An airlines advertisement that exhorts you to think- “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” has stuck with me for over 15 years now. In fact, I have sought some ‘first time’ experiences and some of these experiences have been thrust on me. Bareback diving in Polar Sea in Antarctica, traveling on a train to Pakistan and driving 1000 miles in a day to the Mexico border are some.

I never imagined that something so precious, so wanted and so alluring as one of the (real) FIFA World Cup Trophies would be entrusted to me as a representative of Coca-Cola. Now Coca-Cola leads the Global FIFA Trophy Tour where the trophy travels to several countries, but to be entrusted physically with FIFA U-17 World Cup Trophy for fans in India was something that had to be bracketed in ‘when was the last time you did something for the first time’ league.

When the idea of retaining the trophy started taking shape, the immediate thoughts of team were police, hotel, insurance, security etc. My colleague Kapil and I were part of the core team that managed the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour by Coca-Cola, which brought the coveted trophy to Kolkata in 2013. So we had a general idea of what we were in for. But, that experience wasn’t about retaining the trophy in your room- this was.

The planning phase of the trophy display was laced with questions on plan B. What do we do if this happens and what do we do if that happens? What is entry plan B and exit plan B? I don’t think I have ever used the word plan B that often in life.

When the day arrived, it was surreal. My colleague Aakash and I were a bit overwhelmed to begin with, but then we had a job to do i.e. take this trophy to its fans, which is what it was meant for. Plan gave way to action. And the eventual display in 5 cities brought joy to thousands of people, including proud soccer moms and their families. Some fans stared at it and had to be jolted out of stupor. Some kept taking pictures again and again as if they wanted to have plan F, G or H pic just in case their first 5 pics turned out bad. Young children, hopefully saw a future lifting it. I clearly remember, every time the trophy would be put on display, hundreds of fans gawked at me and my gloved hands holding the trophy and setting it on its pedestal. I don’t think I have ever been envied so much in my life.

We wanted to celebrate this opportunity with everyone at Coca-Cola. Across 3 cities, we took the trophy to our bottling plants and teams and their families come and bask in the glory of the trophy and get exclusive pics.

The biggest high (hands down) was to see visually impaired football players getting to actually touch the trophy at the office of the National Association for the Blind. Special permission was granted by FIFA so that our blind football players could ‘see’ the FIFA U-17 World Cup Winners’ Trophy through the sensation of touch.

Typically, this trophy like all FIFA trophies could only be touched by heads of state or winning team members, but FIFA made an exception. If you were in the room, and your throat wasn’t choked seeing joy on faces of these football players touching the trophy, you were missing a heart. It was something else. Let me say this with all my humility, this was most definitely an ‘Only Coke Can Do’ magic.

The trophy also brought with it side stories. ‘Walking in the shoes of the people’ is an age old adage.  Aakash and I walked in shoes of celebrities. Got ‘the’ most premium parking spot, walked with the trophy case surrounded by multiple bodyguards, people wondering who they are, but nonetheless taking pictures (an interesting sociological phenomenon). I soaked everything in and put on black glasses, just to complete the picture. Let them be happy.

The experience of taking trophy through the airport is the one that brought me back to earth. When they asked, what is it? I told them in a whisper what it was. Then they (security) asked me to open, because I did not sound credulous enough. I could read the minds…. ‘this guy….THIS guy has the FIFA trophy?! THIS GUY?!”

While giving trophy back on last day, I felt relief + sadness + joy + many inexplicable emotions. Taking care of the trophy and bringing it to thousands of people was an experience like no other and well, but it had to end so that team who wins it can take it. 

This memory is so prominent, that this experience calls out for formation of a new league, “When was the last time, you did something for the last time?” I have two big entries in it- my marriage and this FIFA U-17 World Cup Trophy Tour.