Men’s Hockey Preliminary ties
· Netherlands 4-2 South Korea
· Australia 7-0 Pakistan
Entering the Olympic Park for the first time and encountering the assembled multitude of excited, anticipatory faces being shepherded along by the host of relentlessly cheerful Games Makers, I was put in mind of my first ever visit to EuroDisney. But without the queues. For the real success of these games, I think, has been the getting of the logistics right.
As I wandered past the sleek lines of the Aquatic Centre near the entrance, I could see on the distant horizon a set of lit floodlights, and wondered what that could possibly be. Millwall FC, across the Thames perhaps? It was only when I closely scrutinised a map of the park, did I realise I had severely underestimated the size of the place – for those distant lights were in fact my destination: The Riverbank Arena, a good half-hour’s plod away.
I began to look enviously at the mobility vehicles ferrying their cargoes of grannies and toddlers across the site and wondered what the criteria for being allowed on board was. I guessed “Could not be arsed walking” probably did not fit the bill.
When I finally did reach the venue somewhat footsore, the first thing I noted was a couple of large information boards set up outlining the progress of the hockey competitions thus far, including current group standings. As I was taking these in, I heard a frightfully posh voice behind me stating “Look Mummy, England are second!”, so turned to inform it’s owner (a teenage girl) that “England aren’t competing here”.
The girl’s Mother then looked at me as if I was something nasty she had just trodden in, and stated matter-of-factly “England/GB – it’s all the same”, before striding off with daughter in tow. I should have countered with the fact that Scots had won around a quarter of Team GB medals up to this point but, as is generally the case, only thought about this witty rejoinder well after the event.
Upon entry to the Riverbank Arena itself, I was again dismayed to find even more empty seats than I had witnessed at the weightlifting – at least a couple of hundred, and not just in the Accredited Area, but amongst the cheap seats too. A group of around 20 soldiers did presently take up a section of empty places in the Accredited Area, and I smiled as I watched them participate in the inevitable Mexican Wave, all of them performing with perfect parade-ground precision. And it made me wonder if this was not a sport we could excel at during Rio 2016: Synchronised Mexican Waving.
I quite liked the Riverside Arena’s blue pitch. An innovation, I am a guessing, designed to allow following the yellow ball easier, both live and on TV. Not so sure about the pink surround though. I was impressed by the speed of the game, particularly the recent rule amendment which allowed players to take a free-kick to themselves and get on with things, and wondered if football could perhaps learn from that.
This penalty-corner thing struck me a bit odd though: there were quite a number of them in both games with a total of six converted, seemingly all having been awarded after the ball had unintentionally hit a defender’s foot. Given that, by simple arithmetic, there are always going to be twice as many feet as sticks on the pitch at any one time, this did appear to be a rather harsh penalty for a defender to pay for an incident generally out of his control.
|Action from Netherlands v South Korea (above) and Australia v Pakistan (below)|
In the end both matches ended up rather one-sided affairs, although the score-line certainly flattered the well beaten South Koreans in the first tie. In the second, both Australia and Pakistan went into proceedings with ambitions of progressing, but two Aussie strikes in the first 6 minutes (through Liam de Young and Mark Knowles) effectively settled the contest. The Pakistani lads never stopped running, but were sorely outclassed, eventually ending up on the wrong end of a 7-0 spanking.
I had initially hoped to pick up a resale ticket for the afternoon session during the lead up to the games, but that bastard’s Twitter Feed thingy put paid to that. Having said that, I think by the end of the second match I was quite relieved I had been unsuccessful. The two games had been great fun, but I think I was perhaps a touch hockey-ed out by the end of the session.
Instead I took the opportunity to travel across the city to Trafalgar Square to spend the afternoon in the National Gallery, where I achieved a little gold medal of my own by finally getting to see Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire.