Well, after all my posts about the Olympics, you could be forgiven for thinking I am anti the Olympic games. So, you may be forgiven for being surprised to know I attended at the Olympic Park on Thursday night to watch the hockey. The GB women’s team played against Belgium, followed by NZ ladies against Argentina.
I had not applied for tickets for any Olympic events, partly because of the cost, partly because of the lottery system and partly due to apathy. However, last weekend, I was offered a ticket via a contact as a result of my involvement with Lee Valley Youth Cycling Club where I am the child welfare officer. It was a chance to visit the Olympic Park and experience the whole Olympic experience for myself. I thought that I should learn about this first hand rather than making judgements based on reports from other people.
Since she learned I had a ticket to the Olympics, Michelle has been panicking that I would protest inside the Park or create some sort of scene. She made me promise not to wear a Pepsi T Shirt or Nike Trainers. She even confiscated my Official Protester T Shirt.
The search I and my bag had to undergo before Michelle would allow me to leave the house, made the security at the Olympic Park seem like a cake walk. If she had rubber gloves, I’m sure she’d have carried out an intimate search. Its nice to be trusted! I mean, its not as if I’ve ever expressed anything less than underwhelming support for the Olympics.
I took the train to Stratford and as I had a few minutes, I went into the shopping centre outside the station. no, not Westfield, the posh new shopping centre, but the original town centre shopping centre which has 99p shops unlike Westfield’s Armani shops. Outside the station was busy, lots of police and stewards monitoring the crossing of the road to ensure the safety of pedestrians and the ability for traffic to flow. Interestingly, it seemed that every religious evangelist was there preaching why it was time to convert to whichever religion they were evangelising about.
To get into the Olympic Park, i had to pass through Westfield Shopping Centre, but it was so busy, there was no time to look in the shops, even if I had wanted to . The shopping centre was busy as well as people arriving for the evening session, people were leaving from the afternoon sessions. I have to say that the operation to get people into the park was as efficient as could be expected given the crowds. Lots of praise must be given to the volunteers who were there checking tickets, directing people and generally helping people on their way. Their good natured enthusiasm set the tone for the event. Even the police were in good humour, even the usually stand offish armed police were making light of their roles.
Once into the park, the first thing you see is the Olympic Stadium and the Orbit sculpture. The Olympic Stadium was empty as the athletics events had not started and this meant the numbers in the park was less than it could have been.
I had arranged to meet Bob near the Velodrome. This was appropriate as the Velodrome was built on the site of the former clubhouse at the old Eastway Cycle Circuit which was demolished to make was for the Olympic Park. The Velodrome was some 20+ minutes away from the main entrance. It was interesting to see the throng of people wandering through the wide expanses, some leaving, some heading to events, some just soaking up the atmosphere. There is an area in the middle of the park with a huge TV screen, a bit like Henman Hill at Wimbledon. People could buy a ticket to get into the park to soak up the atmosphere and watch the event on TV. I have to say, I’d rather watch it on my TV at home with a crate of beer than sit in the park watching on TV and paying £4.30 for a 330ml bottle of warm Heineken lager.
A couple of sights on the way to the Velodrome were the BBC TV studios. As the host broadcasters, you may have expected them to have plush studios. Well, the inside of the TV studio may be plush, but the exterior was not what you may expect. The studios are plonked on top of a pile of shipping containers. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, in fact it is cost effective, but not what I was expecting to see.
The other sight I noticed was the ever present reminder of the corporate
bribe payers sponsors. In this instance, the presence of the World’s largest McDonald’s restaurant. Its rather incredible that the World’s largest sporting event is sponsored by an organisation whose products do their best to ruin the health of the nation. Quite what sort of message a 1500 seat restaurant sends out to the visitors regarding sport and healthy eating?
Meeting Bob at the Velodrome, he got some food and we had a beer each. It was interesting to look at the topography and remember the bits of the old Eastway that was left. There remains parts of Oxo Hill and other bits of the old venue. We also mused what the cycling circuit will be like when they reinstate the venue. The feeling is not one of a great legacy for road/ mountain biking. The Velodrome itself will be a great facility. However, I learned that it will not be available to the public until sometime in 2014. It will remain unused for 2 years whilst the rest of the park is redeveloped. Quite why the velodrome will remain unused and fail to cash in on the boom post the Olympics is a mystery to me.
The Hockey stadium is a temporary facility built of temporary seating held up by scaffolding. There is no problem with this. What did surprise me was to find myself fenced in like the bad old days at football in the early 1980s. The fencing was not to prevent the crowds getting onto the pitch, but to protect the crowd from the risk of being hit by a stray shot.
The view of the pitch from the seating was excellent. The view over the stand opposite shoed part of the London Skyline including the Olympic Stadium and Canary Wharf.
I have to confess that i have never seen a hockey match before. Indeed when the match started I did not know whether the good looking females in red or the good looking females in white were Team GB. It was the team in red.
The game itself was fast moving, exciting and very skilful. Team GB were dominant but took until the last seconds of the 1st half for GB to score. The second half produced more of the same with GB winning 3-0 in the end.
The game was noticeable for the lack of dissent shown by the players, the lack of diving and lack of faking injury by the ladies. The skill and speed was breath taking. I was well impressed with the game and would definitely go to watch hockey again and recommend it to others.
The atmosphere in the stadium was very unlike football. The band played and the crowd sang along to their tunes. There was a very family atmosphere in the ground. There were lots of empty seats in the first half of the game, but these were filled by the end. Returns being sold or people turning up late? I do not know.
At the end of the first game, there was a break of nearly an hour before the next game. The cynic in me would say this was to maximise sales of food and drink. You could not leave the hockey ground and return later, so all you could do was buy food/ drink from the concessions in the Arena. Bob and I chose to leave and take a look round the Park before heading for the train home. Watching Team GB was good, but being biased, I had no interest in seeing other nations play. It was nice to have a leisurely stroll back to the station avoiding the crowds.
So, my view on the Olympic Experience was that it was a thoroughly enjoyable affair. The organisers have done well to make it run so smoothly. Having said that, the £9.5 billion they have spend should guarantee this.
So to the surprise of many, I attended the Olympic games. To the surprise of many, I did not protest or get ejected. In fact, I must be mellowing as it is several years since I have even been ejected from a football match.
If you get the chance to go to the Olympics, then I’m sure you will have a good time.
None of the above should be taken to mean I have sold out. I still think it is disgraceful the way the public in London have been pushed around and how much brown nosing of the IOC there has been. (see previous posts re this)