Monday, December 31, 2012

On 2012:

A golden Monday 3rd September 2012 - Thank you Mickey Bushell.
Today marks the end of phenomenal sporting year and has caused me to make a brief return from blogging hiatus to provide a personal reflection on the year of 2012. There are plenty of blogs/articles out there which will provide better and more analytical reviews of the incredible events of this year but, since I have watched so much sport this year, I thought it was easier to make a post rather than clog up Twitter feeds.

I've been all over the country watching cricket this year, travelling up north to Durham, Old Trafford and Headingley, out west to Worcestershire and a wet Glamorgan and have spent more time than is necessary on the Greater Anglia service down to London Liverpool Street to head to Lord's and The Oval. I've spent so long watching Hashim Amla this summer that it bordered on Stockholm Syndrome in the final ODI at Trent Bridge. And through my travels, watching both cricket and Ipswich Town, I've met so many wonderful people, so many that if I tried to list them all then I'd undoubtedly miss someone. 

2012 will be looked upon with great fondness by many people, both in Britain and abroad, but for me, here are five personal moments that have made my year.

5. England v West Indies, Trent Bridge

I went to a lot of cricket this summer, some would probably argue too much and that I should get a proper job, and this Test was my first one of the long tour around the country. I enjoyed watching South Africa and the ODI series against Australia (remember, that one where Ravi Bopara was good), but there's something about the West Indies, despite the horrible decline they have been in for a number of years, which always gets cricket fans excited. 

The Windies did show some fight on this tour, giving England some scares along the way in some sessions of play, but they weren't able to continue the pressure. Kemar Roach is one for the future and we did get the joy of Tino Best scoring 95 as a number 11, hopefully consigning the 'Mind the windows' sledge to the past. On the second day of this Test, where we'd sat freezing in the back row of an incredibly windy New Stand on what was probably the hottest day of the year, had brought centuries for Darren Sammy, Marlon Samuels and Andrew Strauss.
Turns out I witnessed Andrew Strauss' last century. That's one for the grandchildren (or not).
By day four, following a terrible West Indies collapse, England were well on their way to victory. The ground was pretty much empty with only students and the retired present. It didn't stop the Fox Road Stand from having some fun with Ravi Rampaul. At one point they persuaded Darren Sammy to move him back to his old position, chanting "We want our Ravi back" and "Ravi for England". Over on the other side of the ground, a man in a horse mask decided to try and get some cheering going in the New Stand and William Clarke Stand as he ran along the front. He was quickly dealt with by the stewards.

Trent Bridge, despite the amount of Norwich City fans I seem to bump into up there, is probably my favourite ground in England. It's a strange choice, I know, but I love the atmosphere of the place and how easy it is to wander round the ground. You feel close to the action and, no matter where you are in the ground, you seem to get a great view. Plus, if you're sat in the middle tier of the Radcliffe Road End, you can always bump into someone like Henry Blofeld or Sir Viv Richards. Or be followed up the stairs by Nasser Hussain.

4. Twenty20 Finals Day 

What happens when a nun, a cat, a devil, Minnie Mouse and three Somerset fans head to Cardiff for Twenty20 Finals Day? Quite a lot, actually - most of which I will be keeping to myself!

Having had a rained off ODI the previous day, we returned to Cardiff to be greeted by blue skies, hard hats and, unfortunately for the players, found ourselves seated in an area near the dugouts. As I was the only one there whose county hadn't reached the SWALEC, I soon found myself adopting Yorkshire and Somerset.

See, the sun does shine in Wales!
It was a day of laughter, shouting 'Tintin' at Joe Root, getting strange looks off a perpetually confused Tim Bresnan and a day of being able to wander around with a hard hat on without looking out of place. We chanted, we cheered and I got a couple of bats being raised in my direction by a few of the Yorkshire players as I stood up in a nun's habit waving a Yorkshire flag.

