Paralympics: Park life returns as the first of 2.5 million fans head through gates

Crowds deliver a thumbs-up to curtain-raiser and look forward to sporting spectacles

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After two weeks of relative calm in Stratford, the park gates were thrown open once more last night and tens of thousands of sports fans from around the globe flocked to the stadium for the third, fireworks-filled ceremony of London 2012.

The contents of last night's spectacular had been a closely-guarded secret, and yet those with tickets were confident that a treat was in store. No fewer than four of Peter Farnfield's friends took part in the Paralympic Opening Ceremony. Yet as the 26-year-old arrived at the Olympic Park to take his seat in the stadium he knew no better than anybody else what to expect from the show.

Mr Farnfield, who is from Marlow in Buckinghamshire and has cerebral palsy, won't get to see any of the sport in person. "We applied for swimming and athletics tickets too, but only my mum and dad got those," he said. "I didn't get a wheelchair ticket." Yet even that disappointment had not diminished his enthusiasm for the Games, which he said "are going to showcase what we can do".

In all, 2.5 million tickets for the Paralympics will be sold. Among the tens of thousands of people streaming into the Stadium for the ceremony was spina bifida sufferer Sam Lightowler. "I tried for Olympics tickets but didn't get any, but got everything I asked for for the Paralympics," he said. "I hope the Games help people understand disability."

Spectators sported Team GB tattoos, while some voiced their scepticism over Anish Kapoor's divisive red Orbit sculpture. So far, so similar to the Olympics. But unlike the Games, the atmosphere was less corporate and more relaxed.

As they made their way in, each visitor was handed an apple for an interactive part of the ceremony. Games maker Kathy Sullivan dished out hundreds. "I'm just telling people not to eat them until they're asked," she said.

They travelled from far and wide. Clements Stegmiller, 21, who makes prosthetic limbs and other mobility devices in southern Germany, made his first trip to London for the ceremony. "What they can achieve is just too fantastic," he enthused, proudly boasting of seven days' worth of tickets.

There were hopes among the crowd that the legacy of the Paralympics would be an increase in the number of people trying disability sports. Chris Humphries from High Wycombe, whose SportsAble club plays host to Team GB archer Kathy Critchlow-Smith, said: "We have lots of spare capacity at the club so we really hope the Paralympics inspires disabled people to join and try a sport. I really wanted to see the stadium so am delighted we got tickets."