I once gained an insight into the impact a sports crowd can have when I hit the wall at the 20-mile mark during a marathon. The last six miles were pure hell, and all that kept me going was the roaring from the sidelines.
So I approached Advantage Home, an investigation into the benefits of playing on one's own patch, fearing that it might be a statement of the obvious – of course athletes will tend to perform better if there are more people supporting them than the opposition. But as the table tennis international turned sportswriter Matthew Syed discovered, thanks to a bevy of expert witnesses including Joey Barton – yes that Joey Barton – there's a bit more to it than that.
The referee might, unconsciously, be influenced by the crowd, for example. One psychologist recounted a study in which football referees were asked to adjudicate on incidents on video, some with the sound on, others in silence. The former favoured the home side. It's what tennis players call "home cooking", as Tim Henman put it.
The 2012 organisers certainly believe a crowd can help. It transpires that they've sold most of the tickets near the finish line in the Olympic Stadium to Britons.
In the delightful White Stiletto Dreams, Romford-born Cathy Fitz-Gerald revisited the town's open-air market, which has been going for 800 years, and which, in the 1980s, when she bought her eponymous footwear, was in its pomp, full of fantastic characters. Now it's in steep decline, thanks to supermarkets, malls and the internet.
David Eldridge, now a leading playwright, worked on the shoe stall: "I learnt about life, I learnt about women, I learnt about loyalty, I learnt about betrayal," he said – a declaration that left me wanting more.
Fruit-seller Val King was one of the larger-than-life types who made the market teem with life. She'd work in the City during the week and sold fruit at the weekend because it was such fun. "It made me as a person … I miss it so much." Now she's an actress.
FitzGerald gave a final, rather sad judgement: Romford's market was, she said, "intensely, indecently, hilariously alive, and I'm old enough now to know how rare that is".
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