Few things compare to watching elite-level sport live. It’s like the London Philharmonic Orchestra in concert is to music or the Guggenheim gallery is to art. Watching sport on telly is like reading Shakespeare to yourself; to experience it live is to see his work performed as intended to a packed theatre. When you experience sport of the highest standard live it is as if somebody has pressed the red button in the car from Men in Black.
In the flesh sport is faster, more intense and more inspiring. But all too often this experience passes huge swathes of the population by. Perhaps some feel alienated by sport, have a certain image of particular games, are too lazy to attend or just don’t care?
As a Millwall FC fan I have a certain experience when I go and see them play with my Dad and Grandad. The edgy walk through South East London to the stadium, the cramped turnstiles, the endless concrete steps, the sea of what could be extras from Only Fools and Horses groaning that same ‘aaaaeeehhhrrrrrr!’ as we miss again, the same 14,000 cockneys erupting when we finally score, the effing and blinding and the terrifying experience of trying to wee next to a man who could provide the missing link between Man and Neanderthal. Despite how that sounds, I love it.
I can understand that this is not everybody’s cup of tea however.
This is but one experience of a certain sport. Unfortunately it is male-dominated and could be unpleasant to those unused to its raw and unpolished nature. Where I embrace its rugged edges, others would meet it with scorn and disapproval.
My experience at the London Olympics could not have been more different. My experience at the London Olympics was one anyone could enjoy.
Stood inside waiting to watch Italy vs Argentina in the Men’s Volleyball I looked around and everything was different. Everyone was grinning, people of all ages, genders and nationalities were wandering round chatting and listening to the roar of the crowd in the arena. The Polish were dancing round and singing whilst a man played trumpet, the Bulgarians were chanting and the Americans were being… well, American! It was pretty much what it would feel like to be at the Quidditch World Cup (except after the game we weren’t attacked by an evil dark lord bent on revenge – we went for a curry instead).
Inside everyone chose a side and got behind a country that was more than likely not their own. Within about five minutes our entire stand of mostly British people were stamping their feet and chanting ‘Italia! Italia! Italia!’. From looking around and making a totally unsupported judgement I could imagine many of these people were not sport nuts who saw live sport on a regular basis. But as the camera swooped over the crowd everyone’s faces were gripped with emotion and excitement. A sport many people had never seen before had captured us all. I never thought I’d enjoy watching volleyball so much.
It seems that the Olympic Games have an unbelievable capacity to take sports you never thought you’d watch, and plunge people who don’t usually go to sporting events into the highest level of performance that sport can offer. The results for them from what I could hear around me were the exact feeling I get when I’m sat in the pub after watching Millwall play: a giddy emotional high, a very particular enjoyment and a desire for more.
I also understand that live sport can be very expensive, preventing many from attending events. Nevertheless the way things are going for the games it looks like tickets could get cheaper to fill those notorious empty seats. So if you’re not generally a sports nut, why not do something different in the next fortnight? For once the Olympic Games are on our doorstep. Go on, push that red button. I dare you.