“Ladies and Gentlemen. Let me introduce to you our special guests who will be making the draw today….Ex-Welsh international and the most annoying man on the TV/Radio – Robbie Savage. Next, another Premier League “battler”, I give you Kevin Gallagher. And finally, a very special guest. World Cup winner, twice FIFA Golden Boot Winner. A man who has played for the best teams in Spain and Italy. Fat Ronaldo.”
Not only is the whole idea of playing the Olympic football in cities with nothing to do with the games, let alone different countries quite bizarre, but was that the strangest line up you have ever seen at one of these events. Quite what Ronaldo thought of it all I do not know. Did he, for just one spilt second think Savage was a girl and was going to invite him to one of his “parties”? And Gallagher? Was he simply called up at the last-minute because someone glamorous dropped out?
But for all the *cough* razzmataz, the draw brought home the reality that we will be seeming lots of games during the competition in half empty (at best) stadiums. I may ultimately be wrong, but with hundreds of thousands of tickets still unsold for the event I think the brain wave of taking the Olympics to other parts of the British Isle will end in embarrassment for the LOGOC.
I have not been shy in stating my opinion on this. Before the draw I threw the question out there as to why would you average man in Glasgow feel the need to go to a game at Hampden Park. Would he really feel like he was part of the Olympics? An Olympic games that is being hosted in another country – one that you have a more than friendly rivalry with. But now, do you think he is more or less likely to snap up one of the thousands of tickets left unsold for the delights of Honduras v Morocco or Egypt v Belarus, And what will the organising committee do when faced with banks of empty seats facing the TV cameras?
On Monday night at the City of Coventry Stadium (note: no mention of the Ricoh word allowed otherwise the Olympic Branding police will be on you) the final qualifying game took place between Senegal and Oman. The ever reliable Dagenham Dan went to the game and reckoned there was about 10,000 there. Not bad actually, considering the little attention it received in the national press. Ticket pricing at £10 was sensible and offers were done to attract local schools.
Park and ride from the city centre worked like clockwork but the major issue was the installation of “airport-style” security. That word has crept into our language since the awful events of 9/11. Today to get into a nightclub you have to pass through “airport-style” security. To board the Eurostar, you have to pass through “airport-style” security. At the Houses of Commons, you have to pass through “airport-style” security. All well and good, but add in tens of thousands of football fans arriving 5 minutes before kick off and you have carnage.
Last night thousands of fans missed kick off, the first corner, the first shot on goal and the first third of the game because they were standing outside with their valuables in a see-through plastic bag. Organisers state that this is necessary for security reasons but the cynical side of me also wonders if it is a way to stop spectators bringing in items that are on the “banned brand list” – items that are produced by non-Olympic “partners”.
During the “London Prepares” events I saw this security in operation at the Beach Volleyball and Basketball. It didn’t cause any issues or delays, but mainly because they weren’t football crowds, and so fans got into the venues with plenty of time to spare. But that simply wont happen in the football. Fans will always turn up at the last minute.
So back to the games themselves. Wouldn’t it have been better to have used some smaller venues closer to the heart of the games? The Valley (in the Olympic Borough of Greenwich), The Matchroom Stadium, even Upton Park. All within 15 minutes of the Olympic Park. All with more modest capacities than Old Trafford, Hampden Park and St James’ Park. 20,000 spectators looks better at The Valley than at the Millennium Stadium I will suggest.
Will the fact that Team GB will be playing in Cardiff in that opening match also influence Pearce’s team selection? Will he be publically “encouraged” to pick Welsh players for this game to try to bring more fans in? Only time will tell, but I do not expect there to be a huge surge in demand for tickets for 75% of the games when eventually they go back on sale. Despite the fact it is a once in a lifetime experience for most of us, I simply cannot get excited by South Korea versus Gabon at Wembley Stadium on my wedding anniversary.