Early doors

And so 7 years and 3 weeks since we were awarded the games, the London Olympics is upon us. How could anyone in Great Britain not be excited by the next 18 days featuring the world’s greatest athletes? And here we were, ready to experience the opening events. Whisper it quietly, but the London Olympics didn’t start with the multi-million pound opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium, but actually started on Wednesday in Cardiff when Team GB ladies took on New Zealand. Even the official Olympic website suggests the games start on the 27th July – as if someone is embarrassed by the fact that football even exists in the games.

It has hardly been a surprise that virtually every game outside of London or not featuring Team GB has struggled to sell tickets. I have argued on these very pages about the logic in using such big stadiums in the far flung areas of the United Kingdom. Those romantic few told me that the residents of Glasgow and Cardiff would flock to watch the likes of Honduras, Morocco, Belarus and Gabon because it was “the Olympics”. Last week, LOGOC took the decision to remove over 500,000 unsold tickets for the football tournament from sale and simply close down parts of the stadiums, obviously making sure that the TV facing seats were full.

It is too late to argue the merits of using smaller grounds closer to London for the football (Reading, Southampton, Brighton for instance), but it still leaves a bad taste in the mouth that such a logical outcome was ignored. However, that hadn’t stopped me heading north of the border to notch up event one of ten I would be attending during the games. Hampden Park would be our destination for a double bill of Morocco v Honduras, and then a little throw-away tie between Spain and Japan. I mean, who would want to watch Spain these day? What have they ever won eh? Dull, negative football. Give me Allardyce route one anyday! Who wants to see the ball on the pitch. There is a million times more room to hoof it in the air….I’ll stop now.

Despite my frequent trips north of the border, Hampden Park has never featured on the TBIR radar for a game (great tour and even better museum) so when it was announced that games would be held in the Scottish National Stadium it was too good an opportunity to miss, especially as tickets to any events in the proper Olympic venues were impossible to get last year. One thing you could not complaint about was value for money – £61 for four tickets for a double-header of international football. Of course a year on and tickets can be acquired for just about any game – the football was to be the first of TEN events that we would see in a 12 day period during the games (and we will bring you action from all 10 right here). But confusingly, wherever you went, all the signs/websites/newspaper articles said the Olympic games was due to start on Friday 27th July with the opening ceremony. The website told us Big Ben was to chime 40 times on the first day (i.e Friday 27th); the countdown clock was to the 27th July and all of the official records say the games run from Friday 27th July to Sunday 12th August.

By the time that David Beck….oops, sorry that was the “Surprise”, had lit the Olympic Flame, all 28 competing nations (16 Men, 12 Women) will have played their opening games. Would it have hurt to make them feel part of the event? But for us it was the start of the Olympics. The Fuller girls had been so excited by not only a visit to Scotland (and the thought of a wet afternoon in Cowdenbeath to come later in the weekend) but also the start of the games.

So we left the baking hot temperatures of London (“Hotter than Greece”) and landed in the Scottish summertime – a dreary grey mist. Was this a sign? Were the games and our presence not required? I’m sure with a little bit of coaxing Glasgow would get right into the spirit of the games.

Hmmm. On arrival I was not too sure. There didn’t seem to be much Olympic spirit around the centre of town, apart from one of the mascots in a kilt. Even the signs showed us the way to the 2012 Summer Games, not the Olympics. But as we arrived at the bus station for our free shuttle service it seemed like people were getting into it. The buses were pretty full and were leaving at 10 minute intervals. However, traffic management wasn’t figured into the plan and soon the lines of buses were sitting stuck in the city centre traffic. No sign of an Olympic Lane here.

Eventually we reached the drop off point close to Hampden. For all of the fuss of the branding police out in force in London, it seemed as if they couldn’t find their way north of the border as numerous “unofficial” outlets were selling Olympic branded items. One stall had even an array of scarfs for those random Mauritius, Serbian and Taiwan football fans who had strayed down to Hampden.

