The countdown to the UEFA Champions League final at Wembley Stadium continues apace after one of the stars of the show – the trophy – was handed over to the city of London at a special ceremony in the UK capital.
On a glorious spring day in south-east England the medieval-style Great Hall of the historic Guildhall – parts of which date from the 15th century and which remains the ceremonial and administrative venue for the City of London – staged a prestigious event at which footballing dignitaries joined players past and present to witness the arrival of one of sport's most prestigious prizes: the UEFA Champions League Trophy.
In a symbolic act heralding London's role as host city, last season's winners FC Internazionale Milano – represented by ambassador Luís Figo, former goalkeeper Francesco Toldo and Ernesto Paolillo, the club's managing director and chief operating officer – handed the much-coveted silverware to UEFA President Michel Platini, who in turn presented it to mayor of London Boris Johnson.
"I'm very proud to receive the cup from a great club like Inter and to give it to a great football city like London," Mr Platini said. "We will have a great week, beginning with Grassroots Day on the Wednesday, continuing with the women's final on the Thursday, and on Saturday the Champions League final at a beautiful stadium. And over it all we have the Champions Festival."
"I want to thank UEFA very much for choosing London as the venue," Mr Johnson added. "Football has done fantastic things for the people of this city and London does great things for football. That's why we're so proud to welcome UEFA for this great final and to be organising an eight-day festival of football in Hyde Park and other iconic locations. Thank you for bringing the cup for London – may the best team win."
The showpiece occasion on Saturday 28 May will be the sixth time London has staged a European Champion Clubs' Cup final – the last was the 1992 edition, FC Barcelona defeating UC Sampdoria 1-0 after extra time – and the first in both the UEFA Champions League era and since the revamped Wembley stadium was reopened in 2007.
Football Association (FA) chairman David Bernstein expressed the FA's pride in helping to meet the challenge of organising what is not just a final, but a week-long programme of activities featuring the UEFA Champions Festival (21-28 May), UEFA Grassroots Day (25 May) and the UEFA Women's Champions League final at Craven Cottage, home of Fulham FC (26 May).
"Despite the fact there are no longer any London clubs left in the competition, the final is very much for the whole of London," he told an audience that included event ambassadors Hope Powell and Graeme Le Saux, England manager Fabio Capello and lord mayor of London Michael Bear.
"As Madrid, Rome and Moscow in previous years will no doubt confirm, the Champions League final is a wonderful event, not just for the host stadium but also the host city, and whether it be at the Champions Festival that will be taking place over eight days in Hyde Park, the Women's Champions League final at Craven Cottage, or the Wembley arch that will be lit on matchday for all of London to see, we believe that Londoners will be able to connect to this year's final like never before."
The UEFA Champions League Trophy goes on tour in London from 21 April until 21 May, when it moves to the UEFA Champions Festival in Hyde Park. The tour begins at Duke of York's Square on the celebrated Kings Road on Thursday.
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