Fond memories for volunteers

Volunteers make a valuable contribution to the success of FIFA competitions worldwide, and the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007 has been no exception. Over the course of the 20-day tournament, a total of 2,695 volunteers have been recruited to ensure that the event runs as smoothly as possible.

In each of the five Host Cities, people from all walks of life, including students, taxi drivers and government office employees, have been giving up their precious time to fill a variety of volunteer vacancies, some ordinary and others less so. While the efforts of these conscientious citizens have won them the respect and admiration of players, officials and fans from around the globe, it has also left them with many an interesting tale to tell.

Twenty-year-old student Shi Yi is not sure whether to laugh or cry. Having spent a rollercoaster month helping out as a steward at the FIFA Women's World Cup, she is still on a high after experiencing two thrilling quarter-final matches at close quarters. Despite all that, she still has one regret after a brief encounter with one generous football star that left her somewhat lost for words.

Shi Yi, a third-year English major at Tianjin Normal University, will never forget the evening of 22 September, just after the quarter-final match between the USA and England. It was on that night that the student, who was standing on duty outside the England team dressing room, made an unexpected friend. "At that time, the England team were coming out of their dressing room one after the other. All of a sudden one of the girls stopped in front of me and said, 'Thanks for your help! If you don't mind, I'd like to give you my football boots as a present.'

"I was slightly taken aback but I was also quite touched by her kindness, so, a bit sheepishly, I accepted them from her," Shi Yi told "I'm certain that those boots were worn during England's 3-0 defeat by the USA, which was England's last match in China." Overcome with excitement at being presented with a unique memento of the match, the tongue-tied student then forgot ask for something in return - the name of the owner of the boots.

"I've already stored the shoes safely away at home but I'm gutted I never found out who they belong to. If it's possible, I'd like you to help me find out who that was," Shi Yi asked earnestly.

In fact, few could expect a busy student with limited knowledge of football to remember the faces of every England team member, even though as a steward she came into contact with the players on numerous occasions. Shi Yi admits that the only England player she recognises is the team's high-profile No10, Kelly Smith.

Nevertheless, she admires the way in which the team's players handled all the intense media attention without letting fame go to their heads: "That day when England lost against the USA, one of the players took a knock on the nose," she says, referring to Faye White's collision with USA forward Abby Wambach. "Even so, she still stood in the crowded interview area for a good fifteen minutes after the match, taking questions from reporters while wiping her bloody nose with a tissue."

Shi Yi started working for the China 2007 Local Organization Committee on 19 August. Although it meant that she lost half of her summer holidays, the English major is delighted to have gained so much out of the experience. In the space of just over a month, she came into contact with players and fans from across North America and Europe, enabling her to put her language skills to the test.

She even drew inspiration for a career in broadcasting thanks to a face-to-face meeting with BBC football commentator Jacqui Oatley, who she had only previously seen on TV. Finally, Shi Yi earned the respect and appreciation of Kelly Smith and the rest of the England squad, as well as a unique keepsake from one particular player, even if she forget to ask who that was.

An eye for champions
Forty-year-old Zhu Jiafa still takes great delight in entertaining his friends with endless anecdotes about the events of the past month. While Brazil were busy topping their group during the first phase in Wuhan, Mr Zhu was hard at work as the team's dedicated coach driver. In fact, even in those early stages he predicted that the Canarinhas would make it all the way to the final.

Before signing up as a volunteer on 1 September, Zhu Jiafa worked as a taxi driver in central Wuhan. The experience which has earned him a 'five-star' rating with his taxi company came in handy during the tournament, when the bulk of his job consisted of ferrying players between the stadium, hotel and the training ground. Although he would report for duty as early as seven in the morning and not clock off until 11 each night, it still proved to be a dream assignment for Mr Zhu, who has been an avid football fan for many years.

The sports-mad driver, who even lives near to the city's Xinhua Road stadium, was immediately impressed with the spirit displayed by Jorge Barcellos' Seleção: "Whether on the coach or in training, they were always full of beans and so laid-back."

In fact Mr Zhu's footballing intuition quickly led him and his pals to conclude that Brazil would be the closest challengers behind Germany for the world title, a prediction he is proud to point out has come true. "You see?" he told over the phone. "I was right all along. They're a class act and they take their training very seriously too."

Wuhan has now successfully fulfilled its role in the competition and Zhu Jiafa has returned to his day job. Even so, he is still excited about his experience of the finals, including the snapshot he had taken of him standing alongside China PR striker Han Duan, which to this day still attracts envious glances from his friends. "My mates are all jealous of me," he said. "They all want to get a look at the photo of me and Han Duan."

Mr Zhu proudly reveals that he had his photo taken with players from almost every country participating in the finals. Evidently, the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007 has gifted fond memories to the individuals who have helped make the event such a resounding success.