So, first up the good bit. Sense had prevailed and tickets were being sold on the gates (well, next to the gates) for £20. But trying to actually get into the stadium was a nightmare. We had arrived 30 minutes into the Honduras v Morocco game so crowds were almost non-existent. But it still took us nearly 15 minutes to get in as you have to empty all of your pockets into these huge plastic bags, subject to search and then have to empty the bags again before you enter the stadium. Trying to pick odd coins out of a bag that is 4 foot deep is not the easiest job in the world. I would hate to think the chaos that will exist elsewhere. So, finally into the stadium and time for some food and drink. A bargain £17.50 for 4 x pies and 2 x soft drinks, and not a sign of alcohol in sight.

Honduras 2 Morocco 2 – Thursday 26th July 2012
As internationals go, this was an absolute cracker. It is fair to say that most of the 36,000 (or marginally less who were in the ground to watch this) were in their seats ready for the Spain v Japan game – in fact in terms of shirt count it was a disappointing one all from these two sides. But this was a great Hors D’oeuvre. Two attack-minded teams, a couple of cracking goals and one of those absolutely ridiculous sendings off.

We had come in at 1-0 to Morocco so cannot comment on how good the goal was but soon after the break Honduras turned the game around, with two goals from Bengtson, the first an assist by Wigan Athletic’s Maynor Figueroa and the second from the penalty spot after an off the ball incident had been seen by the linesman. The Hondurans had endured a torrid time in Beijing four years ago, losing all of their games but had bounced back to qualify by beating arch political rivals El Salvador, Panama and Trinidad & Tobago.

The Moroccans didn’t stay behind for long as Labyad somehow managed to get the ball out of his tangled feet and find the perfect chip over the Honduran keeper from the edge of the box.

Five minutes later Morocco’s Bergdich was given a straight red for reacting to a late challenge and pushing the Honduran player in the face, who of course went down quicker than a window lady in Amsterdam. The game lost some of its momentum after that although Morocco’s star man, Al-Arabi’s Houssine Kharja continued to look dangerous.

So honours even after game one and time for the “show”, which involved a massed pipped band, some big Olympic footballs being thrown into the crowd and Muse blaring out on the PA. Personally, my highlight was watching the groundsmen expertly mow the grass, putting a different pattern in the grass from the first game.

Our attention was drawn to the flags hanging from the roof. After the faux-pas the previous evening over the North/South Korea flag, it appeared the US flag was hanging the wrong way round. Or so we all thought. It appears on checking (Wikipedia so it still may be wrong) that the US one was correct, but the Uruguayan, Canadian and United Kingdom ones weren’t. Oops.

Japan 1 Spain 0 – Thursday 26th July 2012
When the final whistle blew in Hampden there was certainly one person from the Spain camp who was living up to the nickname of the side. La Furia Roja (the furious red) was an apt title for Luis Milla who had seen his team show all the attacking intent of a sloth. Whilst we have come to expect the slow, patient build up play of the Spanish, the young side demonstrated none of the killer instinct that the seniors had done in the final of Euro2012 against Italy.

Once they went one nil behind thanks to Otsu’s goal, having been left unmarked at a corner, they rarely troubled the Japanese goal. In fact the Samuari Blue could have scored three or four if they had had their shooting boots on. This was a Spain side featuring De Gea, Juan Mata and Jordi Alba, and one that should have given any country a run for their money.

The home crowd had come to get behind the Spanish, with more sporting red shirts than anything else, but it was the Japanese fans who kept the noise levels up. They even tried to whip the crowd up into a hand clapping frenzy, with two chaps running up and down the aisles waving flags, until the fun police arrived and told them to sit down.

Spain’s back four looked very shaky and towards the end of the half Inigo Martinez made a hash of controlling a pass, gave possession away to a Japanese forward and then pulled him down. A harsh red card was brandished by the referee giving Spain a mountain to climb in the second half.

The second period saw the inevitable Mexican Wave start as well as a few people nodding off in their seats. However, Japan stuck to their job and recorded a famous and highly unlikely victory.

The process outside was well organised and within half an hour we were back on the train to Edinburgh. Our Olympic tournament was up and running.

One odd final thought. Official attendance for game one was 23,000, game two was 37,000. How do they differentiate? After our “experience” trying to get in, would we be classed as game one or game two spectators? Perhaps the 14,000 difference in attendees was simply down to delays in getting into the stadium.

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