The tickets are all priced exorbitantly, which explains why we decided to travel to Coventry to watch the women’s football bronze medal match between France and Canada. At 30 Pounds a ticket, that was the cheapest we could find online. The trip takes around 90 minutes from London
Euston, and feels like a trip to Mysore from Bangalore.
One we reached Coventry, the organizers had lined up double-decker buses to those travelling to the stadium. With thousands of visitors pouring in for the match – indeed, the train from London Euston was packed with Canadians and French people who had travelled for that particular match – it probably took over a hundred buses.
The stadium was smallish, with a capacity of around 20,000. One stand was empty – which meant all those reports about empty stands were indeed true. The other three sides of the rectangular stadium were packed and seated 12,465 on the day. It was a dense, holidaying crowd. The French were conspicuously more vocal in singing their national anthem when the teams had lined up.
This was, I reminded myself, the first time I had actually paid to see a football match. I have covered several football matches in India, but from the press box. This was also the first time I was seeing a football match in Europe, and I wondered if a men’s match would’ve felt the same.
The first half was insipid. This didn’t seem like a match at the Olympics. The French were marginally better, but the standard felt like… like one of those district-level matches in Bangalore (between men’s teams, of course). To be fair, this was a match between under-23 players, as only three players aged above that can participate in Olympic football events.
In any case, the first half was boring. In the second half, the French came to life, and laid a prolonged siege upon the Canadian goal. They struck the bar twice in five minutes, and came close several times. The Canadians looked ragged – the French were outrunning them, and punched so many holes in the defence that it seemed a matter of time before the goal would fall.
But if you can’t convert so many chances, you’re as good as dead – and that’s what happened. Canada got one chance with about a minute remaining, and they converted. The French would obviously feel luck had gone against them.
The Canadians in the stands cheered loudly, but after five minutes, it was impossible to tell from the spectators’ reactions who had won and who had lost. It was as if those thousands had come to experience those 90 minutes of action. They had fun while it lasted, but once the match was over, they left the result behind and continued as if they were on holiday.
That has been pretty much my experience through the Olympics. The Europeans revel in the success of their athletes, but only up to a point. They don’t glorify them or make them out to be demi-gods. They recognize that sportsmen are professionals who do a certain job very well – and they don’t need to be put on a pedestal if they do that job well. After Andy Murray beat Roger Federer in the final of the Olympic tennis event, all the Brits cheered loudly, but a day later, Murray was off the news. The papers talked about other things; so did people on the trains and buses. Murray, meanwhile, flew to Toronto to play the Toronto Masters just three days after winning the biggest title of his life! Would any Indian player do the same – or would he spend the next few months at felicitations? Is it any surprise that, until now, no Olympic medallist from India has been able to repeat that success four years later?
There are those among our sportspeople who perform uncomplainingly. However, there are also those who act like victims, talking about the indifference of India to their (mostly mediocre) achievements. When they talk of the indifference of the Indian public to their achievements, they don’t reveal that even great achievers elsewhere are not treated like gods either, and they are expected to get on with their lives. After all, the average fan too gets on with his life.