July 27, 2012, by Tim Utton
Olympics kick-off in the Midlands
London 2012 doesn’t get much bigger than this – Belarus vs New Zealand in the first round of the football.
Alright, maybe it’s not quite on a par with Usain Bolt in the 100 metres final or Bradley Wiggins at the velodrome, but that’s missing the point. It’s the Olympics. And the fact that 14,000 people turned up to watch two minnows of world football battle it out for Olympic glory speaks volumes about our enthusiasm for London 2012.
Once we’d got past the extremely keen security checks (never before have so many high-vis tabards been gathered in one place), inside the Ricoh Stadium we found plenty of goodwill directed at both teams. With the exception a few flag-draped Kiwis and a small but vocal group of Belarus supporters, the vast majority of the people in the crowd didn’t seem to have a strong preference for either team. They were there for the occasion, to be part of the Olympics. And there was something quite special about seeing all the flags of the participating nations hanging side-by-side from the roof, as the two teams lined up for their respective national anthems.
My nine-year-old son confidently informed me that Belarus would win. But after a yellow card for New Zealand defender Tommy Smith inside the first minute, NZ settled well and it seemed for a time as the southern hemisphere team might pull off an upset against the boys from Belarus. The final result – 1-0 to Belarus after a well-taken header from a corner – was a little unlucky for a New Zealand team that showed plenty of determination in the first half and some decent chances. More importantly however, we didn’t have to witness Team GB throwing away a 1-0 lead in the 82nd minute up the road at Old Trafford.
Can the regions put on a good show for the Olympics? Yes we can. And it was great to be part of it.