Neymar and Paris Saint-Germain make a young fan’s dream come true after he follows the Brazilian around the world to meet him
The striker was honoured to meet the Australian youngster who travelled to France to see his idol play against Lyon
October 1, 2017 was a significant day in Catalan history when an unofficial independence referendum was held in the region. FC Barcelona were due to play Las Palmas that afternoon but as images of police aggression dominated global headlines, rumours circulated about whether the game would go ahead. Finally, it was announced that it would be played behind closed doors.
Outside Camp Nou as the crowds streamed away, Melbourne-born mother Lisa Schnepf waved her match tickets in the air, and shouted in English: “What is happening?” to anyone who would listen, but nobody answered.
This writer stopped and explained that the game was to be played behind closed doors.
Lisa panicked as she told me: “We’ve come from Melbourne, Australia.” Her son, Rudy, seven, wore a Barca shirt with ‘Neymar’ on the back.
“We booked this trip three months ago. We fly back tomorrow.”
I tried to help the family, explaining their predicament to a stadium steward, but he could only sympathise.
I took a picture of the family and tweeted it. Because of its relevance, it quickly went viral.
Predictably, most of the online responses were mocking. Lisa cooled down, and started laughing at their luck, quite philosophical as she commented: “Life is funny.”
Rudy could not do the same.
I swapped email addresses with Lisa and said I’d let her know if I found out more about the game.
The family watched the game in their hotel.
I started to receive dozens of requests from media around the world who wanted to be put in touch with the family.
The responses to my original tweet kept coming in – 1.8 million people saw it.
I emailed Lisa and asked if it was OK to pass her details on to the BBC World Service, and on their return to Australia she gave an interview to them.
She revealed that it wasn’t the first time the family had tried unsuccessfully to see Neymar play. Months earlier, they’d spent almost A$1,000 (HK$5,500) on four tickets to see him play at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for Brazil against Argentina. He pulled out at the last minute.
Undaunted, they booked flights in July 2017 and made sure they were in Barcelona for the weekend of a home game. It was to be the end of a family holiday.
They set about the tricky business of acquiring tickets as tourists, which they bought for an inflated price from an agency.
Shortly afterwards, in August, Neymar joined Paris Saint-Germain. Lisa considered changing flights, but it was expensive for three of them. Besides, the Barcelona tickets were non-refundable and there are worse places in the world to visit, and worse teams to watch. They would go to Barcelona, without Neymar.
The requests for Lisa’s details kept coming from media outlets, but I ignored them.
But five days later I could see that someone was trying to get hold of me, first on social media, then via email and finally the person got my phone number. That person explained who he was and said: “We can help on this. Neymar knows about it.”
I put Lisa in touch and she was soon in conversation with Neymar’s people and Paris Saint-Germain, who emailed:
The chairman and CEO of the PSG are reading your story about your various attempts to see Neymar Jnr play.
I would like to discuss with you in the coming days if you are available and how we could make it happen for you in the future.”
Things were looking up.
PSG wanted to invite the family over for a game – and to meet Neymar in person. They would take care of the cost, too. The game was scheduled for the last weekend in April and flights were booked and paid for.
Then Neymar fractured his toe, missing much of the season. This trip was off.
Would Rudy ever get to see the Brazilian?
A new date was set, October 7, 2018. PSG were playing rivals Lyon and attempting to make it a French record nine straight league wins to a season.
The family arrived at Parc des Princes having no idea what to expect.
They were met at the stadium and directed to Neymar’s private box. They watched from there as the Brazilian kissed the ball and took an elongated run-up before stroking in a penalty to make it 1-0.
“Neymar! Neymar!” sang the fans.
All the while, Rudy played football with Neymar’s son Davi, seven, plus Thiago Silva’s two boys. The kids disputed who was the best player in the world. Davi said it wasn’t his dad, but Cristiano Ronaldo.
At the end of the game, Rudy was taken to the home team’s dressing room where Neymar gave him a hug and played football with him.
PSG president Nasser Al Khelaifi presented Rudy with a club shirt and announced him as their new signing. Neymar hugged Rudy.
“It’s an incredible story!” explained Neymar as he signed a ball for Rudy. “I know all the effort he made to meet me in Barcelona and in Australia, and now it’s finally happening here. It’s special for me to meet him today, I am very honoured to receive all this affection and I’m happy to give it back to him today in Paris.”
“I will come back and play in the same team as him,” said Rudy, his dream finally come true.