Ed note: This is awesome and I am super-jealous.
I started telling this story on the Chelsea/Milan thread the other day and got a few requests to write a Fan Post, so here it is.
I live in Jacksonville, and when CFC announced that they were coming to Miami a few months ago I immediately bought tickets and began planning the trip. My wife has become a fan of the club too (she has made a few trips to London with me to watch games over the years), and the game coincided with her 30th birthday, so we decided to stay in a nicer hotel than usual when we were planning everything.
I had a hunch that the team would be at the same hotel last Thursday when David Luiz posted a few photos from there, but I didn't get my hopes up. Even if they were there, I figured we wouldn't be able to see them. This assumption was proven wrong after about 30 seconds of our arrival, however. We walked through the front door and immediately saw Nathaniel Chalobah and Jamal Blackman walking around in the lobby. We checked in and went to find our room, and saw Florent Malouda talking to some friends in a hallway.
We dropped our stuff off and went down to the bar to get a drink. Part of the bar/restaurant was outside by the pool, and we saw several players eating together out there. Cech, Ivanovic, Ferreira, and Meireles were eating at one table, while David Luiz and Piazon were at another. I obviously didn't want to bother them while they were eating and I didn't want to stand and stare, so I went back inside to get a drink. A few minutes later, Petr walked by the bar (I was sitting near the doorway) and a few fans with children walked over to say hi. He apologized and said he had to do something but promised he'd be right back. I figured that this was probably a trick the players use when they want to avoid fans and hide. Within four minutes, however, I saw him jogging down the hallway and he came right back to where those people were and chatted with their kids for a few minutes and signed a few autographs. He smiled at us and said hello. I should point out now that I made a decision at some point during all of this that I would not go out of my way to intrude on any of their privacy or be overly aggressive in conversing with them. They seemed pretty tired and there was definitely a crowd in the hotel that knew who they were (probably 15-20) people, and I didn't want to add to the hoopla. Some of those people were very vocal and aggressive (which is fine, they can do whatever they want) but I tried to be as relaxed as possible. I was pretty happy being that close to all of the guys and making observations.
Anyway, Cech left and a few minutes later Yossi came out. I was amazed at how slight he was, and how he looked like a regular person walking around (as opposed to Ivanovic, Essien, and Terry, who carried themselves and looked like pros). He said hi to a lot of people and took some pictures and went on to his room. I remained in my chair (strategically located next to the large, open doorway where everyone was passing by) so that I could see everything. That's when David Luiz walked by. He was especially interested in meeting people and taking pictures and he was really into playing with the little kids. Despite my intention to play it cool and leave the players alone, I hopped up and walked over to say hi. I couldn't help it. I spent a lot of time in Brazil and took a lot of Portuguese in college, so I greeted him in Portuguese and asked him about the tour. He seemed pretty excited about that, and I asked him if we could take a picture. He responded in Portuguese "of course, let's do it!" It was fairly dark but this is the picture:
I wished him luck this season and he took off. Paolo and Piazon came through a few minutes later. There wasn't much action after that so I decided to stroll around for a few. When I came around the corner I saw Meireles, Ivanovic, and Hilario waiting for an elevator, so I decided to pretend like I was going up to room to get something and I joined them. A few random hotel guests got on as well, so we had a pretty full house. So full, in fact, that poor Hilario couldn't fit on. We all thought this was pretty funny and had a laugh. During the ride up, I looked over at Raul and said "what's up" to him in Portuguese. He seemed really surprised and perked up and smiled and asked me how I was doing. By that time we were at my floor, so my wife and I got off the elevator and immediately hit the down button to go back to where all the action was. She went into a gift shop next to the bar for a minute and I took my seat by the door. By this time, Eddie Newton had gotten a seat, as well as roughly 15 staff members. I turned to look at the door and was absolutely shocked to see Roman Abramovich walk in with a few friends. After seeing all of these guys I wasn't particularly star-struck anymore, until RA showed up. Given the mythology about his seclusion and secret lifestyle, I couldn't believe that he was strolling into a hotel bar at 9:00 on a Friday night. He saw me staring at him as he walked by (I probably looked like I saw a ghost) and he smiled and said hi. I just smiled and nodded. He went somewhere in the back and I didn't see him again. The only other player that walked by that night was Ashley Cole. He spent a lot of time talking to the fans in the hallway and was laughing a lot. He seemed like a really friendly guy and really down to earth (despite what the media reports). After he left, I watched the Opening Ceremony with a lot of the Chelsea staff at the bar. Eddie Newton stayed as well. Di Matteo came by briefly (maybe 30 seconds) and cracked a joke and left.
The next morning I went to the pool for awhile. When I left to go back to my room, the entire team walked through the lobby. I think they must have returned from a walk-through at the stadium or something. Anyway, I saw every player except for Lampard and Hazard and was within 5-10 feet of everyone on the squad. I made a lot of quick impressions about several players: Torres was much more narrow and less imposing than he appears on TV; Essien is shorter than I imagined, but is built like a tank; Lukaku is just as big as you think he is but could probably shed 15 pounds; Cahill is taller than the 6'2 he is listed at (I am 6'3 and I swear he was taller than me); Ramires is so thin that it is amazing he is able to absorb contact and push people around at the rate that he does; McEachran looks like he is 15; Marin looks like he is 14; I wouldn't want to get into a fight with Ross Turnbull; Mikel looks like a world-class athlete up close.
It looked like the team was going to lunch so I headed to the elevator to go up to my room. My wife and I were waiting for an elevator when JT came around the corner. The door opened and the three of us got on. The door closed so quickly that I didn't have time to think about how we were alone on an elevator with the Chelsea captain. He told us his floor so that we could push the button for him. I thought about things to say to him ("Congratulations on the Champions League," "I am a really big fan," "Are you excited about the season?" etc) but decided to be as relaxed and non-imposing as possible so I settled on "Are you enjoying the trip so far?" He seemed surprised that we knew who he was and smiled and jumped right into the conversation. He said he loved visiting the cities and wished they could get out of the hotels a bit more. We talked about Miami a bit and he said that he loved the weather. We got to our floor and wished him luck this season, and he smiled and thanked us for the support. I know he's done some dumb stuff the last few years, and I've been pretty critical of him on these forums, but he was very warm and friendly during that one minute and I appreciated it. He could have brushed us off or hopped off the elevator, but he made a genuine effort to chat and was pretty excited that we were excited. Whenever I see him now I'll think about that elevator chat.
All in all it was an incredibly surreal experience. This is a photo from the game.
I'll never be able to watch the games the same way. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am thrilled that it happened the way it did.