Fans forced into a Third World existence

'Long inured to problems getting to work the British public now has it officially: same rules apply for pleasure. The extent of the insult is shocking'
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The Independent Online

They made a beautiful sight, Galileo and Mick Kinane hitting the rising ground at Epsom, pouring it on in that way which makes the small hairs on the back of your neck dance as if Beethoven and Mozart have collaborated on the score.

You would give a lot for such a sensation, no doubt, but once again it is time to ask a question that comes up with such soul-destroying regularity in the course of an English sporting year. Why is it that so much misery is so routinely heaped upon the British public when it attempts to attend a big event? Why is that so many Derby racegoers abandoned their mission in frustration? Why is that those who were lucky enough to make it on to insufferably packed trains had their clothes ripped and smeared with fast food? Why did road rage crackle so fiercely on the M25?

It is for the same reason that Wembley lies mouldering off the North Circular Road. It is why travelling to and from Twickenham is a Third World experience, why it is possible, as I discovered a few years ago, to listen to an entire Sunday night radio play while scarcely moving three car lengths in the Silverstone parking lot.

It is because no one really cares enough about the ordinary British sports fan. The chaos such indifference creates is an immovable scandal, and if you dispute for a second that this is truly the basis of the problem, perhaps you should consider the extraordinary statement of Stephen Wallis, the manager of the Epsom course.

Even after having every chance of appraising the extent of the anger which ran through every level of racegoer ­ Sir Michael Stoute had to run the last two miles to the course, and briefly experiment with a bicycle after being stuck in traffic jams along with such other luminaries as Frankie Dettori and John Gosden, and still failed to make it in time to saddle his two Derby entries ­ Mr Wallis's concern was roughly on the level of Marie Antoinette's for the hunger pangs of the French peasant.

Said Wallis: "In the nicest possible way the traffic problems were a compliment to the event. In the old days people used to leave at 9am to get here. When the race was in the doldrums they left at 11am, but they have got to leave early again." There, in a few words of mind-bending arrogance and complacency, we have the nub of it. The British fan has to get there by inconvenience, invention, extraordinary stoicism, and a willingness to accept the status of cattle. Long inured to such problems while getting to work, the public now has it officially: the same rules apply for pleasure. The extent of the insult is shocking.

It is also underlined with terrible emphasis the moment you step out of this country to attend a major sports event.

Two weeks ago I covered the Monaco Grand Prix, not exactly a logistical hay-ride given the winding streets of Monte Carlo and the race's appeal for the motor racing crowd and every Ferrari-owner between John O'Groats and Brindisi. I stayed along the coast in Nice, which required only a pleasant daily commute on frequent, airy, beautifully maintained trains. The train companies printed special 40-franc tickets, and at both ends of the journey racegoers were assisted by scores of English-speaking, walkie-talkie wielding officials. You had a distinct, and for a Briton, dizzying, sense that your interests had not only been considered but acted upon. You get the same pathetic exhilaration going to a football stadium in Europe, a baseball park in America, a cricket ground in Australia, the same thrilling idea that your role in a great spectacle has been duly weighed and found not to be an outrageous imposition on the organisers of transport and safety.

Only here are the police permitted to nominate kick-off times, however inconvenient to the public. Only here are you herded into the marshalling yards of Twickenham during a World Cup without even the solace of a drink. Only here can a Stephen Wallis so dismiss the importance of the paying public without risk of a lynch mob.

The truth is that in most parts of the world such treatment would simply not be tolerated. Can you imagine a citizen of Paris putting up with the humiliations and discomforts involved in a trip to Wembley or Twickenham or Epsom? No, he can take a little lunch and step on to a clean, well-lighted train and take a short stroll into the Stade de France. Is it because he is a superior, inherently more deserving human being? Or is it because he is lucky enough to live in a society where individual dignity remains important, where Joe Public is granted a grain of respect? Or is because he would, if confronted with the kind of problems presented to racegoers here last weekend, simply have muttered disbelief and said: "To hell, with it"?

No doubt it is a combination of the two factors. Meanwhile, it was again possible here to gauge the quality of life and service by the failure of so many to get to a major sports event in comfort and good time. Galileo and Kinane were a beautiful sight. They moved so fast, and so freely. For the eyes of a British sports fan, hauntingly so.

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