football - the olympic way

team gb took part in the 2012 london olympics.
wyart lane was there to see it at wembley and describes the experience.

30.07.2012

 

With the Olympics coming to visit our capital, it was the opportunity to take part in a once in a lifetime experience.

With little luck in the lottery of the ticket ballot, my good wife managed to secure two tickets for the football at Wembley.  Not the greatest of Olympic experiences, as football is something that is a habit with me.  However, it was a chance to sample some other countries playing the game I have watched for so long, with the thought of going to Wembley without the nerves of seeing Spurs playing there.

Then came the draw and it pitched England in the same group as Uruguay, Senegal and the United Arab Emirates.

Sorry, did I say England ?

Well, how many people do you know who refer to Team GB as England ??  A fair few I bet.

 The fixtures were sorted out and it threw me a curve ball with the two games I had tickets for being Uruguay v Senegal and UAE v Team GB.

The tickets were ordered so far in advance, when the Games came I had to remind myself when the games were going to be played.  Then it was a case of reading through the rules of what you could and couldn't take in (flags of non-participating countries for one.  I was tempted to take some paper and coloured pencils in to create one once I got inside !!); what time you should turn up; where you had to go and how far in advance.

Because of rigorous security searches, they recommended that you arrive two hours before the event starts.  Let's see.  First game kicked off at 17:00 and second at 19:45.  That meant five hours from kick off time of the first game to the end of the second.  Add two hours onto that ... that makes seven hours.  Seven hours trapped in the corporate wallet stripping machine that is Wembley.  Steak ciabatta and noisette potato - 8.90; fish and chips = 8.90; coke = 2.90.

Well, I thought, if I buy a litre of water and drink it before I go in, I can fill it up from a water point inside and carry a few bits of food in with me.  I don't need much to keep me going through a marathon football session.

So, we left home and drove to the tube station, just getting there as the torrential rain stopped.  Getting to Wembley at about 16:00, we walked up Olympic Way to the stadium, which was oddly decked out in purple and the five ring logo.  There were Union Jacks everywhere and then a football shirt of clubs from wide and far.  Almost every Premier League club (apart from Fulham, Sunderland and Stoke), lots of Football League teams from Stevenage to Shrewsbury Town and a number of international and foreign club sides, from Hungary to Tennis Borussia.  It almost became a train spotter style pastime while we got up the slope to the ground.

At the turnstiles, there were some cheery and pleasant volunteers to hand out clear plastic bags to put the contents of your pockets in.  There was no queue, no pushing, no trouble.  How different from the FA Cup semi-final.  Putting my ticket in the scanner, it allowed me in and through to the search inside the turnstiles.  This was done by some jokey staff, who were efficient and polite.

We went straight in to fill our water bottles and were directed to a water point, which turned out to be at the end of a long queue and when we got there it was a water fountain, so trying to fill a litre bottle was not easy and only half of it got filled before the water started coming out again.

We went through to our seat in block 111 row 6, which I thought wouldn't be a great view, but it was a good one for the goal at our end, being not too far from the distance to the pitch as my seat at the Lane.  As we waited for the first game to get underway we spotted a new Spurs shirt in our row, a Spurs cap in the row behind and another Spurs supporter in the row in front.  I started to feel at home.  There were some Chelsea, Liverpool and Man U shorts around, but thankfully, I didn't see many Arse shirts.

Being the Olympics, the hype for the gathered hordes was building up, with Matt Smith (ITV football presenter) taking one pitch side mike and another un-named bloke trying to whip up some enthusiasm.  The emergence of the two sides for the first game's kick off brought some applause and there were more Uruguay fans than those of Senegal.  But after the anthems had been well observed, the crowd soon took on the side of Senegal.

The African side in green shirts and yellow shorts played with a care-free abandon that contrasted with the nervy Uruguay performance.  Passing the ball across the face of their own goal without a thought and showing pace and skill, they made Uruguay look almost pedestrian.  There was a pantomime villain in Luis Suarez, who was roundly booed every time he went near the ball and looked as shaken by the experience as he was by the Senegal tackling, which knew no bounds.

The South Americans had gone close with a couple of Gaston Ramirez free-kicks - one going just over the bar and another hitting the post, before Sebastien Coates stuck out a lazy leg to stop a cross getting to the goal and conceded an unnecessary corner.  When the ball came in, it was won at the far post and the header saved, but Kanate was on hand to prod the ball over the lien to give Senegal a 1-0 lead in the 10th minute.

The game got a bit untidy, with some loose passes from Senegal, along with some loose tackling, while Uruguay couldn't put a move together, as the Africans defended as a unit.  However, when Suarez was released down the left on the half hour, he pushed the ball past Ba and without a thought for the ball, the tall defender chopped down the Liverpool man much to the delight of the crowd.  Rarely have I seen a man get such an ovation for being sent off !!

But that meant Senegal would be playing with ten men for an hour and you could see Uruguay coming back into it.  As it happens, within seven minutes, a corner had been swung into the box from the left and Kanate was alone in the box, but his run away from the goal-line confused the line of five Uruguay players, who stood there as the little man leapt to head down and past Campana for the second goal.  A dance of joy set the crowd roaring for the underdogs of the Lions of Teranga.

The only off-putting thing about the coverage in the stadium was the refusal to show a replay of anything dubious, although they showed the foul for the sending off a few times, which we lapped up.  That and the "goal" motif when the ball went in and a strange little chord played once, much the same as when additional time was announced.  it was all a bit like ice hockey and I understand that not all of the people there may have been regular football-goers, but come on !!

The second half was reasonably tame in comparison, with no more red cards, although some yellows followed.  There were a few shots from each side and Suarez was getting more and more wound up, but the end of the match brought some great celebrations from the Africans, while the opponents supporters were very quiet.

