It’s the first day of the football season* and for the first time in my 33 years I’m not feeling excited about it. In fact, I’m actually apprehensive about the whole thing. This summer, the usual void between the inevitable disappointment of an international football tournament and the whistle starting what the broadcasters always promise is going to be the best season of football ever was not empty.This summer the travelling show called the Olympics came to town. Some viewed it as a two-week long school sports day. The British press were doing their best to heap hype on the home competitors whilst simultaneously spreading cynicism and pessimism, in equal measures, on the organisers.
Even the latest character that half of America seems to think will be better than Obama at running one of the World’s superpowers waded in to the debate, questioning whether London could pull the Olympics off. Oh dear Mitt, how silly you look now. Although with NBC’s coverage and editing choices who knows what it would have looked like to Americans?
I for one was looking forward to it. I’d missed out on bearing the torch but that wasn’t going to dampen my enthusiasm for London 2012. We’d been lucky enough to get tickets (£80 worth out of £1000 applied for!) and following the great Great British success of Sir Bradley of Wiggins & Team Sky (ultimately a pseudonym for Team GB) in this year’s Tour de France, we’d decided to line the roads for the cycling. No tickets required for that!
The BBC had decided to act as host of this big sporting celebration by offering never-before-seen coverage of every single session of every single event. And you didn’t even have to be at home. A fantastic iPhone app allowed me access to the whole Olympics as long as I had wifi or 3G signal. Awesome! The entire Olympic Games were truly available to us all. Auntie, I salute you: you certainly contributed to make the games great. Keep up the good work!
The anticipation was building on Facebook, across the Twitterspehere and the World. It was time to get the party started. What would Danny Boyle et al have in store for us?
It’s safe to say that I watched the opening ceremony with a pro-Olympic group of friends, including two Gamesmakers but we were not alone with our enjoyment of the show. Usually a kaleidoscope of differing subjects, opinions and musings, my Twitter feed was full of echoes. No contrast. A single unified message was coming across loud and clear. The stereotypical abashment of the Brits was missing. We were #proudtobebritish and we were telling anyone who’d listen. Or read, in the case of Twitter!
I felt liberated by this unusual sense of national pride. It seems others were too. I was in London and for the first time I can remember I was smiling at strangers. And they were smiling back, some even engaging in conversation! Despite what the papers were trying to tell the rest of the UK, London was alive, more so than it’s ever been.
The first few days of the Games tested our new found national spirit with anticipated gold medals escaping Team GB. But what had Sky told us?
They weren’t wrong. Our patience for gold would be repaid 29-fold over the coming days. Each gold tally on the medal table being accompanied by another one-and-a-bit silver and bronze medals. And with each metallic coin came an increase in pride and positivity.
Olympic fever had infected me. I had seen the light and was a born-again-Olympian. These drugs worked and I wanted more. I was hooked.
People across the nation were uncovering previously unknown expertise of synchronised diving, fencing and dressage. Only sometimes being corrected by the commentators! I’d become the Olympic Correspondent in the office, surprising both my colleagues and myself at the amount of names, back stories and interesting factlets I was recounting.
This wasn’t just sport anymore, something greater was happening. It’ll sound strange but I had a feeling of never-ending symbiosis. I was shouting at the top of my voice at the athletes, encouraging them to succeed. In turn their success lifting me, encouraging me to cheer louder, longer.
As unwanted as it was a certainty, there would be an end. Given what I’ve written, perhaps it’s not inexplicable that I found tears streaming down my face at the video montages created by the Beeb. Powerful? Incredibly so, and not just because of the clever editing and reassuring tones of Eddie Butler.
The pride. The passion. The humility. The relief. The determination in the face of adversity. The grace in success and failure. The apologies to coaches, family and the nation for ungrasped medals.
For me, London 2012 has provided a sterling example of what the Olympics are about and the Olympians (well, 99.9% of them) have embodied the Olympic oath and demonstrated how to be a real role model: respect, commitment, sportsmanship, honour of the team.
The London Olympic bid was all about legacy and the desire to inspire a generation. If the one legacy we gain from London 2012 is a new role model then they will have been a success.
I’m not going to be an Olympian. Let’s face it, my ineptitude for sports accompanied with my advancing age limits me in that respect but one thing is for sure: I want to strive to be better, to achieve more and to help other achieve more. I’m not entirely sure how or what that looks like but I’m determined to do it.
We must all look to the Olympians and take inspiration to find our own personal legacy. I hope, even for just a few people, the so-called-celebrities of TOWIE, Big Brother and other falsified stars will be overshadowed by recent events and better role models. The previously bright stars of football will continue to shine I’m sure but I hope they have taken notice of what happened over this closed season when they take to the pitch this afternoon.
They have a lot to live up to.
If I could tell just one Olympic story to each and every professional footballer it would be that of Manteo Mitchell, the American runner who broke his leg half through his lap in the heats of the 4x400m relay.
What did he do? Did he spectacularly barrel roll on the track, writhing, clutching random body parts? No. He kept on running. That’s right: he ran 200m with a broken leg. Why? Because he didn’t want to let the other 3 guys in his team down. So he just ran on it.
What’s even more amazing is that he still clocked a time of 46.1 seconds. If you get the chance you should see how far you can run in 46 seconds. Then try it with a freshly broken leg!
So please Mr Professional Footballer, please, emulate the Olympians. Play hard for the team. Don’t dive. Don’t feign injury. Be sporting to your opponents in defeat and victory. And how’s about worrying less about the binge drinking, flash cars and pretty ladies. Show us just why you are worth all the millions of pounds that are spent on your transfers and wages. And hey, you can’t need all of that cash – why not use some of it to provide a legacy of your own.
Please don’t disappoint us. Make us proud of you too.
* I know that the Blue Square Bet Conference, the Scottish leagues and the no-longer-sponsored-by-a-beverage cup have all kicked off but let’s be honest, none of them really count. 😉