Notes From The Olympic Crowd

Aug 9, 2012; London, United Kingdom; A general view during the women's soccer gold medal match in the 2012 London Olympic Games between Japan and USA at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What's really going on in the stands at the Olympic football ...

(A word of warning. This is basically a 'what I did on my holidays' kind of thing. If you suspect that might annoy you, then please read on, and be sure to complain at length in the comments. A full refund will be given.)

On profanity. Nobody was swearing. At all.

On attendance. There were a lot of people. I had the advantage of being at Wembley, which is naturally going to be the football destination of choice for anybody over for the Olympics in general, as well as for anybody living in what is quite a large city, but still: 82,000 for Mexico 3-1 Japan (men's) is pretty impressive; 72,000 for South Korea 0-0 Gabon (also men's) is frankly ridiculous. And over 80,000 for the women's final was record-breaking.

On Mexican waves (1). Some people hate Mexican waves. "Watch the game", they seethe. "If you weren't here to watch the game, why are you here? How can you appreciate the diligence of the midfield press if you're standing up and going 'WAAAAAAY' every few minutes? Tourists, the lot of you."

Whether or not you agree that there are good and bad ways of having fun is your own business. ("Flags? Little flags that you wave? How dare you?") But this objection does rest on the assumption that everybody in the stadium is there to, well, watch the game.

Now let's be honest with ourselves. Football can be dull. Really dull. Even good games have long periods of inactivity and irrelevance, while the bad ones ... well, you know. We put ourselves through the ones involving the teams we care about because we're unwell, and some of us put ourselves through others because we're unwell in other ways, but without either of these sicknesses, why shouldn't you jump to your feet and shout 'WAAAAAAY' every now and then?

This is particularly true at the Olympics, when half the crowd is there just because it's nearby international football of a sort, the other half because they were hoping, wrongly, that their team might end up being drawn on that day, and the third half because it's an Olympic event with plenty of tickets going for non-ridiculous amounts of money. So when Korea U23 and Gabon U23 are drawing 0-0, in game that Korea don't need to win and Gabon don't know how to win, it would be precious in the extreme to kvetch at anybody refusing to be utterly and diligently enthralled.

On the ball. The official ball of the 2012 Olympics is made by Adidas, is coloured white and bloom -- that means pink, for those of you that don't speak branding -- and is called 'The Albert'.

Apparently this is Cockney rhyming slang: "Albert Hall" = ball. I didn't know this, so my first thought was, naturally, of flamboyant 1930s television personality Adolf Hitler and his notorious single testicle. Hitler's monorchism is sometimes ascribed to an injury sustained in World War I, and more importantly is far from established, but ever since World War II has been taught to British schoolchildren as fact through the persuasive medium of song. To the tune of 'Colonel Bogey': "Hitler has only got one ball / The other is in the Albert Hall". This probably isn't what LOCOG and Adidas had in mind, but then that's Britain for you. Everything comes back to the war whether you mean it to or not.

During half-time, giant inflatable 'The Alberts' were thrown onto the lower tiers of the stadium, where they flexed and flopped and wobbled around, looking very peculiar indeed.

On Mexican waves (2). I watched Mexico-Japan in the company of an American. They just call them "waves".

On waste. What's going to happen to all the stuff? The lanyards, the banners, the flags, the bunting, the wrapping, the Mandevilles, the things on the floor with the event icons on, the Tensa-barriers, the Wenlocks, the other lanyards, the sponsorial lollipops, the buoys, the helmets, the high-visibility waistcoats, the pontoons, the vague and uncomfortable sense of wellbeing and happiness, the mounds of migraine pink or childlike purple or surgical green tat, all stamped with 'London 2012' above that spattersplat logo. What are they going to do with it all? Can you recycle a lanyard?

On the crowd (1). We can call off the search for the most Dutch man in the world. We have a winner. Could the man outside Wembley wearing the orange trilby with five red/yellow tulips in the band, orange shoes, orange jeans, orange singlet, and the white lab coat with "Dr. Holland" embroidered on the back please get in touch? We want to know why you weren't wearing clogs.

On Mexican waves (3). At one point during Korea-Gabon, two waves set off around the stadium, in opposite directions. As they swelled around the corners and charged toward one another, there was tangible excitement at what might happen when they met. (It really wasn't a very good game.) Then they crashed into one another. Innocent football fans were stunned by the impact. Some were thrown to the floor, others hurled into the air. The stadium filled with the screams of the innocent as the anti-clockwise wave overwhelmed and destroyed its clockwise rival. On it charged, unstopped and unstoppable, lapping the stadium in its own honour, a slice of the stadium devastated in its wake.

On the crowd (2). There were quite a few families along for the day, which may have contributed to the diminished levels of Adult Vocabulary. Directly behind me, an honourably earnest father narrated the events of Korea-Gabon to his children in a relentlessly chipper and upbeat tone, despite almost nothing of note happening. At half-time he asked his son what they thought the Gabonese manager needed to do to inspire his charges. "Pringles", he replied. Another Mexican wave came round.

The Surreal Football Magazine #1 is available now.

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