It had been odd watching the game as a neutral, although I put my support behind Senegal because I wasn't going to cheer Suarez.  Neither team had many supporters and the Uruguay flags were surrounded by a bit of noise, but they were not waved at the end of the game.

So, one down and one to go.

The players came out to warm up and the warm-up men tried to get people cheering for the teams ("Who's here to support Team GB ?"), but most people were out in the concourses trying to get something to eat or drink or to use the toilets.  There were big queues for all three.  And the announcement came over the tannoy that the credit card readers had broken down, so you had to pay by cash.  I bet Visa were upset, being the official card of the Olympic Games.

There had been some rain during the first match.  A quick shower soon dried off, but just before half-time, there was a heavy downpour and most people in the front 15 rows had headed for shelter.  But now the sun had come out and while it was evening sun, there was a little warmth, although that would go by half-time.

The children came out with the flags and were greeted by another loud cheer as this time it was the side that most people had come to see.  Both anthems were respected.  The UAE one in quiet, while the Team GB was sung by most people apart from the Welsh contingent in the side.

And then we were seeing the odd collection of players kicking off under one banner, but the team might be together, with the crowd being something different.  There really should have been a competition for a GB chant some months before the Games, as there was little co-ordinated support for the home team, other than some clapping with a "GB" thrown in here and there.

The game laboured a little, with Team GB passing the ball better than their first match and UAE being busy with the odd moment of skill.  Jack Butland in front of us looked commanding in goal, as he is a big lad.  Somewhat reminiscent of Paul Robinson, but he had little to do apart form tip one shot over the bar and watch as a run down the left saw Ahmed Khalil shoot across the face of goal.

One player I paid a keen eye to was Steven Caulker.  Our centre-half looked coolness personified and apparently did not mis-place one of his 29 first half passes.  He reads the game well and looks comfortable on the ball, so may well feature much more this season in the first team.

As it was Ryan Giggs headed in with 16 minutes gone, but then the team lost it's way, with only a save forced by a Sordell shot after he made himself a yard, as a notable event.  Such was the lack of interest in the game among too many of the crowd, that the Mexican wave started just five minutes into the game.  Whichever Mexican invented this puerile exercise then I would sincerely like to shake him by the throat.

I was astounded when the people around us didn't come back after half-time.  Perhaps it was me, but the woman who didn't have much of a clue (she kept clapping Suarez when he was being booed ... and she wasn't Uruguayan) what was going on and her partner left (after only turning up at half time in the first match) and the guy in the Liverpool shirt and his girlfriend on the other side both went too.

It was only a shame that the annoying kids in the row in front of us, who had been abandoned by the two adults with them, didn't go sooner.  At least when they were beating each other up they weren't banging the empty seats against the seat backs.

I clapped the UAE keeper as he took his place in goal for the second half, as fans are want to do and surprisingly, he looked at me and gave me a wave !!

The second half was  better, although Team GB had to concede to improve.  The striker Rashed Eisa glided past Tompkins, who had come in for this match, then slid the ball past the keeper.  In fact, the Team GB goal lead a bit of a charmed life for 15 minutes, as Butland saved twice and shots were blocked in front of it.

Then Giggs went off, Scott Sinclair come on and with his first touch, he knocked the ball into the net at the far post from Bellamy's cross, where Sturridge had missed in front of the keeper.  The goalie had spilled it to the Swansea man, for him to score the first goal of the day at our end after four down the other end.  It was quickly followed by the best goal of the day by Sturridge, who chipped the keeper on the run as he burst through the defence.

The rest of the game saw GB try to hold onto the ball, while there were few chances of note.

Joe Allen, who has been linked with Spurs worked hard and passed well, but didn't do anything noteworthy, while Micah Richards looked like he was having a muck about with mates, with his positioning sometimes frighteningly bad.  Maybe you could see why he didn't go to the Euros.  Cleverly went about his job well without any fuss and kept the ball moving.  I have seen Craig Bellamy play for the other sides in Spurs matches many times and perhaps that is why I have not appreciated what he does.  He runs his legs off.  The amount of determination he put into the game should shame some younger players (notably Ramsey, who seemed intent on getting into a good position wide on the right and then check back to go back the way he had come).  He was the star of the show and while Giggs loses effectiveness after an hour, his fellow countryman just kept going.

About a fifth of the crowd had gone by the end, leaving getting out comfortable until you got to the slope, when the mass of people started to slow.  As we were walking out of the stadium, Matt Smith said, "Hopefully that will be the first of many wins for Team GB."  Well, a maximum of four if you think if they might win it, but that will be it, as Team GB will be no more after this tournament.

The usual crawl to the tube at Wembley Park was a little quicker than normal, maybe because people had left early, but in half an hour we got down on the platform and the train came straight away.  Getting out to find the car 30 minutes later, an hour's drive and I was indoors by midnight.

The whole day was a little unusual, but one I would not have missed for the world.  It was a strange crowd, but in a way, it was little more like the old days of football, when everyone mucked in together and you used to chat to people around you.  Things have changed and maybe I am looking through nostalgia tinted glasses, but, for once, it was nice for it to be like that.

The Olympic ideal might well stretch to the crowd, as they were all good natured and the lack of singing didn't totally detract from the atmosphere.  But I missed the passion, as even though we were wanting Team GB to win, there was not the same feeling as when you are watching Spurs.

It is shame that some of the games have not been well attended, as even games without Team GB involved would be worth seeing.  If it was the World Cup, the grounds would be packed.

If you have a chance to go along then I would recommend it.

Like Spurs and Cup finals, you never know when another chance might come along.

 

 

Back to homepage