A crowd of 28,171 people got a taste of Olympic football in Coventry this weekend for a double bill involving Mexico, Gabon, South Korea and Switzerland.
You got the feeling, however, that Coventry was ill-prepared for such an event – car parking was chaotic and the area around the city had probably not seen such activity since Coventry City were rubbing shoulders with the likes of Manchester et al. There’s plenty to commend Coventry, however. Historically, it’s been a liberal place, as witnessed by the Godiva rides again procession that took place at the weekend and there’s the post-modern delight that is Basil Spence’s cathedral, a controversial building but one that demonstrates that it doesn’t have to be medieval to be worth looking at.
Coventry was bedecked with the Olympic slogan of inspiring a generation and lots of pink banners welcoming people but the city has clearly seen better days.
There have been noises about the security at Olympic events and I have to say, it was quite nonsensical. I had to put my spare change in a plastic bag – forming quite a useful weapon almost akin to Charles Bronson’s sock in Death Wish. Apparently, being in a plastic bag removes the temptation to get the money out and throw it. But, if I felt inclined to brain someone by swinging the bag at them, that’s ok. And separating men and women as they filed into the stadium – what was that all about? Removing any drink over 100ml, too – where do you find a drink less than 100ml? And what good is it to anyone? But you could into the ground and buy lots, and I mean lots, of disgusting food and drink. That’s permitted – no wonder we have an obesity problem among the young in this country.
Inside the stadium, it was the sort of high pitched crowd that is rarely seen at a match in England, perhaps with the exception of schoolboy internationals. Mixed among the parents with their kids were fans from Mexico, a happy, clichéd bunch of travellers, complete with ponchos and sombreros. Gabon were scarcely represented, so the locals took to their new friends from equatorial Africa. Once sensed there were few people from Libreville. Gabon’s population, incidentally, is just 1.5 million.
Mexico were the neater footballers, nice triangular patterns of play that invariably ended with a tame finish that the Gabon keeper seemed to make a meal (official, endorsed one, that is, with drinks over 100ml) each time. Gabon played in that slightly haphazard way that African sides adopt, but on occasion there were glimpses of genuine skill. Unlike the pygmies, traditional occupants of Gabon, their defence was thick-thighed and clumsy and their forwards typically fast. But it was 0-0 at the interval.
Mexico broke the deadlock in the 63rd minute when substitute Giovani dos Santos, who plies his trade with Tottenham, shot home after a Mexican wave of attacks. And in the final minute, dos Santos netted from the penalty spot to seal a 2-0 victory. Gabon’s Henri Ndong was sent off for the wayward challenge that earned the penalty.
One final word on the crowd – it was the first time that I had seen a genuine “Mexican Wave”! As for the game, it was lively enough but the quality was certainly below top flight football. In the other part of the double bill, South Korea beat Switzerland 2-1.