Before Grand Prix Stockholm started there was an announcement and round of applause for one of the event staff. That man was Don Porto Carero Jozef (or Jo as likely everyone knows him as) and he has been part of the European Magic scene since well, forever. I remember Jo from back when I first started doing event coverage. That was a long time ago. Jo has been setting up Grand Prix for even longer than that.
The reason for the announcement was because Grand Prix Stockholm marked Jo's 150th major Magic event (Grand Prix or Pro Tour).
This man is a veteran veteran when it comes to the running of major Magic: the Gathering tournaments.
Given that fantastic milestone, I thought it would be good to track him down and talk about his near twenty-year history with the game. It would also give some insights on what goes on behind-the-scenes to prepare a venue to host a major Magic tournament.
Jo is the man that drives all the various banners and signage to the tournament location and sets them up with his crew in order to make the major Magic tournament venues look as they do. In short, he's the man who makes sure Jace, Chandra, Gideon and others (or rather the banners depicting them) get to where they need to be. Sometimes he has to bring tables and chairs depending on the venue.
Craig: “So when was your first major Magic tournament?”
Jo: “Grand Prix Madrid '98. I was working in a transport company. I transported the materials, back then it was two trailers. I helped them set up and they liked it so much they've used me ever since.”
As a bit of trivia Jo told me the green tablecloths that are a regular sight at European Grand Prix are the same ones that were used back then. Those checkered green cloths have probably seen a lot of different Magic cards over the years!
Jo has seen the Grand Prix swell from 250 players to 1,500 to 2,000, and sometimes even more. When he first started out they would set up on the Friday for the tournament to start on the Saturday. Nowadays, with last minute GP Trials and events, Grand Prix venues are open to the players right from the start of Friday morning. This means Jo tends to arrive on the Wednesday evening and then spend the Thursday setting up the hall in preparation for players showing up on the Friday.
Craig: “How long does it normally take to set up the venue?”
Jo: “Between 8 and 12 hours.”
He mentioned that GP Utrecht, the monster Modern Masters Grand Prix last year that had over 4,000 competitors took 24 hours to set up, with teams working in shifts to get it done.
Craig: “And what time do you normally finish?”
Jo: “We start the breakdown on Sunday around 5 or 6, depending on the top 8. We finish loading everything back on the truck at somewhere between 3 or 5 in the morning.”
And there was me thinking coverage writers had late finishes on a Sunday…
I asked if he or his family had become more interested in playing the game after so many years trucking the Grand Prix paraphernalia to various countries. He said he'd learned to play and played with members of the crew on breaks. Outside of the events he sometimes plays with one of his sons. He also mentioned some of the people that had started out on his crew and then gone on to other roles in Magic event management.
Craig: “Which of your 150 events was the most fun?”
Jo: “Utrecht. The biggest.”
He also mentioned the 10-year anniversary event that was GP Amsterdam in 2007.
“There was a party the night before to celebrate the anniversary with drinks that went on until two in the morning.”
He also mentioned the team event in Cannes in 2000 where the second day was held out on the island. That Grand Prix is also of historical note as it was where the illustrious Ruel brothers first came to prominence after they won the tournament as part of Team Black Ops with Florent Jeudon.
Craig: “What's your most memorable moment?”
Jo: “Going to a Pro Tour in Japan.”
Craig: “Which one was that?”
Jo: “Yokohama 2007.”
As Jo's work is primarily trucking the European Grand Prix signage around, I asked him how he'd ended up at one of the Pro Tours in Japan. The answer concerned the Serra Angel statue that had been used for major events that year. The statue was first used in Paris. Then it was dismantled and reassembled for PT Geneva. As Jo and another of the event staff were the ones responsible for making sure Serra Angel got transported and put together at each big event, they sent him to Yokohama when the Pro Tour train moved out to that stop.
Some of his other memorable moments were memorable for the wrong reasons. Such as the time he couldn't help with setting everything up as he'd fallen from his truck and injured his leg.
Or, another time, for more embarrassing rather than painful reasons, when he drove to the Grand Prix and realized he'd forgotten the table numbers. For that Grand Prix they had to print them out on paper.
Jo: “I made sure to never forget the table numbers again.”
We reminisced over some of the people we'd had the pleasure of working with over the years, some of whom are sadly no longer with us.
Jo: “You meet a lot of fun people. They give you the respect. For that I do it.”
Craig: “So another twenty years?”
Jo: “No. Next year I'm going to retire probably. And enjoy my pension.” Laughs.
He said it wouldn't be the last we'd see of him on the GP circuit. He just won't be the one driving the truck. He said he might be around to help out with setting up in Belgium.
Jo: “Or I might drive with my motorcycle down to GP Paris.” More laughs.
He mentioned all the great memories he had with all the people he'd worked with over the years.
Jo: “And for you, the memory is one word.”
It's been a few years, probably over a decade thinking about it, but I know which word he means.
It's a Dutch beer.
Being English and not very good at pronouncing European brands, I mistakenly called it Oran-gee-boom. The Belgian event staff at the time found it very funny. Or maybe it's a rude word in Flemish. Either way Jo still laughs about it every time we see each other at the Grand Prix.