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Pangbourne rugby fans nab first ever remote shirt signing from British Lions squad

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The dedication of a pair of Pangbourne rugby fans to the sport was recognised by Vodafone recently, which invited them to London for a signing conducted by a British Lions player from 8,000 miles away.

Using state-of-the-art 5G technology, Vodafone was able to gift Graham Bartlett and his wife Elaine a personalised message from player Maro Itoje – all the way from South Africa, where the Lions are currently waiting to play the Springboks in a Test.

The 'live' autograph session is one of the first of its kind, with Vodafone seeking to connect the Lions with fans who had been unable to travel due to pandemic restrictions.

From left to right: Graham Bartlett, Sir Ian McGeechan OBW, Elaine Bartlett.
From left to right: Graham Bartlett, Sir Ian McGeechan OBW, Elaine Bartlett.

Mr Bartlett has coached several youth rugby squads and had dreamed of attending a Lions Tour throughout his life.

He booked tickets on the first day of his retirement in 2013, following the team around Australia, before joining them in New Zealand in 2017.

Plans for a third trip to South Africa had been made pre-Covid, and Vodafone's offer of a space at the signing event was meant to compensate for the Bartletts being unable to travel.

Maro Itoje signs the shirt remotely.
Maro Itoje signs the shirt remotely.

Only three other rugby 'super fans' – including another couple – were invited from across the nation to join the Bartletts.

Mr Bartlett said: "Given we weren’t able to fly out to South Africa this summer, this experience is about as good as it gets.

"To be able to share words of encouragement with one of our nation’s greatest players and have that moment of connection during the 5G signing is such a privilege and a memory that I’ll cherish for years to come."

Scottish rugby legend Sir Ian McGeechan was among those attending alongside the Bartletts.

At the end of the event, the couple were gifted the shirt with Itoje's message as a memento for the day.

Vodafone consumer director Max Taylor said: "For the fans that would have gone on this Lions tour to South Africa, getting a signed shirt would be a one of the highlights of the trip.

"The pandemic risked stopping that from happening – but we’ve used 5G to find a way to make it a reality.

"Throughout this tour, we’ve used technology and innovation to overcome barriers, and I'm delighted that we’ve given these fans a unique experience and something that they can treasure forever.

"A 5G- signed shirt is going to be a priceless souvenir from what is already proving to be a memorable tour."

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