Skip to content

The box that rocks


“High five for Team GB?” I’m making my way through the security checks at the Victoria Gate entrance to the Olympic Park. The dozen or so people in front of me are all asked the same question by the cheerful Games Makers. The response is unanimous, a smile and an exchange of slapped skin. By the time I retrieve my bag, put my belt back on and wander through there is silence and no hands are proferred. I must look even grumpier than usual. Or not British enough. Maybe the absence of a union flag or any red, white and blue facepaint has fooled them. After all, there’s nothing more quintessentially British than a high five greeting. Rumour has it that in 1215 when King John made peace with the barons and signed the Magna Carta, he was seen to share a celebratory high five with all of his courtiers.

To get here, I’ve walked five miles from central London. Past the trendy bars of Shoreditch, through “up and coming” Bethnal Green and into the heart of the East End. “These are a Games for everyone” declared Lord Coe but strolling along Roman Road in Bow there is precious little evidence that the Olympics are only a mile away.

Like many I’ve been critical of the way the Games have been organised, not least the role played by huge multinational corporations. Never mind McDonald’s, Cadbury’s and the like, the involvement of Dow Chemicals should have set alarm bells ringing for anyone with a modicum of concern for their fellow human beings. But strip away all the hype and corporate double-speak and this is a festival of sport. Sport, to me, makes compelling viewing. And I’m curious to see exactly what the £9.3 billion has bought.

It’s late afternoon on “Super Saturday” and medals are rolling in for Team GB. Tonight there’s the promise of more. Jess Ennis has only more event of the heptathlon left to clinch gold and later Mo Farah is running in the 10,000m. I’m eschewing all that for a night of handball in the Copper Box. Handball? Yes, I don’t even know what it is either. But first a wander round the site.

First impressions are of a giant sporting theme park with a considerable presence of prawn sandwich munchers. Each of the main sponsors such as McDonald’s, Panasonic and Samsung appears to have a large base on site. Clearly, if you invest millions of pounds into a project you expect something in return. After queuing twenty minutes to fill a 500ml plastic bottle with water (well, have you seen those prices?) there’s time to relax on the grassy bank across the river from the architecturally stunning Velodrome. It’s a lovely spot.

Next it’s into the Copper Box. Credit where it’s due, it’s a cracking venue. A compact, multi-coloured, two-tiered arena with 7,000 seats that will be used as a community sports facility post-Olympics. As ever with twenty first century sporting occasions spectators can’t be relied upon to generate their own atmosphere. So there’s a pink jacketed man with a microphone circumnavigating the pitch welcoming people to “the Copper Box, the box that…..ROCKS!!!” and urging everyone to “make some noise”. All accompanied by a soundtrack of chart-friendly dance pop turned up to eleven. Imagine a city centre Walkabout pub on a Saturday night close to closing time.

The arena fills up nicely for the first of the evening’s two games; Iceland v France.The game is fast and skilful but the rules are a little puzzling. The goalkeepers catch the eye in their baggy long sleeved, long trousered outfits, regularly dashing over to the sidelines for a drink and a chat while the play is at the other end. The game has the same quick-slow-quick tempo as basketball and the ball is zipped around the pitch at speed while the attackers search for a chance to throw the ball into the opposing goal. In short, it’s basketball with goals. Indeed, the Paralympic version of the game is called goalball. Pre-match I had wondered if the crowd would jump to their feet and scream “football” if the ball went near anyone’s foot but, sadly, it doesn’t happen.

Iceland eventually triumph 30-29 in an engrossing game and there are lovely scenes at the end as their players and management celebrate. It’s a big night for Icelandic sport. The Sunday morning papers in Reykjavik will be full of this. France beat Iceland in the handball final in Beijing so this is a little bit of revenge. Somewhere in the Copper Box there must be an Icelandic commentator balling excitedly into a microphone “William the Conqueror, Charles de Gaulle, Joan of Arc, Vanessa Paradis…..can you hear me?…..your boys took one hell of a beating”.

It’s also a big night for British sport. Midway through the second half a group of spectators nearby are screaming “come on Jess” at television pictures from the Olympic stadium on their phones. It’s one of those nights when attentions are being diverted elsewhere. British handball, though, is not quite in such rude health. Iceland and France are in the same group as the British team but after losing their first four games Team GB sit squarely at the bottom of the table with a goal difference of -79. This may partly explain the minimal coverage of handball on the BBC.

The second match of the evening, Hungary v Spain, is not as gripping as the first but the passion of the Hungarian fans wins me over. I’ve not seen this much Magyar merry making since Zalaegerszeg turned up at Old Trafford for a Champions League qualifier in 2003. But it’s Spain who emerge as victors, fairly comfortably in the end. How many times have we heard those words this summer?

Overall it’s an enjoyable and entertaining evening. The British Handball Association clearly view this as an opportunity to promote the game but I’m not convinced that handball will catch on in this country. Then again, I never thought the likes of ice hockey and basketball would thrive in Britain so what do I know.

We wander towards the exits with the giddy crowds from the Olympic stadium revelling in the three gold medals for Britain. It’s a lovely balmy summer night. Even beyond the site and heading towards West Ham tube station there are Games Makers perched on high chairs offering directions and encouraging crowd participation. “Mexican wave for Team GB” anyone?


From → London, Sport

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: