First Class? You better believe it
When I started this blog I wrote in the very first post that there would be occasions that I didn't write about Arsenal, or even football. This will be once such day. I said in my last post that I would be getting back to normal on the blog this week. I make no apology for the fact that it hasn't worked out that way. I've been back and forward to London on most days this week to watch Olympic events. When I haven't been there I've been glued to the television instead. The last few days have been just incredible for the British sports fan. Yesterday was, in my opinion, the greatest sporting day in the history of Great Britain. The country has been put on a high by the exploits of our Olympians in a way that football can only dream of doing.
Let me start with the whole experience of actually going to the Olympics. On Tuesday I went to watch hockey for the first time in my life. What a great spectator sport. It has everything you would want - pace, physicality, bad refereeing, and an amazing level of skill and bravery. The atmosphere obviously lacks the visceral tribalism that makes watching Arsenal such a thrill, but I suspect it won't be my last visit to a hockey stadium. Apart from that, just going to the Olympic Park was a massive thing for me. There will never be an Olympics in Britain again in my lifetime, though the obvious success this has been should mean that my children will get to see it again later in their lives. There were thousands of people in the Park and you got the feeling that every single person was having a good time. You couldn't not have a good time.
The following day I went to Wembley for Olympic football. I have to say that I don't think football should be in the Olympics (unless it is for amateur players only). However, at one stage it looked like the only way to get tickets to an Olympic event would be by going to football. That's why I was in the crowd for South Korea v Gabon. The game lacked quality and finished 0-0, with a certain Ju Young Park failing to impress in front of goal (I got some serious stick on Twitter from some South Korean people for daring to point out that it was obvious why he couldn't get a game at Arsenal). It was an odd kind of crowd, very much like we get at Emirates Cup matches. Frankly, walking up Wembley Way it was obvious that there weren't many "football supporters" (if I can put it like that) at the game. Having said that, it made for a nice relaxed environment in which to watch a game of football. I was there again yesterday for a much better game between Mexico and Senegal. The crowd was of a similar nature, and the football of a low standard - though I would not be upset to hear that Arsene Wenger had snapped up Mexico's goalkeeper to replace Fabianski and Mannone.
On Friday night I was incredibly lucky to have been given a ticket to see the athletics in the Olympic Stadium. What an experience. The stadium itself is fantastic and, contrary to "reports" you don't feel that far away from what would be the football pitch (certainly no further than the higher areas at our own place). I had always wanted to attend an Olympic Stadium for athletics. The fact that I got to see Jessica Ennis in the first day of her successful heptathlon campaign was a bonus (as was watching Gooner Greg Rutherford qualify for the long-jump final he would go on to win). The noise generated was incredible, louder than a football crowd I would say. My ears were ringing when I left. It was a wonderful atmosphere, but nothing compared to last night, I am certain. I was sitting on the sofa roaring another Gooner, Mo Farah, to golden glory - heaven only knows how good it must have been to be there.
One of the reasons this Olympics is becoming such a success is the triumphs we're seeing from home athletes. I really feel that British sports followers may have had an epiphany. Suddenly football has disappeared off the radar completely. Since Euro 96 football in this country has seen an influx of "soccer watchers." These people, the Tarquin's and Henrietta's, the Jonny Come Lately types, have filled stadia throughout the Premier League as the game has grown in to a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut. The success of the Olympic sports could bring it to a juddering halt. Rugby missed its chance to push football to one side in 2003, largely because its star player (Jonny Wilkinson) disappeared for so long through injury. However, the Olympic sports could now take over, and the fashionable days of watching football could genuinely be coming to an end. Such has been the success on the lake, in the velodrome, and now in track and field (even at Wimbledon, for God's sake) that football has a problem. Sky are going to have to go on one hell of a promotional campaign to bring attention back to live football. In the shape of Jessica Ennis athletics (and the Olympic movement in this country) even has its own Beckhamesque icon. There is a new breed of superstar sportsperson in Britain, and not one of them is a footballer. Thank God.
One of the things that has struck me this week is the way in which these sports people carry themselves. In interviews they are intelligent and erudite. They are largely honest in their assessment of their performance, and generous to their opponents. They are incredibly open with their emotions, whether they have won or lost. With only the odd exception (that's you Mark Cavendish) they are able to accept defeat with the utmost dignity. There appears to be nothing tawdry about these people, and their dedication to their sport is beyond comprehension when compared to the champagne fuelled nonsense we see with footballers.
Ashley Cole has given us an example this morning of what I am getting at. He chose to have yet another pop at Arsenal via Twitter. Why does he need to do that? Do you think you'll get Ben Ainslie sniping at people from his past having achieved a fourth gold medal? English football players do nothing but bring shame upon themselves and the game.
Footballers have been shown up as embarrassing little toerags by the absolute dignity of our Olympians. These are people who have set themselves a target and achieved it with little fanfare along the way. England's football players, on the other hand, have been placed on the highest pedestals, and rewarded with the most outrageous trappings of wealth, and yet they have achieved nothing. To take it to another level we can even look at the TV pundits - intelligent expert opinion on everything from swimming to weightlifting. Not a Jamie Redknapp in sight. To illustrate my point I can talk about the BBC employing Sir Steve Redgrave to comment on the rowing (with his five gold medals) but we have Robbie Savage there to talk football - need I say more about the inflated opinion football has of itself?
I saw a comment on Twitter this morning from a journalist who was suggesting that the BBC should take advantage of this surge in interest in "minor" sports. He was saying that Grandstand should return on a Saturday afternoon. I couldn't agree more. I'd far rather watch cycling, amateur boxing, volleyball, archery, handball, swimming etc than put up with the likes of Paul Merson and Garth Crooks failing to put together a coherent sentence in trying to describe the football action. When Arsenal are not about on a Saturday, I'd definitely prefer to be in front of BBC1 just like when I was a child.
Tomorrow I'm off to watch the boxing at Excel, and that completes my personal Olympic days out. It's been a wonderful experience. When I get home tomorrow night I might try and get around to posting about Manuel Almunia (what a nice man he must be) and we might even have a signing to talk about (no breaths to be held though).