Not turning Japanese now …although there’s always the J League


The crowd welcome the 2012 Olympics women's football final to Wembley

The crowd welcome the 2012 Olympics women’s football final to Wembley

The Olympic women’s football competition ended on a high note at Wembley as the United States became champions yet again in front a crowd of 80,203 – a world record for an Olympics women’s football match.

In an exciting game the US women, who have dominated the Olympic football competition since it started in 1996, went two goals ahead in the first half through Cari Lloyd and saw a misplaced defensive header hit Japan’s post.

The Japanese also hit the bar twice in the half and then pulled a goal back through Yuki Ogimi late on as they cranked up the pressure on the US defence.

There was some pretty tough tackling and a couple of accidental kicks in the face for Japanese defenders  – but no rolling around on the floor or surrounding the referee to demand a sending off or a booking.

Perhaps some of the overpaid players from the Premiership and below could learn a few things from the women.

The TV exposure and crowds of 70,000 and 80,000, with an average of about 25,000, may have given a boost to the women’s game but that remains to be seen.

Will there be enough clubs ready and willing to take girls and women interested in taking up the game?

Hopefully yes but we will have to see when the feelgood element fades after the Olympics.

Despite some disruption on the rail network the journey from Wolverhampton to Wembley was smooth with the train ahead of time at Wolverhampton and an easy switch from Watford Junction to Wembley Central on the overground line.

A very pleasant Greek meal near the stadium was followed by a stroll past the few concession stands outside but no purchases (£20 for a pretty bog-standard scarves).

Security was polite, efficient and the quickest we had encountered at all the games (no big plastic bags to fill with all your possessions before going through the pat-down and turnstiles).

The stadium looked a lot better than it did the last time we were there in March 1996 when Port Vale took on Genoa in the Anglo-Italian cup final.

We know it cost getting on for £800 million and it would have been  cheaper and more sensible to build it near Birmingham airport and the motorway network. Just saying it is an improvement on the cold, damp, dingy and dismal place it used to be.

Inside the atmosphere was pleasant with Japanese and US fans taking joint photos and the ‘neutrals’ appreciating the football and joining in the chants.

Sun streams through the roof before the 2012 Olympics women's football final at Wembley

Sun streams through the roof before the 2012 Olympics women’s football final at Wembley

The Japanese, as underdogs in Olympic competition, probably got the most ‘neutral’ support.

The pre-match Mexican waves did not spill over into periods of active play too much and, again, not much evidence of fighty-sweary people.

Perhaps the presence of overseas fans without those traditions and wodges of middle class families dampened down the passion and upped the good behaviour.

The only aggro was in the queues at half-time as a couple of blokes had a verbal spat of alleged queue-jumping to get at the fizzy lager.It soon blew over.

The fish and chips actually looked edible – pity we weren’t hungry.The arguments over catering have probably been done to death but the lack of choice was alarming (probably not much more alarming than that at most grounds though).

On a hot night the only small food items on offer at the main franchises seemed to be chocolate, crisps or donuts. Boiled sweets might have been nice.

Afterwards the walk to Wembley Central was well directed by stewards and volunteers and the northbound and southbound passengers split efficiently between entrances to ensure no crowd problems.

Our Olympics adventure ended on a thoroughly positive note.Yes we know that the costs, forecast by Sky Sports to be anything between £12billion- £24bn versus an original figure of £2.37bn at the time of the 2005 bid , will be coming out of the woodwork for months.

But having been committed to the games we thought we might as well enjoy them – after all we were paying for them.

On Saturday we had watched the Japanese men see off an Egyptian side 3-0 with only nine men left on the pitch after injuries and having a defender sent off for taking out a Japanese defender on the edge of the box.

He was the last defender apart from the keeper. Earlier Japan scored after the Egyptian keeper and collided.

Astronauts' view of Japan v Egypt Olympics men's football at Old Trafford, Manchester, August 2012

Astronauts’ view of Japan v Egypt Olympics men’s football at Old Trafford, Manchester, August 2012

The Japanese striker caught a late tackle as he netted and, after coming back on after being stretchered off, he had to be substituted.
Egypt made a decent game of it with ten men, getting their passing together but not really testing the keeper.

Late on the Japanese finished the off with a slightly selected shot and a fine header.
Nice cheese and potato pies for £2.70 and great view with the other astronauts in the North Stand Tier 3.
No yobs swearing or threatening and nice atmosphere in a 70,000 crowd.
More scared of going shopping in the Trafford Centre but wriggled out of that by sitting on the car park updating the ramblings.
Limited damage to visiting the Nespresso shop for better half to replenish her supplies and recycle capsules.
Earlier used park and ride and shuttle buses and they worked fine again.Security and volunteers polite, friendly, helpful and knowledgable.

On Friday night Olympics Women’s Football at Coventry was a step too far for Team GB as they stumbled before a much stronger, well-organised and confident Canadian side in their quarter final at the City of Coventry Stadium.

