Old Trafford on Thursday and we finally had an Olympic football event with a large crowd, 72,000 for the double header UAE v Uruguay and then Team GB v Senegal at The Theatre of Dreams, Old Trafford.
I arrived at 1.00pm after a visit to The National Football Museum which was packed with visitors, via Metrolink tram, to buy a last minute ticket and by 3.00pm, when the gates opened for the 5.00pm kick off, the SOLD OUT signs went up. Late buy was a great idea. It was a super seat in the Sir Alex Ferguson North Stand. They put a landyard round my neck which entitled me to free food and drinks in an executive suite.
Sixteen years ago I came to the same venue for EURO 1996. I had visited the downtown EURO FANS EMBASSY and had left my shoulder bag. The next day I tried to pick it up, but IRA terrorists had blown up the major shops, and of course it was a no-go zone. Fortunatly nobody lost their life, and the area was renovated into a super shopping and leisure area.
My very first trip outside this island was as a schoolboy in 1960. £28 pounds bought me a round trip rail ticket from London Victoria via a cross channel ferry Dover to Calais, and Paris, Basle, Milan, Florence to Roma Termini . It included 7 days bed and three meals, four days of athletics at Stadio Olimpico, two football matches at Stadio Flaminio, some hockey matches and the 10 finals of the boxing at a marvelous venue, Palazza delo Sport, including watching Cassius Clay win light-heavyweight gold.
Team GB tied hosts Italy 2-2 in Rome but with one win over Republic of China 3-2 and one loss to Brazil 4-3 in their group meant that they didn't advance. Patrick Hasty from Northern Ireland scored the last GB Olympic goal.
At the 1948 Games in London, Team GB was managed by Matt Busby. First round success, 4-3 after extra time over Netherlands at Arsenal, Quarter Final 1-0 over France at Craven Cottage and 3-1 Semi-Final loss to Yugoslavia at Wembley. There had been some one sided scores including Italy v USA 9-0 and Sweden v South Korea 12-0. For the bronze medal match with Denmark the squad agreed that all the substiutes should get a game and they lost 3-5.
Outside Old Trafford is the statue of Sir Matt Busby, their larger than life manager. with the Olympic rings on the facade. UAE v Uruguay was very entertaining, with the crowd favouring the Middle Eastern team who were refreshing and took an early lead. The whole team raced to the south east corner flag and kneeled down and prayed to Mecca or was it the Etihad Stadium? Uruguay claim that they don't have much history... only their football. Liverpool bad boy Luis Suarez was booed throughout but they won 2-1.
Then to THE MAIN EVENT. I have never heard God Save the Queen sung so loud by a crowd anywhere, and even the GB players...EXCEPT for captain Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy, Joe Allen, Neil Taylor from Wales, who kept their mouths shut, and of course Gareth Bale who had a sick note and was touring with Spurs and enjoying Disneyland.
A great opening goal from Bellamy but lots of errors in the back against a speedy Senegal team. The Uzbek referee almost lost control and Bellamy was deserved of a penalty which wasn't given for a scything tackle. Then the Africans got a late 83rd minute equaliser through Moussa Konate and the stadium emptied. Greater Manchester Transport laid on lots of football specials, filling them up three at a time, and we were back in Piccadilly in no time. I hope that the Welshmen were sent to bed without any supper by coach Stuart Pearce, and made to sing OUR National Anthem before they were allowed breakfast.