Women's football: Crowd gives launch event a lukewarm reception
Fewer than 25,000 turn up in Cardiff to watch Team GB triumph in their first game
And so the London Games began, 160 miles from the capital, and two days before the opening ceremony, and with a disappointing attendance of under 25,000, but with a "home" victory from a side who, according to regular watchers, can play better and will need to if they are to progress to within sight of an Olympic medal. "What an amazing opening match, what a way to kick-start the Olympics 2012," screeched the public address announcer at a level of hype we must learn to expect over the next two and a half weeks.
It was not exactly that, but neither was women's football in Britain disgraced on by far the biggest stage that it has ever enjoyed, including live BBC 1 coverage. With the introduction of the Football Association Women's Super League and a Champions League, standards have improved all over Europe, where a majority of the New Zealand squad as well as all of Great Britain's now play.
"Intriguing more than exciting," said Jen O'Neill, Radio Five's well informed summariser. "If you hadn't seen a women's game before you wouldn't be rushing back."
For the coach Hope Powell, satisfaction came with the result, for in a first tournament game a win is a win is a win. "It was a tough contest, the conditions were quite stifling and it was admirable the way the players kept going," she said. "So to get the first game out of the way with three points, I'm really pleased about that. The message to the girls was to go and make history." They settled for making a winning start.
As an Olympic event, a crowd that did not even reach the record of 29,000 for a women's international in Britain seemed happy enough, with the possible exception of those who had been advised not to bring bags but did so and found themselves stuck in a queue for between 45 minutes and an hour, claiming they had not been warned about such Heathrow-type delays for the airport-security searches.
Cardiff, well used to staging major sporting occasions for the national rugby and football teams of course, had still spruced itself up a bit and, with the Prince of Wales pub between the railway station and stadium offering a full English – or GB? – breakfast for £2.99, plus coffee at 99p, visitors could hardly complain about being ripped off. Inside, they naturally found prices steeper, after being forbidden to take in more than a minuscule 100ml of drink. With both ends closed there was inevitably a lot of echo. The crowd noise from a family audience had a youthful timbre, many tickets having been either sold or given to Welsh and West Country local schools, whose pupils were soon made aware that they were at an international event when the two English-language teams playing in Wales were introduced additionally in French. The New Zealand anthem was respectfully received, as was "God Save The Queen", which has not exactly always been the case in Cardiff. The sharp-eyed noted that the two Scots in the starting XI did not sing and that most of the others were caught out by the second verse that nobody knows the words to.
Supporters faced the additional problem that "Great Britain" does not scan well or lend itself to obvious chants. Jack Butland, the men's goalkeeper, had suggested "ooh, aah, GBR" which might have been "ooh, aargh" in the first difficult stages, when they appeared beset by nerves. "GB" and three claps was the best the nation of song could come up with later as the team settled, finally getting the crowd behind them with Steph Houghton's fine free-kick.
By the time Brazil kicked off against Cameroon an hour after the end of the first game, a good few thousand decided that regardless of the presence of Marta, world player of year from 2006 to 2010, they had seen enough of the Olympics for one day. But it had been an "I was there" sort of day and they could say they were. They missed a goal-fest though – the South Americans ran out easy 5-0 winners.
Blatter: Team GB is a one-off
The Fifa president Sepp Blatter has played down the chances of Great Britain football teams competing at future Olympics. Blatter said the British Olympic Association's desire to have men's and women's teams was "legitimate" but unlikely to be fulfilled, adding that the opposition from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would prove a difficult hurdle to overcome.
"This is quite a difficult task," said Blatter. "The four British associations would have to play a preliminary round because the qualification is the European Under-21 championships. Everything is possible but this would need a different approach and you have seen the difficulties they have had to field a combined team here in London. So I don't think it is likely to be done."
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