A walk in the park, part three: Tales of the Riverbank

The hockey at London 2012 is held in the Riverbank Arena. It’s called the Riverbank Arena because it sounds better than The Temporary Stadium With No Roof In The City Where It  Rains A Lot.
On Sunday evening, it rained a lot. But the downpours stopped before the main event, the British women’s opening game against Japan. I had, of course, done extensive research to prepare for the match. The Guardian’s guide to the Games revealed that the British women’s team were even better than the men’s and were also a “likeable, photogenic bunch” (what a British liberal upmarket newspaper has to say when it wants to say “hot!!!!”). It also noted that some of the teams they need to beat — Argentina, Germany and Australia — “bring out the bulldog spirit in the British fans” (what a British liberal upmarket newspaper has to say when it wants to say “countries we fought wars against or dumped convicts in”).
The temperature on the exposed seating was chilly but the atmosphere was decidedly jolly. Lots of people waving union jack flags and dressed in red, white and blue. There was even a baby in a union jack romper suit and hat. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more British, in walked the country’s ultimate Olympic darlings, ice dance champions Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, to watch the match. A trumpeter and drummer blasted out tunes and Mexican waves swept around the arena. “Hockey, hockey, hockey!” shouted someone. “Oi, oi, oi!” came the reply.
Olympic events generally follow the American approach to sports presentation these days and hockey is no exception. A couple of hosts entertained the crowd on the big screen. Every time a penalty corner was awarded, tense, slow beats thumped out from the speakers. Video review of an umpire’s decision? Time to play Rockwell’s Somebody’s Watching Me. The big screen even flashed up the message “Applause!” when it felt we weren’t being enthusiastic enough.
On the field (and it’s quite a field — a bright blue artificial surface with bright pink edges), the British women took to their task with gusto. You could hear the whack of stick on ball and stick on stick, and see the water slosh up under the floodlights as the players swept their sticks across the surface. This blog is not in the business of match reports (you can find those here and here) but can record that the British team demolished the Japanese 4-0. They scored all four of their goals before half time and looked very impressive to this untrained eye. The untrained eye also learned that hockey is a tough game — British captain Kate Walsh was hit so hard with a stick during the game that she needed surgery for a fractured jaw.
The eye was caught not just by the British players’ performance but also by their all-red kit. Stella McCartney’s designs for the British Olympic team have been criticised for being generally too blue, partly because teams in red are apparently more successful. On the basis of the British display on Sunday night, there might be something to that. The British men who won a surprise bronze in the gymnastics yesterday also wore red outfits. Any chance we can throw some red bibs over our medal hopes in the athletics next week?


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