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Swansea City’s Triumphant Return and Other Less Publicised Happenings.

Six of us left the university campus, running predictably late, and made our way over to the Guildhall. This was the final destination of the victory parade of Swansea City after claiming the League Cup on Sunday in a 0-5 defeat over Bradford. It was a momentous occasion in the club’s 100 year history being their first major trophy, and, as a speaker later went to great pains to highlight, the first time a Welsh team had won it.

We walked down Mumbles Road and due to one of the group having hours previous passed his PhD defence our spirits were high. However, we couldn’t say the same for the gentleman we came upon who was having car troubles.

Some people were having a better day than others.

Naughty car.

There was some concern amongst the group that we’d left it too late and probably missed the arrival of the team bus. The eldest of us – taking a well earned break from extinguishing the light in the eyes of students by building a convincing case against free will – tapped into his infinite, aged, wisdom and proclaimed that “These things always run late.” followed by a less assured “Don’t they?” He wasn’t wrong.

As we turned the corner onto the Guildhall the team bus was just at that moment moving at a crawl through the assembled fans. Perfect timing.

This was the scene that awaited us at the Guildhall.

The scene that awaited us at the Guildhall.

Swansea City players overlooking the throng of fans.

Swansea City players overlooking the throng of fans.

The Swans mascots also made an appearance with the players atop the double decker bus. Apparently there are two. One male, and presumably one female. You know, because it’s got pink feathers and looks ‘girly’… The male on the other hand looked like a very moody breadstick. By the looks of it he didn’t appreciate me taking a photo of him either. I can almost hear him hissing. I’m sure there’s some joke and pop reference to Angry Birds in there somewhere but I’ll spare you.

I wonder do they have any cygnets?

I wonder do they have any cygnets?

Some of the jubilant Swansea fans took to the rooftops in a Beatles-esque moment.

Well, granted there are 5 of them and they don't have any instruments.

Well, granted there are 5 of them and they don’t have any instruments.

Other people took advantage of the very specific demographic that turned out for the event by offering flags and various items of clothing emblazoned with the black and white colours of Swansea.

Look at the size of those pegs! Where does someone go to buy them?

Look at the size of those pegs! Where does someone go to buy them?

After the initial excitement of the team’s arrival the cheers of the crowd were drowned out by, at least to me, an unknown figure with a microphone. He boomed over our heads trying to whip us into an even greater state of frenzy before the team, and all associated with them, made their way through from the back of the Guildhall.

The master of the microphone.

The master of the microphone.

The excitable and affable speaker invited Swansea City manger Michael Laudrup forward and made a remark to the effect of Laudrup being elected president of Denmark only for Laudrup to retort “…we don’t have a president” to the amusement of the crowd. Laudrup went on to state that “The first time you win something like that (League Cup) it’s tremendous.” and while expressing his pride and also that the players are always the most important element in any success, he thanked the crowd for turning out on a cold February evening.

Michael Laudrup making his way forward to address the fans.

Michael Laudrup making his way forward to address the fans.

Clearly I struggled to get a good vantage point for my camera but others had no such problem. Granted they may not have been too excited by what they were seeing.

I can't remember now if he was standing on something or was abnormally tall. Either way, he looks bored of looking down on the halfings.

I can’t remember now if he was standing on something or was abnormally tall. Either way, he looks bored of looking down on the halfings.

The microphone maestro invited various players forward to speak and thank the fans. There was some banter about the fans being warm to welcome the team back in this fashion with a player quipping that “I think they’re cold!” – in reference to the conditions – but the most amusement was had with the appearance of Chico Flores. “Hello my friends. My English is not very good but it’s important.” he began, presumably referring to their victory. The keeper of the microphone joked “I’ll translate. He said, ‘My English is not very good but I’m important’ ” which was met with laugher from the crowd. After having other things he said mistranslated from poor English into poor humour Chico rounded his speech off with a cry of “I love you!

Chico trying his hand at English and possibly not understanding the ridicule from the speaker.

Chico trying his hand at English and possibly not understanding the ridicule from the speaker.

At this point I realised I was in the situation where nature was calling at the most inopportune time. I made a quick escape in search of facilities. It was only then that I noticed the television broadcast vans.

Nice bit of kit.

Nice bit of kit.

On my return to the celebration I popped over and was kindly allowed to take a snap of the interior of the van in the foreground above. The tech nerd in me couldn’t resist.

That all looks very expensive.

That all looks very expensive. Apart from the whiteboard. That just looks like it’s in deep cover, infiltrating the advanced enemy.

From there the event began to wind down. Not that this was a cue for our group to return home. Far from it. We embarked on a dual celebration of Swansea City’s success and that of my aforementioned colleague. We popped into the pub next door and admittedly had a few pints. While there I noticed one of the punters had apparently decided that the pub was the best place to watch The Ricky Gervais Show. If he was having a beer I’d imagine a lot of Pilkington’s streams of consciousness would become even more difficult to follow.

Punter listening to the wisdom of Karl Pilkington.

Punter listening to the wisdom of Karl Pilkington.

As the evening progressed, at one point, apparently my hand had swollen to gargantuan proportions dwarfing my pint.

I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Except Alice was a 31 year old man and Wonderland was a pub.

I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Except Alice was a 31 year old man and Wonderland was a pub.

From there the evening’s festivities continued, resulting – inevitably perhaps – in some members of the group being a little worse for wear by nights end than others, but that’s a tale for another time. To their credit they all made it into work the following day. Myself included. Well done to Swansea City for a truly admirable journey of success and may the future bring more of the same. The parade was a great family event, on a par with the Olympic torch passing through Swansea, and also the perfect launching pad for our night of celebrations.

Great Britain vs. New Zealand. Olympics 2012 kicks off.

Cardiff Millennium Stadium with the Olympics Rings.

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.

Great Britain and New Zealand battling it out.

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.

Barren Bar.

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.

A nice safe view of the event.

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.

This was the moment the upright did its job keeping Asante’s header out.

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…

The lady working the crowd with the mic.

After a nice little shout out to kids from various school parties who were present this happened:

The picture speaks for itself.

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.

FIFA’s top dog.

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.

Teams GB and NZ return for the 2nd half.

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.

An important toe by Riley.

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 ball sailing net bound from a perfect free-kick.

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.

The uninvited guest by the flags of the Olympics nations.

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.

Players congratulate each other on an effective and determined performance.

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.