Boyish enthusiasm in Stuart Pearce's Team GB side before kick-off with Brazil

 

Jason Steele is, he tells us, under orders from his dad. "He's told me to get as much memorabilia as possible," says the Middlesbrough goalkeeper, sat behind a place card which reads 'Jason Steele Olympic Athlete.' "Aye, and that's going as well!"

There is an understandable desire to gauge where Olympic football in this country will register amongst a sporting public looking at a third successive football tournament in two months, the end of the Premier League, the European Championship and now this. Perhaps its best measure comes in the boyish delight of those taking part.

Stuart Pearce, the Team GB coach – "Was I stagestruck in the village? No, I'm a dour bugger. I don't get stage-struck" – spoke about a unique spirit amongst his squad, something he has never encountered in his three campaigns in European Championships and World Cups as a player with England, or during his time as manager of the Under-21 side.

"Going into the Olympic village last Monday took their breath away," he said. "The size of it all hit home to the staff and the players. Even though it was quiet because it was the first day, it showed what this encompasses.

"We know there's something special. When I've spoken to the players individually and said, 'How are you feeling about it?' they say they find it different to when they're with the England squad. There's just something special about it, that probably we can't put into words.

"There's something of a magnitude which is just incredible, that we're involved in. The advice to all the players is, 'Look we're in it, let's give it our best and try and win the tournament.' That's what we'll prepare to do but you must enjoy it, too. I probably haven't got the right vocabulary to put it into words, but there's something just slightly special about this one. Even different to the England squads I've been in, the Under-21s, whatever. It's just slightly different in some way, shape or form."

Perhaps what stands out most is the disbelief that these people are involved in the Olympics, and the lack of crushing expectation. Football used to be like this. Old Trafford is expected to be full next Thursday, when the campaign starts, against Senegal.

"When it was announced we were going to have a team in the Olympics, I don't think people were particularly sure what the magnitude of it all would be," added Pearce. "But we've got three group games that are pretty much sold out. I can only draw on my experience of tournament football. I played in my first tournament at the World Cup in 1990 and a quarter of a million people met us at Luton Airport even though we'd been beaten in the semi-final. That generated huge excitement within the country. Then at Euro 96, it was football in an environment like I'd never known it. If these players get a taste in this tournament of what I experienced in 1996, they will be the richer for it, that's for sure. It blew me away and blew my family away. It was an experience that no one in that squad will forget."

Steele, at least, has been forewarned: "We're in hotels the majority of the time, we travel around and play games, so to go into that sort of environment is a big culture shock because you're no longer just yourself as a group of 18, you're now 500-odd athletes all part of a team. To experience that was brilliant, and I think we're going back there as well. It'll probably be even busier when we go back and it'll be something else.

"To be honest, I don't really think it'll sink in properly until it's all over. In years to come I'm sure I'll cherish this forever. I'm forever being reminded by my dad to keep little things because I'll look back in years to come with my children and grandchildren and it'll be something to hold on to."

Preparation will intensify tonight, when Team GB face the much-fancied Brazilians at the Riverside Stadium. Daniel Sturridge, who has been suffering from viral meningitis, should play after impressing in training. A decision on his participation in the Games will follow the match.

Preceding Team GB tomorrow will be Team GB women, who face Sweden on the same ground, at four o'clock. The Olympics are offering a real opportunity to the women's game, as head coach Hope Powell admitted.

"We want to set a long-lasting legacy," she said. "We want to show that women's football is a good product. We want it valued as a sport in its own right. This gives us a platform to showcase the sport.

"It will give us a benchmark as to where we are in the squad. Preparations are going very well. The girls have trained very well and hard. Sweden are highly ranked, World Cup winners, so this will determine how much more we need to do."

Powell's message mirrored that of Pearce. "You're an Olympian first and a footballer second," she added. "It's about the kitting-out experience, it's about going to the village, it's not just about football. It's about Team GB, I like it. It's been a good experience. The whole thing has been something very special. It will last in my memory a very long time and we're embracing every moment."

That was a common theme yesterday.

Brazilians to watch

Leandro Damiao da Silva dos Santos

Emerging from the shadow of the Hulk is not easy, just ask David Banner. That is the task for Leandro Damiao for the rest of the Olympics. What the 22-year-old clearly does have is the character to try. Only through moving to a forward role did his star begin to shine, and now, along with his nine caps for the full Brazil side, he has scored 24 times for his club side Internacional.

Neymar

Neymar is the European Cup in the form of a player, 'another' Holy Grail that Roman Abramovich has chased for years. As yet, unlike the trophy, the 20-year-old has escaped the Chelsea owner's grasp. No wonder he wants him, Neymar has flair and scores for fun, 42 in 88 for his club side Santos, nine in 18 for the full Brazil team.

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine