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Saturday, 3 August, 2002, 21:34 GMT 22:34 UK

The shellsuit samaritans

By Mike Burnett
BBC Sport Online in Manchester

Any visitors to Manchester over the last two weeks would be forgiven for thinking the city had been invaded by some strange cult.

Everywhere you go they are there, from city guides to ticket collectors - all decked out in bizarre 1980s shellsuits.

They are, of course, the Commonwealth Games' 10,000-strong legion of volunteers.

This barmy bunch of helpers have flocked to Manchester from far and wide to make sure the largest multi-sport event ever held in the UK runs as smoothly as possible.

"They've come from all over the place," said Katie Brazier, marketing director for recruitment agency Adecco, which runs the volunteer programme.

"When you're not here, you feel you're missing out "
Kirstie Bleakley
M2002 volunteer

"I've met some people from Manchester, who live in Spain but who came back here just for the Games.

"Only the other day, I met a lady from Northern Ireland who's taking part."

It is a motley assortment of young and old, male and female, all united in one thing - being part of the Games.

"I'm a big sports fan, and I just wanted to be involved," 27-year-old volunteer Kirstie Bleakley told BBC Sport Online.

Essex-based Bleakley, like many others, is sleeping on a friend's floor in Manchester in order to fulfil her dream.

And despite the long hours and the lack of pay, she says she is having the time of her life.

"It can be quite demanding sometimes," said Bleakley, who has taken time off from her job as a sports centre manager in Billericay, near Chelmsford.

"But when you're not here, you feel you're missing out."

Killing time

Of course, there are tedious moments too, such as waiting for events to start or having no-one to help, but the volunteers still manage to keep themselves amused.

Rumour has it the city guides have a pool running on who is asked the dumbest question.

Those in contention so far include: "Can anyone enter the marathon or is it just for top athletes?" and "Have you seen my mate? I've lost him."

Certainly for most helpers, the Games has been a blast, but what about those dodgy shellsuits?

"It's a uniform, I've worn worse," replied Bleakley.

Whether it is orders from upstairs or volunteers being diplomatic, everyone is keeping pretty quiet about the outfits.

In a few days time though, they will leave the Games, taking with them the experience of a lifetime.

Hopefully the memories will last longer than the free shellsuits.

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