There were high hopes after the a 1-0 win over Brazil at Wembley on Tuesday thanks to a Stephanie Houghton goal in front of a 70,000-plus crowd but the 28,000-plus (about 4,000 shy of capacity – probably due to missing ‘Olympic family’, corporates and no-shows) at Coventry were disappointed.

Canada, with Christine Sinclair always looking more menacing than anything Team GB had up front, tucked away two first half goals and GB failed to get back in the game.

They tried hard but it was the kind of huffing and puffing that was seen off by the Canucks and some very dodgy decisions by the referee and lines women.
A stonewall penalty denied was probably the worst if the night.

But take nothing away from Canada. They did not treat the ball like a hot potato, were quicker to it – and knocked it about more assuredly.

Japan and Canada's football teams line up before the start of their Olympics group match at the City of Coventry stadium

Japan and Canada’s football teams line up before the start of their Olympics group match at the City of Coventry stadium

We saw the Canucks lose 2-1 to Japan at the City of Coventry Stadium (Ricoh Arena) on Wednesday 25th July but even then they came back strongly and might have thought themselves unlucky not to level.

Once again the shuttle buses worked fine, security was polite and reasonably speedy and the crowd was a delight compared to the kind of swivel-eyed vileness, racism and edge of violence sense that you still often get at bloke’s games in this country (and elsewhere in Europe).

The kids, a fair smattering of black and Asian people (a lot with kids), created a pleasant atmosphere with the only swearwords I picked up being in my own head as I was frustrated by the Team GB performance.

Perhaps we could have fewer ‘compulsory’ Mexican waves and US-style pumping up of the crowd by the guy on the mike but on the whole it has been a good experience.

Being a neutral for most of the games takes away the tension of watching your own lot mess up and takes away the full-blooded support which can be felt through most of a crowd.

It is a different way of watching. Not totally involved but, on the other hand, no need to up the blood pressure medication.

Thoroughly entertaining football from the women in the earlier games included
Sweden beating South Africa 4-1 at Coventry and Japan beating Canada.

The stadium was a bit of a change from Coventry’s old Highfield Road ground – but I think there were 29,000 there when Port Vale were there in 1964 and Coventry topped the table in the old Third Division.

A 1-1 draw resulted the day after the same score at Vale Park – those were the days when Easter games, like the Christmas games back in the 1950s, were played back to back as reverse fixtures.

The official attendance built up from 14,000 for the first match to 18,000 for the second on Wednesday night.

Neat passing by Japan led to a cracking top corner goal by Nahomi Kawasumi on 32 minutes before a great saving tackle kept the Canucks out and Aya Miyama

looped in a header on stroke of half-time for Japan.

Canada escaped with a goaline clearance and pulled one back with a run down the right and a steer-in by Melissa Tancredi.

We had been delayed by the need for treatment to insect bite to the better half’s foot, a suicide on the rail system and overhead line problems around Brum.

Our minimalist clothing and carry-in objects (suncream, cash, keys, phone, hat) got us through security swiftly making up for the Russian Roulette of platform switching at New Street and a Coventry train which stopped everywhere.

We wondered what the odds on missing the kick-off Port Vale-style were but the shuttle bus was prompt and fine and security polite and efficient.

Pity the poor programme sellers trying to sell straight after people had had their purses and wallets bagged and sealed by security before going to be searched and through the turnstiles.

Got the water bottle filled for free OK at one of the franchise stalls inside and our seats at the City of Coventry Stadium (don’t say Ricoh) were in the shade as well.

The catering side saw them run out of hot pies and slices (£3 each) in the West Stand after the first match finished but they put a fresh batch in and they were ready before the next game started.

The healthy snacks franchise sandwiches (£3) seemed to be running low and they ran out of salad in the North Stand but why the sweet sugary drinks approved for sale by the sponsors got onto the healthy snacks bit I will not understand.

Sweden were far too powerful for South Africa and hit the bar twice and the post once as well as scoring three goals in the first half.

It was great to South Africa get one with a shot from just over the halfway line beating the keeper who flailed at it a bit like Stuart Tomlinson did for Port Vale at Oxford United last season.

Sweden went back up the other end and knocked another one in to finish South Africa off at 4-1 but both matches were thoroughly entertaining, played in the right spirit (no rolling around on the ground after injury to try and get someone booked) and with good support from the Japanese, Canadians and Swedes.

The South African fans were smaller in number but more than made up for it with their constant enthusiasm despite their team always chasing the game.

Plenty of youngsters their who seemed to really get stuck into the Mexican wave late on – especially in the South and North stands.

Shuttle buses after the match whisked us back to the station. Only glitch there was one of the West Midlands finest directing us the wrong way to the buses and the bus driver not being able to turn the heating off the National Express double decker on the way to the station.

Now the question is what to do next. The Japanese way of playing football looks worth a bit more investigation – this time at club level. Perhaps we might be taking in a J League match or two soon.

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