Baku, Azerbaijan is an up and coming event city, with world class concerts, exhibitions, and sports. The city has witnessed a building boom since Soviet times two decades ago and has hosted world championships in Football and boxing and the EUROVISION Song Contest,to name a few.
These all required thousands of volunteers while next year the first ever EURPEAN GAMES will be held in this city by the Caspian Sea from June 12-25th with lots of new venues being built. Even more volunteers will be needed and I was honoured to be invited to be a guest speaker at an INTERNATIONAL FOOTBALL VOLUNTEERING FORUM organized by the AFFA at the FW MARRIOTT ABSHERON Hotel next to Government House and Freedom Square looking over the Caspian.
Speakers from UK, Denmark, Poland, Georgia, Turkey, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy and elsewhere were encouraging over 400 young people in the audience to get involved. After speakers from the Azerbaijan government we had an Italian Calcio legend GIANLUCA ZAMBROTTA with 98 caps for ITALIA, three World Cups including a winners medal for Italy in 2006 and club experience at Como, Bari, Juventus, Barcelona, AC Milan and more recently Chiasso of Switzerland.
What we learned was that treating the volunteers well was the key to recruiting and keeping them happy. Nice quality, well fitting uniforms, a couple of meals a day, intense training, good supervision and respect and understanding that they were volunteers and not well paid FIFA, UEFA or such employees. It was all put together by super AFFA guru VUGAR RUSTAMLI who was as busy as a bee and can be applauded for a successful event.
I managed to get a ride in an AFFA car during lunch to their headquarters 20 minutes along the coast where 140 employees work. The one that I really wanted to meet was FUAD BAHRAMOV, grandson of 'The Russian Linesman' at the World Cup Final in 1966 at Wembley Stadium. Tofiq Bahramov was at the time an experienced FIFA referee who also travelled all over the Soviet Union to Tbilisi, Kiev, Moscow, Leningrad, Tashkent, Minsk... He returned home to the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic and became General Secretary of the AFFA.
Fuad works in the marketing department of AFFA and I had my photo taken with him in front of a photo of his grandfather and I visited the AFFA Museum where I signed the guest book and received a large book on the history of Azari football and lots of souvenirs-hats, national team jersey, pins, flags etc.
I was taken back to the conference hotel and finally gave my presentation on WHERE FOOTBALL KICKED OFF and the history of the game and my experience of volunteering at the 1966 World Cup and elsewhere around the world. I wore my AFFA hat and new scarf and started out at the podium by shouting 'VIVA AZERBAIJAN' which woke everybody up and got me lots of cheers and applause.
COME AND VISIT AZERBAIJAN...THE LAND OF FIRE !