By Pete Sanderson
He may not have carried the same reputation as the likes of José Mourinho, Joseph S. Blatter or even Pelé but the boy who walked through the doors of UEFA on Friday was one the most important visitors to the house of European football for some time. The youngster, along with 15 friends, was one of the survivors of the school siege in Beslan, Russia, which claimed more than 300 lives last September.
Wednesday 1 September should have been the beginning of a new school year for Alan Tzirakov but the events which unfolded scarred an entire nation forever as terrorists held a three-day armed siege at Alan's school. Eight months on Alan and his fellow pupils are still trying to get their lives back in order and, to help with their recuperation process, they were invited to Nyon, Switzerland for three months. As part of the trip, UEFA's HatTrick Project Manager Bruno Wolfisberg invited the children to see European football's headquarters for themselves.
"I read a piece in the local paper that they were coming over to Nyon and were looking for host families," Wolfisberg told uefa.com. "Once the kids had settled I thought it would be great for them to see UEFA. We had one of the girls staying at out house. She and her friends have been through such an ordeal and we are doing whatever we can to help them. We just want to see them happy."
Like all the children visiting Switzerland, ten-year-old Alan is a passionate follower of football. And, after a tour of the trophies, the famous draw room and watching a video on UEFA EURO 2004™, Alan was in no doubt about his favourite activity of the day. "I love the trophies," he said, before revealing he had supported Portugal and Russia in last summer's tournament. "I would love to lift one of them one day when I am older. I want to be as good as David Beckham one day."
It has been an incredible few weeks for the children. Not only have they witnessed a whole new culture since being invited over to live with local families in Nyon, the hometown of UEFA, they have also visited landmarks throughout Switzerland. It is a far cry from the toil and trouble back in their homeland and the experience of this new world has opened the eyes of Svetlana Kozyreva – one of the teachers who came over to Switzerland.
Peace and tranquility
"The whole stay has been incredible," she told uefa.com "The experience of living in such a quiet and peaceful environment really helps the children to overcome the problems they have gone through and being able to come to the home of football is wonderful. The girls have particularly enjoyed seeing UEFA – they seem to like football as much if not more than the boys."
The trip has had a noticeable impact on the children too. Kozyreva, who almost broke down in tears of happiness during the interview as she recalled the Swiss experience, said she has seen a day-to-day improvement in the mental health of the children. "I think they are feeling better for the whole experience - you can see it in their faces," she said. "There is a huge cultural difference between Nyon and Beslan - elementary things that people probably would not think about over here. The freedom is a breath of fresh air."
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