I live in Northamptonshire and this was my first visit to the City Of Coventry Stadium (Ricoh Arena).
Godiva and Olympia – the City of Coventry’s legacy
On the same day that the ‘Godiva Awakes’ Cyclopedia was leaving Northampton I travelled in the opposite direction to attend my first event at the City of Coventry stadium and, indeed, of the 2012 Olympics.
On arrival in the City I was cheered by the sight of five floral footballers occupying the Binley Road roundabout but wondered whether the metal ones striding along the A444 would have been better employed as the Sky Blues’ back four last season.
The plethora of parking restrictions ensured a healthy walk to the stadium which when it came into view was impressive in both form and scale. The Olympic rings and banners displayed around the stadium contributed to the festive atmosphere.
There was a warm welcome from volunteers employed by LOCOG and expectations were high.
Team coaches arrived and players and officials were ushered into the stadium with minimal opportunity for contact with fans.
I took the opportunity to talk to two of the coach drivers who advised me that LOCOG had instructed them not to converse with the players. Is this approach compatible with LOCOG’s aim to ‘truly make these everyone’s Games’?
Security checking was undertaken with courtesy although my bag disconcertedly was not searched.
Inside the stadium I joined the queue at the ‘Nice as Pie’ food outlet. The participating teams in this evening’s final first round matches might be representing Africa, Asia, Central America and the Middle East but there would be no sushi, couscous, hummus or tortillas on offer – sadly the sausage which I purchased wrapped in the driest of stale bread was no compensation.
In the concourse before the first match most attention was focussed on the screens following the Individual Time Trial at Hampton Court Palace. And when Bradley Wiggins’ triumph became clear there was no bigger cheer all evening.
This reflected that the crowd was largely made up of Team GB supporters. Many too were displaying their local Club allegiances with fans of the Villa, Blues, Foxes, Baggies and of course Sky Blues well represented.
There was a sizable Japan following with much smaller numbers for the other participating nations and interestingly two fans of Porto Alegre.
The view of the pitch from my seat in the South Stand was excellent. Given concern over attendances it was satisfying to see fans in all sections of the stadium; although the official attendance of 28,652 (88% capacity) seemed markedly optimistic.
Japan v Honduras began with Japan already qualified for the Quarter Finals and Honduras only needing to draw. The match provided few exciting moments and did little to meet the advertising hoardings’ plea to ‘inspire a generation’.
The crowd had been warned earlier to keep their eye on the ball but there were no shots of sufficient force to threaten personal safety.
Japan played neat, considered, efficient football contrasting with the more impetuous, muscular approach of Honduras. However, neither team played with sufficient verve to hold the crowd’s attention.
Indeed only 20 minutes had passed before the first Mexican wave encircled the stadium.
There was time to admire the players’ fluorescent pink, blue and orange boots.
and note that the officials wore sky blue kits whilst shots from Sugimoto and Sakai drifted well wide of their intended target.
Half time was spent experiencing that typical British football fan’s pastime of avoiding puddles in the men’s urinals.
Supporters were still arriving as the second half commenced and with no new impetus being shown by either team it was rewarding to speculate what precious items fans had secreted in the transparent plastic bags – a present from LOCOG – which they clung onto as they looked bemusedly for their seat. At least one fan was advertising their credit card details.
A clever piece of skill from substitute Kiyotake who brought a raking pass down from above his shoulder and an imaginative first time pass and pile driver from Figueroa were the highlights of the second half.
The crowd’s occasional bouts of handclapping designed to raise the level of the game proved to be fruitless and both teams spent the last few minutes in mutual non combat with 0-0 an appropriate result.
Between matches I spotted the condiment station alongside an entreaty ‘to share the experience’. I declined the offer.
Senegal and UAE began their match with an intensity that easily surpassed the previous encounter. Within two minutes Omar Rabdulrahman had whipped across a dangerous cross. UAE with their patient, inventive play dominated the next period and took the lead with a high quality goal. Eisa Rashid threaded an accurate pass through to Ismaeil Matar who deceived Ousmane Mane with a subtle chip. Senegal worked hard but could not find a clear route past the UAE defence.
The Lions of Teranga roared from the start of the second half and were rewarded after four minutes with Moussa Konate heading a cross from Pape Souare forcefully past Mohamed Ahmad.
Despite several periods of sustained pressure from Senegal whose muscular direct style was matched by new-found flair and some near misses, a second goal could not be fashioned.
At the final whistle a sole Senegal fan draped in his nation’s flag looked crestfallen as he assumed that his team had failed to qualify. He would have been delighted later to learn that rivals Uruguay had lost to Team GB.
As the crowd left there was contentment that Senegal and UAE had entertained and perhaps inspired.