Former players Gary Lineker, Graeme Le Saux and Gianfranco Zola cut the tape as the UEFA Champions Festival opened in Hyde Park today, kick-starting a week-long celebration of football that will culminate with Saturday's final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC at Wembley.
Freestyle footballers and jugglers kept the large crowd entertained at the entrance as visitors – stood beneath two giant pillars adorned with pictures of final captains Carles Puyol and Nemanja Vidić – waited for a London taxi to arrive carrying a very important passenger, the UEFA Champions League Trophy.
Lineker, the UEFA Champions League final ambassador, and Le Saux, his UEFA Champions Festival counterpart, then carried the silverware to the stand where it will reside for the final week of its month-long tour of eight of the English capital's landmarks.
Fans quickly formed a queue to have their photograph taken with the famous trophy, an opportunity sure to prove one of the star attractions at an event that will give all-comers a chance to get a feel for European football's premier club competition and its women's equivalent through a multi-event entertainment programme.
After taking in the site, Kulveer Ranger from the Greater London Authority said: "It's great to see that the biggest annual sporting festival is being celebrated in London. It's a terrific attraction for fans, Londoners and visitors to London, giving them a chance to see what the Champions League is about and to be inspired by it. There are so many things for kids and adults to do and it really is a fantastic festival and a great way for people in London to enjoy a day out."
The sentiment was echoed by those attending. Socratis Socratous was thrilled that the under-7 team he coaches, TFA Totteridge FC, were able to invite Lineker, Le Saux and Zola for an impromptu team shot outside the Theatre of Champions where the former internationals had been watching a spectacular five-screen film about the history of the European Champion Clubs' Cup.
"It was brilliant, a real buzz for young kids seeing those famous former players," said Socratous, whose side – "unbeaten since January" – were readying themselves to compete in a six-team tournament on one of the mini-pitches. "The boys are having a great time and it's going to be a struggle to get them home."
The UEFA Champions League final was moved to Saturday last year to make it more of a family occasion and there is plenty at the festival – which has free admission and is open daily before closing at 17.00 in the build-up to the Barcelona-United match – to keep fans of all ages occupied during the course of the week.
These include skills clinics, coaching courses, exhibitions and Saturday's Ultimate Champions Match when a team of English legends will tackle a star-studded international lineup of past greats.