when the music started and you saw Freddie on screen, you could hear a pin drop. I have goosebumps to this day. That was the best moment of my football career, when the whole stadium went silent in this love of football, of music, of life. It was reverential.”

The 2000 final was in Paris. “By this time the hospitality was up to 4,000 people, production crews were putting 50 cameras around the pitch – when we started in Vienna it was maybe 20. There were double the number of reporters too.” And then, for Thompson’s last final as co-ordinator, it was a trip back to Italy – Milan this time. “The day before, I found out that the city of Milan wanted to get 75 more people into hospitality and the VIP section. UEFA found the tickets but on the night it meant that Franz Beckenbauer and Lennart Johansson couldn’t get into the hospitality suite. The president of UEFA couldn’t get in. Disaster.” Of course, Thompson found room for them eventually.

Was it time to rest up? “If you care about what you’re doing, this is one of the most stressful things that you can do in your life,” says Thompson. Still, 20 years on, no lasting signs of trauma. “There were always problems but we always solved them. It was a really special time with really special colleagues.”

“Any little thing that went wrong was a huge problem, because it was the final.” So says Craig Thompson, who oversaw seven Champions League finals between 1995 and 2001. No, he isn’t the greatest manager you’ve never heard of, but he was a crucial cog in the machine that brought the Champions League to life.

Thompson’s first outing in charge of logistics and operations was Vienna in 1995. “The final had been run in the same way for a long time,” he says. “In Vienna, everything changed. We came in with all our checklists and 50 members of staff, all sorts of rigmarole. It was tough.”

So tough, in fact, that Thompson didn’t sleep so soundly the following season. “I started having nightmares,” he says. “The first time was a couple of nights before the Rome final in 1996. Always the same thing: somehow I wasn’t able to be in the meetings in the last few days before the final. And then, in my dream, I didn’t wake up in time on the day and had to be specially driven to the stadium. People would be looking at me, like, ‘Where have you been?’”

Another nightmare was the pre-mobiles mode of communication that Thompson and his colleagues used when on site. “We had to put our radios on six different channels: one for broadcasters, one for sponsors, one for security, etc. You would say, ‘This is Craig Thompson, switching from channel 1 to channel 2.’ Then, ‘This is Craig Thompson on channel 2, can I please speak to…’ You’d have that conversation, then, ‘This is Craig Thompson switching from channel 2 to channel 3.’ And everyone had to keep a list of who was on which channel. It was crazy.”

Those radios must have been busy on the morning of the 1996 final, when the police arrived to inspect the hospitality village outside the Stadio Olimpico. “They said, ‘You cannot serve beer in a public place!’ We said, ‘This isn’t a public space! You need a ticket to get in.’ They said, ‘No, no! Remove the beer!’” Fortunately that issue got ironed out – and the village visitors who came by later were pleased with the outcome. “Everyone was having such a good time that they didn’t want to go to the match,” says Thompson. “Finally we just had to get everybody out.”

“it was so interesting working in Europe because every culture is so different; they’re all wonderful people but just such a different approach to life.”

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

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