Great Britain vs. New Zealand. Olympics 2012 kicks off.
Having ducked out of work and taken a few hours early leave I headed to Cardiff with a friend to see the opening event of the Olympic Games 2012. We arrived a bit behind schedule at Cardiff train station and I grabbed a quick burger, eating as I walked, and we were shepherded towards the security entrances where we were asked, airport style, to put all belongings into clear plastic bags provided.We did ask instructed – my camera and my phone, I continued eating my burger – and after an additional pat down none of the items were faced with any real degree of scrutiny. It all seemed a little pointless.
Upon reaching the 6th tier of the stadium I popped up the closest entrance to the seats and took a few quick snaps of the game that had just kicked off. Team GB verses New Zealand in Women’s Football.
Once satisfied I made my way over to where my ticket informed me I should be and noticed a distinct lack of staff at every bar I passed. I learned later that there was at least one bar open further along the curved corridors.
I reached the appropriate entrance and climbed the steep steps, trying to ignore the vertigo I was expecting, and finally joined my friends and was glad to be seated with a solid structure beneath me.
The first half saw team GB dominate with a few chances, their best a header from Anita Asante striking the post and the NZ keeper, in a display some might confuse for objectum-sexualism, gave her post an appreciative kiss. In the last minute team GB threatened again in the 6 yard box where a short pass failed to come off.
The impression I was left with was that GB were looking stronger and most certainly had more of a drive for attack. And so ended the first half. Almost immediately the hubbub of the crowd was aggressively drowned out by obnoxiously loud ‘music’. This had the effect of preventing any risk of easy conversation. It occurred to me – as I was surrounded by young families enjoying the sunshine and the spectacle – just who was responsible for the choice of music and more importantly the level that it was blasted at from the enormous hanging speakers? It seemed unlikely that whoever made these kinds of decisions undertook anything resembling a survey as to who the attendees would likely be since they were apparently under the impression we needed to be subdued by an audio assault that I’d liken to standing too close to a speaker at a concert.
Thankfully the music was eventually replaced by a woman shouting down the mic attempting to galvanize the crowds support by asking who supported who. I’m trying hard not to be too cynical but it was all a bit cheesy and not really what I’d expect to see at a football match. Imagine if it was Man Utd. vs. Man City, for example…
After a nice little shout out to kids from various school parties who were present this happened:
This seemed to be an even more bizarre attempt to galvanise the crowd by encouraging them to take part in a choreographed – for want of a better description – ‘arm dance’ from what sounded like a Mexican accented man. I can tell you everyone in my line of sight sat there somewhat bemused at the recorded figure shouting instructions and behaving as though the crowd was following them. If only he knew. Consistency was the order of the day since this was followed swiftly by the auditory assaulting ‘music’ again.
Just before the teams returned Sepp Blatter made a cameo on the large video display.
I wouldn’t describe myself as a fan of the man, to put it mildly, and it somewhat irritated me to see him at all when really this event had nothing to do with him. Two lads who had popped off to retrieve some light refreshment in the form of soft drinks had missed this cameo but were graced with another before play resumed. Their exchange – now the music was no longer drowning conversation out – went something like this: “Oh my god, is that Blatter?”, “Yeah.”, “Really? Oh my god…” The impression I got was one that distinctly lacked any sense of being impressed. I liked them already.
The teams returned and the second half got under way. Team GB continued as they finished the first half and attacked with determination, even though not every opportunity was grasped, such as a great through ball from Kelly Smith that was picked up but received one too many touches allowing the NZ defender Ali Riley to get a vital toe to the ball just as Ellen White released her shot.
Team GB’s luck was about to change. They were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the box. As GB readied themselves for what was a well practised routine the fiery redhead gentleman who shared my disdain for Blatter came alive. “‘This is it. Record this. I’ve had a premonition!” he cried to his friends. Well didn’t he call that just right.
Steph Houghton – after a team-mate performed the almost expected dummy step-over – took a cracking free-kick and slotted it away with ease in the back of the net much to the dismay of the helpless New Zealand players. It was a real crowd pleaser of a goal.
The hard work was almost undone later though when Alex Scott and Ifeoma Dieke collided allowing Sarah Gregorius – cool name incidentally – of NZ to have a one-on-one duel with the GB goalkeeper Karen Bardsley. Unfortunately for NZ Bardsley got down low and comfortably cradled the lacklustre shot. Perhaps Gregorius was too gregarious and needed some support in the attack… a poor joke I know, but at least I didn’t try and strain a joke from the somewhat disturbing poem of the same name.
As the game drew to a close it occurred to me that seeing the kit being worn I often forgot that I was watching GB and my mind kept trying to insist it was an England kit but I suppose that’s neither here nor there. Just before the final whistle blew I must confess to being distracted by a curious, wandering seagull, as were a few others around me.
It circled the stands and at least once dropped a payload on the spectators below and even opportunistically swooped in making an attempt to snatch food from people. With around 7 minutes to go a finger tip save was made by Bardsley after a shot just outside the box, well, more of a lob really. That was one of the last pieces of action.
As I sat there I reflected on the Euro finals a few weeks ago and also on the casual derision I’d heard from some people towards the skill levels of women’s football. This all woman GB team played better, more fluid football than most of the male Irish team that ‘showed up’ to the Euro finals. Team GB were able to complete what seemed like more passes and other than a few minor things – I’m looking at you Alex Scott and Ifeoma Dieke – they played the game of football better, creating chance after chance and always looked like scoring. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare two completely different competitions – Ireland did have a difficult group – but I was impressed by what I saw and there was undoubtedly a thirst for competition evident. Ryanyllek might have been a better person to comment on the quality on display than me, but that’s how I see it! Speaking of ryanyellek, I almost forgot to mention, that throughout the game each time a substitution was made it was accompanied by a visual and audio display to ensure the crowd knew what was happening. ryanyllek assures me that this is evidence of the creeping Americanisation of the game.
After those revelations – of sorts – I left and joined the queues for the return train journey, with the inevitable delays, and where I got to see what appeared to be a business person using their hands-free earphones and mic set – for their mobile phone – while using both their hands to do so… but that’s another blog entry of its own perhaps.