Value-for-money is pretty high up on the list of priorities for me, especially with a young but fast-maturing family who have moved on from the ‘Child’ portions and discounted travel tickets which used to subsidise my expenditure. So I have no complaints about the ticket pricing policy attached to the Olympics football tournament, which has allowed me to take my son to see two games, at a total cost of only £66. And when those games have featured the likes of Neymar, Hulk, Marcello, Pato, Cavani and Suarez, not to mention some of Britain’s up-and-coming talent, it gets the big thumbs-up from me.
For some odd reason, it originally didn’t occur to me to get involved in the Olympics via the football tournament. In the initial ballot, we had confidently committed £142 to the pleasure of a day out at Greenwich Park, watching posh people on horses jump over fences (my other half has an equestrian passion bordering on obsession). Amazed that we failed in the ballot – bearing in mind that the afore-mentioned park must be able to cater for a lot more people than the average football stadium – my mind then switched to other ways to get involved in the ‘Olympic Family’. Not really fancying judo, fencing or beach volleyball – despite the latter’s attractions – I suddenly realised there was a footy competition taking place, albeit amongst a seemingly random collection of national teams. It is to my eternal shame that I hadn’t even known that a qualifying tournament had been under way for the last couple of years. I live a sheltered life in non league!
Scanning the fixtures and the stadia being used, I spotted a belated opportunity to experience some football in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, having spurned chances to visit this ground in the past to take in internationals and play-off games. The online form was duly filled in, credit card details entered, and success ensued. I was going to be an Olympian! Before the day out in South Wales, however, I subsequently managed to procure tickets to see Brazil at Old Trafford on the 29th July, having discovered the depth of the South American’s squad for the event. It also gave me an opportunity to experience the security operation surrounding the games, having spent 30 minutes in the rain getting my possessions searched and ‘bagged-up’ prior to approaching the turnstiles. What fun!
Today we are off to Cardiff, in the company of my bro-in-law Simon – driver for the day – plus father-in-law and son. The uneventful journey experiences some congestion and a trip to a park-a-ride site near Cardiff Bay, not quite the one I had anticipated. By the time we are approaching the ground, Game One between Mexico and Switzerland is under way, and I anticipate missing more of it as I survey the queue for the bag-check. To my amazement, the security chap looks at my Reebok shoulder back and says “you’re OK with that” and I wave adieu to the queue. Sure enough, a cursory check at the turnstiles gets me the nod and we are in. The TV screens show the score as 0-0 and we have missed very little.
The Millennium is a magnificent stadium, if you like your grounds big and modern. Three tiers round most of its circumference, with the benefit of a retracting roof – not utilised today even when it tips it down between games – and big screens showing close-ups of the on-pitch action, this is an impressive place to experience sit-down football. We’re in the top tier and the only distractions are the shapely ladies passing by from time-to-time, heading down to the concourse. Most of these seem to be supporting Mexico. Obviously the diet in that part of the world doesn’t feature too many McDonald’s and cakes. Although I do have someone’s four-year-old sitting behind me, who takes great pleasure in kicking the back of my seat on a regular basis. Having had four-year-olds of my own once upon a time, I grin and bear it. Now and again, the part-time football watchers amongst the 70,000 in attendance attempt to instigate a ‘Mexican’ wave. Even the Mexicans in the crowd indulge it in a lukewarm fashion.
The first game, between Mexico and Switzerland, finishes 1-0 to the former. With the latter needing to win to stay in the tournament, I am baffled by their lack of ambition, retaining four at the back and one man up, even in the closing stages. It is not a great opener, unlike the ‘starter’ we experienced in Manchester on Sunday last, when Egypt and New Zealand really went for each other. Game Two is the one we have really come for, with Team GB needing to secure at least a point against a Uruguayan side featuring everybody’s favourite pantomime villain, Luis Suaraz. I have been impressed with Team GB so far from what I have seen on the telly. In Ramsey, Allen and Cleverley, they have midfield players who can control the ball and go forward, as compared to Team England’s engine room where close control is generally lacking in evidence and the reverse gear is regularly utilised.
Sadly, in the striking department, they have a young man yet to learn the basics of good team play. True, Sturridge does get the only goal of the game, but from a position where even my mother-in-law would have tapped home. That’s it, although Uruguay do show a little more huff-and-puff than Switzerland had shown earlier. Not quite the same entertainment value as watching Neymar rip the Belarussions new posteriors at Old Trafford last Sunday, but satisfying nonetheless.
You may have noticed that, as yet, I haven’t mentioned the food and drink on offer. Remiss of me. Having travelled down fairly late, there’s no time to experience the best that Cardiff has to offer in culinary terms – as in the local Wetherspoons – so we eat and drink in the ground. In their scramble for every sponsorship penny they can muster, the Olympic organising committee has eschewed the quality of traditional British ale to embrace a foreign brand as its official beer for the games. A bit like telling Danny Boyle to bugger off because we’ve got Steven Spielberg coming in to do the opening ceremony. Shocking. We drink soft.
At least I can get a Cheese & Onion Pasty, but at £3.50, about four times the price of a similar offering of so-so quality at the Greggs shop that was doing a roaring trade just outside the ground. My son’s Bacon baguette – featuring a very modest amount of dead pig – sets me back another fiver. Factoring in the £10 Park-and-Ride earlier (£3-£5 for non-Olympic events, apparently) it doesn’t rate highly on my value-for-money scale. Which I think is where I came in….
Programme: £5 for the whole tournament. A weighty tome.
Other stuff: … can wait until the season starts on Saturday. Oh, and there’s no parakeets in Wales.