Send Them Victorious

It’s been quite a fortnight.

Although it seems barely credible, it’s only a little over two weeks since I was at Wimbledon for the opening day of the Olympic tennis. Clutching the Centre Court ticket Mr SB had secured in the original ballot, I stood patiently in a queue waiting for the gates to open. I’d had five hours’ sleep since we’d been in Hyde Park the previous evening watching a big screen which showed us a James Bond film in which the Queen jumped out of a helicopter, although I suspect the helicopter might have been fake. Around me in the queue were tennis fans from across the globe – from Spain, from the USA, from Australia – all of whom were blissfully unaware of the creeping sense of doom we, as British citizens, felt. Surely the spectacular opening ceremony was just a fluke? Surely this whole enterprise was going to go miserably, toe-curlingly, tooth-grindingly wrong any moment now? The stadium would probably collapse. Or the Tube would break. Or the whole thing would get ruined by the relentless British rain.

So we got to the front of the queue. Mr SB had his ticket scanned and skipped merrily through the gate. I had my ticket scanned and… the machine flashed up a Big Red Cross Of Doom. “Sorry,” said the smiling volunteer holding the scanner, “It says your ticket isn’t valid. You’ll have to go down to the ticket office and get them to check it.” My ticket arrived in the same envelope as Mr SB’s. It was for the seat next to his. But I had no choice, so I waved him a wistful goodbye and trudged off towards another queue.

After 30 minutes or so, it became quite obvious that the new queue wasn’t moving. A volunteer walked past and informed us, in classic “couldn’t make it up” style, that the ticket office wasn’t open yet because they’d lost the key. This was more like it. Some classic British incompetence to kick us off in the manner we’d been led to expect by weeks of negative press coverage. We’d all been right all along. The whole thing was doomed. What had Seb Coe been thinking? It would probably be best to admit our mistake now and put everyone on the Eurostar to the Stade de France before things got any worse, as they surely would.

Cut a long story short. I eventually got in, two hours and a severely sunburnt decolletage later, and got some of the best seats on Centre Court. The tennis was fabulous: we saw Serena, we saw Roger, we saw a seed crash out in the very first match. We even saw Michelle Obama. But there were huge swathes of empty seating, most of it with the telltale pink labels denoting that these were seats reserved for the ‘Olympic Family’, who must still have been arguing about whose turn it was to make the packed lunch, or going the wrong way on the District line.

The only person with better seats was the umpire.

So far, so predictable. There were ticket problems, there were empty seats, and the media had plenty to say “I told you so” about. There were no British gold medals for the first four days. This was all just a ridiculous, overblown dream, wasn’t it?

But then. A trickle of medals began, and Olympomania began to take hold. The negative press coverage stopped, and people started banging on about how brilliant Claire Balding and Matt Baker were.

By the time we returned home that first weekend, I was wishing we’d had tickets for an event – any event – in the Olympic Park. Although it had been fantastic to be at the most famous tennis court in the world, part of me felt that I hadn’t seen the ‘proper’ Olympics. I guess I’m just greedy. So Mr SB and I started to check the ticketing website obsessively. We tried for obscure handball matches between countries we couldn’t point to on a map. We tried for basketball. We tried for diving. We tried for hockey. But no amount of hitting F5 made any more tickets appear, until…

At 1.30am, Mr SB came up to bed and announced that he’d got two tickets for the last night of the athletics competition. Not only in the Olympic Park, but in the Actual Bloody Stadium with Actual Bloody Usain Bolt. Mrs SB didn’t get to sleep for a very long time.

So, two weeks after our first trip, we went back.

And we found a city that was confident, friendly, and stunningly well-organised. King’s Cross has never been noted for its air of cheery optimism, but on a sunny Saturday morning at the end of the Olympics, it felt like Utopia. There were smiling volunteers everywhere. There were smiling Brits in Team GB shirts everywhere. There were Americans, Mexicans, Russians, Africans. And they were all there for one thing, and it wasn’t a fight.

We headed through St Pancras for the train to Stratford. Nobody checked that we had a ticket. In a vast crowd of people on the same journey to one of the most memorable days of their lives, having the right ticket suddenly seemed a bit irrelevant. What happened to the miserable, officious, bureaucratic Britain I knew and tolerated?

We got to the Olympic Park. Smiling, brilliant volunteers who seemed to know the answer to every question in the world greeted us with megaphones, with sparks of humour, and with an unflagging enthusiasm which, presumably, hadn’t budged for two whole weeks. Not one of them looked as though they’d rather be anywhere else. What happened to the miserable, reserved, incompetent Britons I knew and tolerated?

There was a moment on Saturday night, in the hysterical 80,000-strong crowd chanting, “Mo! Mo! Mo!” as Mo Farah stalked his opposition round and round the track in the 5000m final, when I had a sudden sense of what the Nuremberg rallies must have been like. Nobody in that screaming mass was in control of what came out of their mouth. We had a common purpose, and that purpose was to glorify our nation by helping a British athlete to complete an amazing achievement. But really, nobody needed us. The Games, and London, had long since taken on a happy and glorious life of their own.


~ by somethingblonde on August 13, 2012.

One Response to “Send Them Victorious”

  1. I watched the Charity Shield highlights on Sunday night. There was a 50-50 refereeing decision that went against Chelsea, and at half-time the ref walked off to chants of “Wanker!” Wanker!”

    Nothing remarkable, perfectly normal at a football match, but after the last few weeks of sporting civility I suddenly noticed that it wasn’t very nice.

    Perhaps other people will have similar moments of clarity. Maybe those fans that actually behave that way will suddenly catch themselves doing it, and think “My God! We’re carrying on like a bunch of cunts!” Not Chelsea fans, obviously, but some.

    No. Football is another universe from the Olympics, and immune from Olympian character building. It’ll be the usual simian antics, and by September we’ll have forgotten there was ever any option.

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