After The Gold Rush : Reflections On Football At London 2012
Freelance journalist and sportswriter currently living in Glasgow.
With many Olympic sports winning over new fans, A.D. Winn reassesses British football, citing the one saving grace when many were questioning its presence.
Not one week removed from one of the most magical sporting fortnights Britain has ever seen, and the nation is still talking, reminiscing and comparing their favourite moments from London 2012. On what seemed like an hourly basis, a new home-grown story was gripping the nation, and as each one unfolded, the pre-event jitters about transport, security and cost became more and more inconsequential.
For the athletes, it was a release of four years hard work; the 3am starts, the unremitting training sessions, the blood, sweat and tears put into painstaking preparation for one shot at being able to call yourself one of the best in the world at what you love doing.
For many, it paid off. They will now become household names, role models for a generation even though a handful may still be trying to get their head around new personal bests, or in some cases, a new medal in their collection. Whatever targets were set beforehand, few would have imagined just how much Team GB’s success would light up a nation.
Then there’s football.
It can be such an easy target at times, often aimed at individuals for questionable behaviour, opinions or pastimes, or sometimes entire teams for their recruitment policies. But not this time; the air rifle of hate was pointing directly at the sport of football, and in this instance, Olympic football. Compared to other sportsmen and women, footballers as a whole are mere throwaway pop stars; there’s no athleticism or patriotism, only frauds and high salaries; there’s nothing to truly admire when the gap between player and fan is so immeasurable.
There was derision before any ball was kicked; neighbouring nations distanced themselves at embracing the opportunity to incorporate any all-inclusive GB team, whilst others claimed the games should be ‘amateurs only’, and winning gold was far from the pinnacle of the sport. Not exactly fitting of the Olympic spirit, instead hitting a very raw nerve highlighting the colossal growth of football to the point where it will never again fit beneath the Olympic umbrella.
Perhaps the biggest worry was that British fans, punch-drunk on tournament football, wouldn’t be attracted to an Olympic competition. Sandwiched between the European Championships and the domestic season, all during a fortnight showcasing alternative sporting excellence; it was understandable why a British supporter would dismiss offering allegiance to an improvised squad, with a forgotten past and no fixed abode.
Ultimately, Stuart Pearce’s team limped out of the tournament, whilst the nation marvelled at the success of Ennis, Farah and Rutherford on another channel. Sporting greatness was happening and for once, football wasn’t worth anyone’s attention. It wouldn’t take long for the pessimistic comparisons to kick in, if it hadn’t already.
But there has been a success story. In an overlooked corner of British football, one team put aside misaligned opinions, prejudice and despondency, and set out to engage, enthral and inspire a new audience.
Hope Powell had her own issues with regards to politics and nonplussed players. Her women’s team included many players at recognisable clubs, with plenty of international experience; however only a few are full-time professionals. No household names, no reputations among the masses.
Not that it would stay that way. After an impressive win over New Zealand, they were on the front and back pages of national newspapers, for all the right reasons. As the victories and performances became more notable, more heads started to turn. Whilst staying in the athlete’s village, they were being recognised as Olympians, by Olympians.
Almost overnight, all the pre-game issues about Olympic football not being the peak of achievement were suddenly null and void. Here were footballers who were humbled by the reception they received, athletes who had come from playing in front of small crowds, to playing on the world stage. They had parallels with the track athletes, swimmers, and cyclists; they weren’t millionaires playing for clubs owned by billionaires, they were competitors stripped down to the bare minimum of just trying to be the best.
In their final group game, played in front of an incredible 70,584 people at Wembley, Great Britain beat Brazil 1-0. No matter what else happened in the tournament, the team had accomplished a watershed moment.
Only time will tell if that night at Wembley becomes lost in the myriad of Olympic success stories, but for the British players involved, and for every women’s football fan in attendance, it will be remembered for many years to come. We may never see a GB side play again and perhaps that’s for the best; a fleeting appearance that left a lasting legacy.
They may not have become the best in the world at what they love doing, and they may not become household names overnight, but for every young British female watching, wanting to replicate what they had witnessed, football at the Olympics was justified, alongside every other Olympic sport.
Follow A.D on Twitter: @adwinn
Find more of A.D's writing at his blog ADWinn.com
You must be logged in to post a comment! Sign up + or log in in the top right corner.