King Carl leaves Drogba drooling
I wanted to give you a bit of an insight into an event I was at last week. It was the re-opening of a renovated NikeTown in London and they were inviting down as many of their big names as they could.
Didier Drogba, Ashley Cole, Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott were all there, along with the likes of Mark Cavendish, Paula Radcliffe and Peetu. A little internet research told me that Peetu Piiroinen is from Finland and one of the best snowboarders on the planet.
Also there was the great Carl Lewis, who must have one of the heaviest mantelpieces in the universe. He has endless Olympic and World Championship gold medals and was also named as Sportsman of the Century by the International Olympic Commitee.
Personally, I felt I should have been on the shortlist for my enormous cricket-ball bung that took the 'Long Throw' title at Three Bridges Middle School in the early 1990s but no-one on the panel agreed.
When I arrived at my central London destination, there was some serious security going on. Passes had to be worn at all times and I got the feeling from the burly chap on the door that any failure to comply would result in a swift harpoon to the small of the back.
My job was to ask the questions to the gathered superstars on stage and then do an interview for Football Focus with Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott. The event was taking place on the ground floor, we set up for our interview on the first floor and the green room was on the second.
In the United Kingdom, footballers are held in quite high regard and the invited audience were very excited about clapping eyes on the likes of Fabregas and Cole. As for the players, they seem to be equally delighted to be in the presence of Lewis.
It was fascinating to see Drogba's body language when he met the American. It was probably similar to the way most people react when they meet the Chelsea striker. Drogba said that Lewis was one of his heroes growing up and remembered being captivated by his long jump battle with Mike Powell at the 1991 World Championships.
Theo Walcott and Carl Lewis pose for the cameras
The green room was packed with agents as well as the stars themselves and I had to flutter around telling everyone what sort of questions I would be asking their clients and saying hello. As I was approaching Cole, I had to take a slight detour as I spotted that the pre-match food had arrived. I know he is important but briefing a footballer has to come second to a chicken fajita wrap and a fruit kebab.
The stars were also asked to bring a special memento from their sporting career and talk about its significance on stage. Peetu brought his rather smelly lucky gloves but most people went for footwear. Paula Radcliffe had the treads she wore when she broke the world record for the women's marathon, Mark Cavendish whipped out his Tour de France shoes, while Walcott had the boots he scored his hat-trick against Croatia with him, still minus one of the studs.
I believe I was wearing some long deceased Keegan Patricks for my cricket ball display but the footwear that really got the footballers going were boots Fabregas had donned in Spain's World Cup final win over the Netherlands. When he pulled them out of his plastic bag, everyone seemed strangely drawn to them, as if they were the Stone of Orthanc. Drogba gave them a tentative jab and Cole stroked them knowingly.
With preparations complete - and the waitress wondering what had happened to the full plate of volovants - we made our way downstairs for the main event. I chatted for about 45 minutes with the athletes about their careers, hopes, dreams and special moments. Many spoke of their excitement about 2012 Olympics in London while Walcott revealed that he has been working on his finishing by studying Drogba - a comment that elicited an affectionate nudge from the Ivorian, who seemed genuinely touched.
Once the official part of the day was over, the assembled journalists and crews departed to various corners of the store for their individual interviews. I dread to think how you would begin to organise something like that but it all seemed to run smoothly. I watched Lewis move swiftly from a TV interview to a chat with the papers and then a photo shoot with Walcott on a running track. Walcott's best for the 100m was 11.5 seconds, achieved as a 16-year-old, but I still reckon Lewis could burn him off if he wanted to.
Walcott then came over for our interview and we had a chat for a few minutes before Fabregas arrived after having his picture taken on the other side of the store. It worked very well as a dual interview. The Englishman spoke excellently about the need to keep the Spaniard at Arsenal, while Fabregas said the little fella on the wing was in the same league as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
At the end of the interview, I asked them if they were worried about Tottenham, their opponents this weekend. They both giggled before Walcott praised the team that Harry Rednapp has assembled and Fabregas gave a captain's response by indicating that Arsenal are determined to remain top dogs in north London. We shall see.
After a 20-minute chat, they were ushered to their next assignment and we were free to pack up and hand our passes back to the big unit at the door. We put that interview out last week so this Saturday we are talking to Younes Kaboul. David James will also give us the inside track from Bristol City, while West Brom's Jerome Thomas has been relaxing with DJ Spoony. We have also got a big interview lined up from Brazil but I cannot say any more about that at the moment.
I am also presenting Final Score on Saturday, so if you want to follow the build-up to both shows you can find me at twitter.com/danwalkerbbc.
This week's themed football team was the Shop XI. If you have a suggestion or any questions about the blog or show, then let me know.
Shop squad suggestions:
Edwin van der Spar
Marks & Spencer Prior
Ledley Kingdom of Leather
House of Frazier Campbell
Papa Bouba Co-op
TK Maxi Rodriguez
Matt Holland & Barrett
Finidi George at Asda
Primarco Van Basten
Justin Edinburgh Woollen Mill