Posted by: ralphmexico | August 12, 2012

THEY CAME FOR THE FEMALE BEACH VOLLEYBALL PLAYERS, BUT I WASN’T A FEMALE BEACH VOLLEYBALL PLAYER, SO I DID NOTHING (EXCEPT CLAP)

The Olympic flame is burning bright at Olympic HQ, Stratford; there’s friendly fires at a host of other venues scattered around London and beyond.  So it came to pass that at 8 o’clock on the morning after the Opening Ceremony I was seated in a grandstand in Horse Guards Parade, right next to Downing Street, a hundred yards from Buckingham Palace.  I was watching the first round games in the beach volleyball.  Me.  The Olympics.  Beach volleyball.  How Green Is My Valley, eh?

The transformation of this very British corridor of power into an Olympic venue was startling.  There were 17,000 seats in the stands, and there were 5,000 tonnes of sand, shipped in from Surrey, in use as the playing surface for this most idiosyncratic of Olympic sports.  That’s 1,679 billion grains of sand in case you were wondering.  Blimey.

It was early morning.  It was Saturday.  It was the Olympics.  It was beach volleyball.   Everyone was ahem, up for it.  Even the sun had risen early to cast a warm eye on proceedings.  Which was nice.

The actual four games played (two women’s, two men’s) were kinda’ incidental.  It was all about the accompanying razzmatazz.  The loudmouth on the loud-speaker was giving it the whole “Lets wake up David Cameron with a roar from the Downing Street Stand” schtick.  He was orchestrating Mexican Waves in the crowd.  He was introducing The Horse Guards Parade Dancers who strutted, gyrated, conga’d around the sand in their bikinis between points.  He screamed approval when the Benny Hill theme tune was played as the team of rakers (“Lets hear it for the Horse Guard Parade Rakers”) ran on to sweep the sand.  He wanted our attention, our applause, our love.  He got on my wick.

Still, the whole spectacle was a good laugh.  Was it sport?  Was it Even Better Than The Real Thing?  I’ll get back to you on that.  First, I’ll have a closer study of the photos I took of the Russian and Chinese ladies teams before deciding.  I may well be a while…

Onwards to Wembley on Tuesday night to be one of over 70,000 people in the crowd for the Britain v. Brazil ladies football game.  Walking up Wembley Way towards the hallowed stadium, newly kitted out with its’ attention-grabbing arch, is surely one of the great sporting strolls.

As at the beach volleyball, it was airport-type security at the entrance gates.  The people doing the checking were unfailingly good-humoured and polite – a pleasant change from the grumpy little Hitlers you meet at most airports.

My sister and I were seated slightly to the right, behind one of the goals.  Insert your own chauvinistic gag about the danger of being in seats to the side of the goals at a ladies football match.  Again, we were (ill)treated to a stadium announcer who really, really wanted to hear us “Make Some Noise”, and whose world would have been incomplete if he failed to orchestrate a Mexican Wave every three minutes.  So it goes.  (By the way, how old skool is it to refer to The Wave as The Mexican Wave??)

There was a fair clutch of Brazilians in the stadium giving it some Samba-action.  However, they were out-numbered by the butchers apron-wavers who got to shout a little louder when their side scored (in the goals right in front of us) after 90 seconds.  Ho-hum.

The Brazilian team featured Marta in their ranks.  She has been named World Player of the Year five times.  She was wearing number 10, of course.  Had she and her svelte team-mates won the game I was ready to roll out the searingly obvious “Marta & The Muffins” headline.  Alas, the Brits hung on to win 1-0.  Well, you would expect a good performance from Britain – after all they had home advantage and the pick of not one but three countries…

The standard of play was more than reasonable, if not quite West Germany v. France in the 1982 World Cup (we’d have to wait for the Canada/USA semi-final for that).  Both sides tried to pass the ball around and use the wings as much as possible.  There was little or no play-acting or haranguing of the referee.  And most controversially – the players actually seemed to be enjoying playing football, in contrast to those vile Premiership creatures with their foul language, horrible cheating, and vicious snarls at the camera.  Ladies, take a bow.

Admittedly there were lapses that brought a smile.  The Brazilian left-back took a throw-in early doors that was such a foul throw she could easily have been booked for it.  The ref said “play on”.  Later, Britain were taking a corner when a second ball was thrown onto the pitch by an over-enthusiastic ball-girl.  The ref saw the second ball, decided it was inconvenient to stop the corner being taken, so play resumed with two balls on the pitch.  Howard Webb, please take note.

The very evident enjoyment that the players were getting from the game on the pitch was reciprocated in the stands.  The atmosphere (in spite of the incessant grating chants of “GB, GB, GB”) was top-notch.  It was a sweet relief to, for once, attend a game of ball played in a non-poisonous, non-hate-filled environment.  A beautiful way to watch “The Beautiful Game”.  Respect.

Sport being played with honesty and honour – wasn’t this the ideal of the original Olympic Movement?  Wasn’t it the dream of beach volleyball that occupied the minds of Herakles, Pierre De Coubertin, and Dr. Pat O’Callaghan at their inaugural meeting in Hayes Hotel, Thurles in 1884?

Knees Up Shun Fujimoto!!
Ralph Mexico

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