BRUSHING shoulders with the beautiful game's top brass is a dream for any young football fan.
But for crafty University of Portsmouth student Niall Moran that fantasy became a reality on Monday night.
The 20-year-old, who reads film industries and creative writing, was invited to The Best Fifa Football Awards 2018 at London's Royal Festival Hall after winning an Instagram competition.
But upon arrival, he learned the privilege would not grant him access to the stars – but a lofty view from the fifth floor alongside his fellow winners.
That was until he hatched a covert plan – resulting in selfies with some of football's biggest names.
'When I got in I was ushered past the gala room into an elevator. I was told there wasn't a chance I could meet any players, which was so frustrating,' Niall said.
'But after the ceremony finished they were just walking around downstairs, so I tried to delay leaving and waited in the toilet with my cousin Aidan who was there too.
'When we came out, all the security was gone so we walked round to where we knew the lift was and went downstairs.
'We'd timed it perfectly and somehow came out in the hallway where all the players were leaving. It was like the Lion King – like a stampede.'
After allegedly jumping to embrace Brazil and Real Madrid star Marcelo, Niall, an Arsenal fan, then tried to keep a low profile.
He said: 'I bumped into the wall and hit the back of my head. I looked to the right and who was there – the bane of my life, the person who made me cry more than anyone as a kid – Didier Drogba.
'He saw the whole thing go down and thought it was hilarious.'
After grabbing a selfie with the former Chelsea forward, Niall claims he told him 'I wasn't supposed to be there' and asked him 'not to let security take me'.
The four-time Premier League champion – whose famous 2012 penalty won Chelsea the Champions League against Bayern Munich – apparently agreed to keep quiet, paving the way for a star-studded night.
‘He's made up for my childhood now and I told him that’, Niall said.
Selfies the brazen youngster went on to take illustrate encounters with top players Raphael Varane (Real Madrid), Diego Forlan (formerly Manchester United), Marcel Desailly (French World Cup winner), Sol Campbell (Arsenal and Pompey FA Cup-winning centre-back) and David Seaman (former England and Arsenal goalkeeper) – as well as past and present Arsenal managers Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery.
'They all found it hilarious, they were helping me fulfil my dream. It was one of the best nights of my life,' Niall said.
'I wouldn't say I'm a troublemaker, but an opportunist. I wouldn't have got the chance to meet these people if I didn't try to myself.'
On the prospect of facing repercussions for his actions, Niall – who claims to have inadvertently shaken hands with Fifa president Gianni Infantino on the night – added: 'It was worth it. I didn't harm anyone. If you ask any footballer, they enjoyed the company – I was no hassle.'
Monday’s awards ceremony notably saw Croatia and Real Madrid playmaker Luka Modric win Fifa’s Best Men’s Player award – ending 10 years of shared victory for Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and now-Juventus frontman Cristiano Ronaldo.
Liverpool’s Mohammed Salah also won the Fifa Puskas Award (for best goal) and Brazil forward Marta Vieira da Silva won The Best Fifa Women’s Player.
Niall, who is originally from Cornwall, chose to study at the University of Portsmouth because he has family in the area.
To view a photo gallery of all the selfies he took at the awards on Monday, follow the link at the top of this story.
The News has contacted Fifa, which has not responded.
Other winners at The Best Fifa Football Awards:
Fifa’s The Best awards coincided with the world-renowned Ballon D’or awards between 2010 and 2015.
Nominations for the latter will be announced next month. But other winners at Monday’s ceremony were:
:: Didier Deschamps – The Best Fifa Men’s Coach
:: Reynald Petros – The Best Fifa Women’s Coach
:: Thibaut Courtois – The Best Fifa Goalkeeper