Olympian Spirit

Olympic Qualifiers – Men’s Group A
Senegal v Uruguay (5pm)
Great Britain v United Arab Emirates (7.45pm)
Sunday, 29th July 2012
Wembley Stadium
Distance 14 miles, Attendance 85397
The Greatest Show On Earth, The Home Of The Game, The National Stadium… what could possibly go wrong? As I was about to find out, everything and nothing.
Meeting early at a crowded Victoria Station filled with tourists and sports fans alike (and a lot of pink & purple clad helpers) we – a friend and our two sons – headed up towards Hyde Park to see what else was going on before grabbing a tube to Wembley Park. The boys, being young and impressionable, wanted to see the big screen; I wanted to see how well everything was being organised. This was a fantastic event, in my city; I’ve bought into it from the start. But arriving at Hyde Park I knew my day was going to be both amusing and testing.
“Keep to the left” the pinks’n’purples stated firmly on a totally empty road crossing. I stopped and looked about. Yes, this was the Cycle route for the Roadrace, but there were no riders, nor support crew, nor any supporters. The riders were all in deepest Surrey. “You are joking?” I asked. “No, stay to the left” came the instruction. “But we’re the only ones on the crossing?” It was pointless; the pinks’n’purples were having none of it. Amused by the scene I took a photo of them and the crossing and strolled into the park as the heavens opened (I can’t confirm the downpour was a Biblical response to this totalitarian guide to London road crossing use but I have my suspicions).
In fairness in Hyde Park there was a lightness to the mood of all about (apart from the pinks’n’purples with their obviously very heavy rule books) “KEEP OFF THE CYCLE LANES!” yelled one after another as people ambled along. I was beginning to feel sorry for them. No cyclist or pedestrian on the sparsely populated path seemed fussed by who was where, apart from the pink’n’purple helpers. Even when a lorry drove down the footpath towards us rules had to be obeyed… It was clear that in training Locog never entrusted them with the common sense they obviously used in their daily lives. Thankfully the tube folk – in their comfort zone – were far better. Bond Street – last stop Wembley Park. Perfect!

Stepping off the tube at Wembley Park with my son by my side is a day I’ve waited for, for a very long time. Hearing the view described as “quite cool” wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but he was happy and I – resisting the temptation to tell those about us that it’s NOT Wembley Way – was very proud. Passing the awful half’n’half scarves and arriving at our gate all fears of poor Olympic security we laid to rest. I’ll never understand why Football stadia weren’t dealing with their own security, instead of G4S, but it went as smooth as you like. Ten minutes later we were sat in watching the diving, beer in hand (the boys had some hideous blue liquid thing). Adam had bought the beer comfortably, whilst I sorted the kids’ drinks a little more interestingly.
For the Olympics there is an excellent policy that fans can bring empty bottles (WITH TOPS) into the venues to fill from drinking fountains. Sadly when buying said blue drinks, the catering staff had a “policy” of emptying the contents into paper beakers because they were “not allowed to sell drinks in bottles”. Of course the contradictory nature of the situation was completely lost on them, and the drinks were handed to the boys who walked off to watch the diving again as I tried to pay. This is where the problems really started… for each catering outlet on this level only one-in-eight tills took cards, and right now, said one wasn’t working (yes, I have a photo of this too). Numerous times it was tried and thankfully whilst the Team Leader attempted to fix the problem (yes, photographed) I was allowed to join “my people” until they were ready. At this point alarm bells at Visa HQ should have been ringing violently. As it turned out my payment eventually went through, and in hindsight this meant we could actually eat dinner later. Like most – given the Visa rules and guarantees – I didn’t bring enough cash for more than one Wembley meal (a small mortgage in case you’re wondering). Fifteen minutes later the blue liquid had melted the bottom of the paper cups… (you don’t want to know what I thought, just imagine, and add a few expletives).

Shortly after the announcement of “If you leave the stadium for any reason, there is strictly no re-admittance” we left out perches and headed for the seats. It was then I saw the look on my son’s face that every dad dreams of. Before us the warm-up for the first match was taking place. He stood at the top of the stairs, staring in a complete trance into the enormous stadium bowl, all wide-eyed and keys to the sweet shop stuff. At the 1979 League Cup Final I probably looked just the same… It made my day.

I won’t bore you all with what was seen on TVs everywhere but, whilst we’re on the subject of games of yesteryear, let me run through a couple that came to mind during the Senegal v Uruguay match.
France 0 Senegal 1 – the fantastic and well deserved opening game of the 2002 World Cup
Scotland 0 Uruguay 0 – the unsightly game playing of the final game in the groups stages at the 1986 World Cup
Add to this the joyous Mexican wave going round the stadium and this game had all the aura of a World Cup match. I was wrapped up in it. Whilst all the media hype surrounded the GB team to follow, this was a great game – start to finish – for purely footballing reasons. The more it went on the more those who’d sensibly turned up for both games turned against the antics of the Uruguayans, and became Senegalese at heart. The South Americans rarely played as a team and went down easily (and stayed there clutching various parts of their anatomy); the Senegalese worked as a team, playing to their strengths and did it all in a wonderful kit. The first goal was cheered by most; the second by all except the few Uruguayans in the crowd and the Liverpool fans cheering “their man”. Suarez unfortunately was drawing boos before he had the chance to actually upset anyone but, as soon as his side were behind, he and some team mates made up for lost time. It was almost as if he were bigger than the team. In the midst of the game, quite poignantly my son – thankfully ignorant to the premier league – asked “Is Suarez a player or a country?”

