There are a few sportsmen in Germany who will be remembered forever. Boris Becker, the great tennis hero; Franz Beckenbauer, one of the most elegant soccer players of all time; and of course, Michael Schumacher, the man who holds all Formula One records and decided to retire from Grand Prix racing two years ago.
But for a “pensioner”, Michael Schumacher lives a very busy life. Motorbike tests and races, parachuting and one of his biggest passions, playing football, keep him very busy indeed! For several years he organized charity games with his team “Nationale Piloti” against VIP all-star teams ahead of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. Despite the fact that he is no longer involved in the race, he continues to lead his soccer team as captain onto the pitch.
During the past ten years I have covered seven or eight of these charity matches as a Reuters photographer. This year a dream came true.
Friends of mine at a local PR agency were asked to organize the event and to find a bespoke VIP all-star team including a couple of soccer players (former sport professionals, media people etc…) to support “Nationale Piloti”.
A few phone calls later, I found myself as substitute goalkeeper on the bench for Schumacher’s team, along with Formula One drivers Nico Rossberg, Sebastian Vettel, Giancarlo Fisichella and ski racer Christian Gedhina. After getting a lift in a German national soccer team bus from Euro 2008 to the stadium containing more than 8,000 spectators, to face the VIP all-star team with players who, collectively, have played more than 2,500 German Bundesliga matches, my heart was definitely pumping fast. Even faster than when I enter a stadium, with my photographic gear, to shoot a match for Reuters. Also, imagine the surprise on the faces of my colleagues - agency and newspaper photographers I have worked with for years – who, this time, were to take pictures of me playing for Schumacher’s team.