When it comes to showpiece sporting events, it doesn’t get bigger than the World Cup and after years of intensive planning – it’s finally here.
From the diverse range of fans, the cultural narratives, to the issues being faced by the host nation at the time and the football; this is an occasion comparable to no other.
The last 20 editions of the tournament have given birth to some of the most iconic moments in the beautiful game’s history and tonight, Russia will become the 17th country to stage the largest party on the planet.
The lead-up to the big dance has seen an array of political, human rights and economic issues come under the microscope, which are extremely complex in nature.
However, much like Russia’s 16 predecessors have learned, hosting an event of this magnitude extrapolates both positive and negative headlines and allows for these conversations to be had on an international scale.
With that in mind, there is a still a huge amount of excitement resonating among the locals and the visiting foreigners have been romanced by the enchanting architecture, unique culture and colourful history that the country has to offer.
Just last night, the streets of Moscow were flooded with fans and the beauty of why this is the most popular sport globally was on full show.
As an organisation, SBS is no stranger to the joy that this competition can bring to the masses and the man responsible for sharing the last eight World Cup campaigns with Australian households was Les Murray.
You’ll never know how difficult it still is to refer to him in the past tense and I am not sure that feeling will ever pass but there’s a damn good reason for it.
For over three decades, Les charmed audiences with his inviting demeanour and established himself as an activist for immigrants and the game he was utterly besotted with.
His ability to bring football to life in Australia at a time when it was ridiculed by an overwhelming majority and provide a virtual safe haven for people like my Croatian-born parents, are feats that only he could have achieved.
Les understood the power of the game and its ability to bring together people from all walks of life because irrespective of which God you worship or part of the world you call home - everyone is worthy of a seat at a football feast.
He was a passionate story teller and in addition to his love affair with “O Jogo Bonito”, he made it his mission to educate viewers about so much more than what we saw on the pitch.
It’s also one of the many reasons why he was cherished by our multi-cultural public and why I say, mission accomplished maestro.
His passing left a gaping hole in the hearts of so many and as we prepare for the opening match, I am choosing to reflect on the wisdom he imparted during my time with him and celebrate the hugely extraordinary life he led.
The great Johnny Warren may have told us so but Les will forever be the reason why we are able to do what it is we do.
Thank you for everything Mr Football – I know you’ll be watching this one with a glass of vino relaxo in one hand and a smile on your face.