When the substitutions started it became apparent that we had some limitations of our own to be concerned about… where the French announcer was word perfect the English chap seemed to struggle with almost every name (not too great for a multicultural city). Still, whatever the irritations this was a great all-action encounter where the best team won. It had all the feeling of a World Cup clash and all the atmosphere of a Cup upset under floodlights. Most Cup Finals aren’t this good… For our sons first Wembley game we really couldn’t have asked for better.
Dashing off five minutes before time to grab some food before the rush, we stood waiting in the card payment queue. There were only five people before us… Ten minutes and still no-one served in came some announcements; merchandise stands would close at half time during game 2, and catering would shut ten minutes later… That every Non-league club knows these outlets bring revenue yet Wembley closes them is truly unfathomable. But in the next announcement, our concerns would also be felt by the sponsors. The Visa nightmare became reality when “technical difficulties” threw a spanner in the works of ALL card payments in Wembley. Immediately, around us, people were emptying pockets and counting change. Some even left the queue with hungry children wondering why. Adam and I totted up and convinced the boys to downgrade their orders, though having tasted the Coke (another sponsor) I wish I’d downgraded further. The food wasn’t great and the bins were now overflowing (more photos). On bright side we got some food, and better than most we made it back to our seats before kick-off.
The stadium was practically full, the school party in front were relatively attentive to the action, and four former Golden Boys were in Team GB squad. Two were even starting. If only Gareth Bale had not been “injured” I could have written a much bigger GB paragraph.

For the next ninety minutes there was no booing, just united support for the country. Early chances were missed, some frustration set in, players moaned at the ref, and UAE looked comfortable – even after Giggs opener – with our “superiority”. The Welshman was marvellously calm and efficient on the ball. It made me wonder if he had any regrets about never gracing a World Cup. Many of “our” players looked good; they just didn’t look good together. They clearly need more time to practice. The UAE reminded me of the Egypt side who drew with Netherlands in 1990; it was clear they were going to score.
When the equaliser came it was on the hour.  It was deserved and pleasingly and best of all there was no booing; there was even some polite applause. It was typical of “our” football that we’d suffer this setback, but GB were better and the crowd still had faith they’d get through the challenge (well the boys seemed convinced). Having been convinced by the venues, and security, I – distracted by an unsponsored inflated condom floating by – was by now crowd watching. It had all the feel of an American sports match. No away support, and no real chants (though the school boys in front did attempt “Red and red white blue army!!!” which deserved to fail). There was also a very interesting use of a slow-hand-clap. In the 70s and 80s old men sat at the back of the Main Stand clapping every time the opposition spent longer than ten seconds getting up after a foul. Now, bizarrely, it’s being used an a tool of encouragement at corners. Another sign of the changing times was a smiling Senior Safety Supervisor telling a boy not to blow his horn; presumably it would affect the performance of the Subbuteo players miles below us. And more rules were to follow… Apparently flash photography is not permitted in Wembley.
Whilst I was interested to see how on earth you could enforce this with eighty thousand people holding up their phones and compacts, I am more perturbed that those using the camera have no idea of their capability. Any professional – or manual for that matter – will inform you that your built-in flash will reach no further than fifteen yards. This means, if you’re sitting in the front row at almost every stadium in the world your flash is totally redundant.
With twenty minutes remaining all the trappings of modern football began to rear their ugly heads. Hundreds of stewards (dressed in East Stirlingshire’s 3rd kit) surrounded the pitch, staring at the fans. Then fans fearing the queues for trains – or just desperate to sate their hunger – started to head for the exits. My son on the other hand (and there are dad’s everywhere who experienced this) needed a poo. Yes I was that parent standing in the gents for fifteen minutes as number one son relieved himself, and GB scored two goals… fighting our way through the departing hordes back to our seats, and the worst coke ever, we just caught the second one being replayed on the big screens. Moments later something called “Additional Time” was announced and more folk – like those who once ran from the cinema before the National Anthem – hurriedly escaped before their ears were ruptured by “We Will Rock You” clapping.
As we strolled for the short queue at Wembley Stadium station it was clear both the boys were riding on a football high. Yes, the infrastructure had conspired to ruin the day, and my patience had been tested by both jobsworths and failing technology, and the Uruguay had demonstrated some less enamouring aspects of the modern game, and the TV controller waving for the start of the game irritates me, and (as Adam said) the new Wembley feels a little like a shopping centre, but on the pitch for both games the football was magnificent, and entertaining, and less about money than the contest.
For once football (and/or Senegal) really was the winner on the day.

This entry was posted in 2012-2013, London 2012, Olympics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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