I know I usually write blogs about The Arsenal but after a nice evening at the Paralympics, I felt compelled to write a piece about it.
Although I was fortunate enough to go to the Olympics at Wimbledon via the original 1st ticket ballot, it was clear to see that going to the Olympic Stadium of them all was the place to be. I blogged/tweeted at the time, that although football is my game, watching the Ennis, Rutherford, Farrah triple gold extravaganza probably goes down as one of the greatest sporting nights ever (and I’ve seen a few).
I was amazed at the atmosphere around London during the games. A seismic difference to last summer where the city was imploding during riots. I was never so glad to leave my home town for my holiday as I was then. This summer people just caught the Olympic and Team GB bug. I’ll never hear again a station announcer at St Pancras station delighting those in the station and those in stationed trains that not only was there a good service on all underground and overground lines (rare in itself) but also that Team GB had won another gold, this time via Sir Chris Hoy. Those in my carriage either cheered or had nice big grins.
I never got to go the Olympic Stadium for the Olympics so jumped at the chance to go for the Paralympics.
Wow! From the stadium to the excellent volunteers all round the place. But it was the atmosphere that got me.
I’ve been to many large stadiums across Europe and North America but I haven’t quite heard noise
like I did in the Olympic Stadium.
Here was 80,000 people (the Paralympics have been a sell out) not only cheering every Team GB moment, but every athletes’ success or heroic act, applauding every country’s athletes and observing every national anthem. In Football, we couldn’t even get our own nationals observing our own anthem. A fabulous moment was in one of the 100m finals where the favourite pulled up about 25m-30m into the race. He went down in a heap and remained there for some time after the end of the race. He managed to get up and the noise from the crowd willing him to finish and then ultimately finish the race was awe inspiring.
And I don’t think this was all down to the fact the crowd were cheering on Paralympians, who battle through despite their disabilities to take up international athletics. But because we have Olympic fever, a real sense of national pride and respect for those of other nations.
Why is Football so different? Why do we boo other nations anthems or despise most team or individual success if it isn’t our own?
Something like the Olympics unites people (The Ryder Cup is similar) but Football splits groups, friends or families apart. Football is tribal and certainly true at club level, but why can’t we as a nation get behind our national team (England in my case) like we do Team GB?
The only glimmer of similarity I have experienced with watching the England national team, was during Euro 96 where I was lucky enough to go to England v Scotland. For just the tournament I put aside my tribal Arsenal priorities and celebrated wildly as England progressed. Who would have thought I’d be celebrating hard goals by Gazza or Sheringham. But I did.
And therein lies the problem, too absorbed are we at club level, it prohibits us from really letting us get behind the England team. We want our club players to do well in the national team and if we lose, so be it.
The whole nation will not get behind the England team. Football may be the national game but a nation doesn’t all want to get involved. It’s tribal because of the club favouritism, and many despise what the modern day footballer stands for, money. At the Olympics/Paralympics, here are unpaid sportsmen competing for the love of their discipline after a minimum of 4 years training, receiving no pay. Modern day footballers wouldn’t play for 4 minutes if they didn’t get paid.
Now I’m not asking for a Team GB national team going forward (therefore losing our English, Welsh and Scottish FAs) but somehow for England fans all across the nation to get behind our national team and make Wembley buzz for home internationals.
Sadly I think the sense of national pride and goodwill will end as the Paralympic flame is extinguished for the last time. Football has a lot to learn.