Twenty20 often gets a lot of stick. Yes, it doesn't have the ebbs and flow of a Test match, sometimes the quality of the cricket is atrocious and many people don't like the 'football' or 'carnival' atmosphere, but Finals Day is an enjoyable day out, regardless of whether or not your county is there. From the mascot race to the action that takes place on the pitch, there really is something for everyone, from the youngster a parent is desperately trying to get into the game to the seasoned cricket watcher.

Essex's contribution to the 2012 Mascot Race was about as good as their contribution to the 2012 Twenty20 competition.
The only down side of the day was that our unfortunate mantra which was 'Anyone but Hamsphire'. Naturally, it left us all incredibly disappointed when they crowned Twenty20 champions despite the heroic effort of David Miller for Yorkshire in the final. It's the second time I've seen Hampshire win Finals Day and I fear I may be some sort of lucky charm for them. We've already sorted out our tickets for Edgbaston next year, so should Hampshire be there and you see someone dressed as a dragon at fine leg, then stick a couple of quid on them as I could unwittingly make it third time lucky for them.

3. The Olympics meets the Headingley Test
If one picture could sum up an experience in the Western Terrace at Headingley, then this might well do it. 
I headed up to Yorkshire to go to the second Test between England and South Africa and over the course of 5 days, it became clear that the most popular outfit of the Test was men with sideburns, wearing a yellow jersey and wearing a 'gold' medal around their neck. There were many others dressed as swimmers. There may have been someone dressed in a blonde wig claiming to be Rebecca Adlington, but that might well have been a Terrace induced nightmare after seeing Borat on the shoulders of a Smurf.

To celebrate the Jubilee and the Olympics, Headingley had given out free flags on the first day of the Test. Whenever news reached the crowd of another gold medal, there'd be cheering and people would wave their mini Union Flags or their Flankies. The Test, like much of this year, was rain affected and it was on the fourth day that a massive storm made itself known during the afternoon session. Down in London, less than a month after his Wimbledon final defeat, Andy Murray was well under way in his gold medal match against Roger Federer. I'd been getting text updates from my mum and when we headed down to the bar after I got freaked out by one incredibly loud rumble of thunder, we were greeted by hoards of people, as you would expect, crowded round the bars.

What wasn't expected though was that nobody was buying anything. The queue areas were empty as people kept back, their eyes transfixed on the screen as Murray had Gold Medal point against the match who'd trumped him the previous month. A hush came down across as he was ready to serve and then came an ace. Cheering followed and someone burst into the national anthem. You wouldn't have thought a Scotsman could unite the Western Terrace in song, but the atmosphere in the bars below the stand was something that truly captured the Olympic, and British, spirit.
Just another day on the Terrace with the Wiggos.
2. Andy Murray winning the US Open

I've supported Murray ever since he collapsed against Thomas Johansson at Queen's back in 2005. The Wimbledon final broke my heart, and my head as I had a banging cold induced migraine following the conclusion of it. I missed his gold medal run due to being in Yorkshire.

I'd been at the Trent Bridge ODI when he took on Marin Cilic in the quarter final. I checked the score before going to bed and found him a set and 1-5 down. I sighed, texted my mum asking what on earth was going on and then promptly fell asleep. I woke up early the next morning, checked my phone and found a series of texts from my mum informing me that he'd pulled it back to 6-6 and then levelled the game up. I checked Twitter and found myself in utter disbelief. Not only had Murray won, but Roger Federer was out having lost to Tomas Berdych.

The semi-final was a blustery affair, but Murray made it through and, following a delayed semi-final between Ferrer and Djokovic due to a massive storm approaching meant that the final would be held on Monday 10th September. I was prepared. My mum was prepared. Twitter continued with the tedious joke of him being 'British when he wins, Scottish when he loses'. 

I sat on the sofa, clinging onto my Pride the Lion and a British flag as my dad sat quietly in the corner doing a crossword. The amount of Welsh cursing rose in our living room and that wasn't just because Mark Petchey opened his mouth. It was tense but after a marathon tie break, Murray had a one set lead. The second set was just as tumultuous, as he raced into a 4-0 lead only to be pegged back. He eventually took it 7-5 and excited British tennis fans dared to dream.

Then Piers Morgan opened his mouth on Twitter and you just knew everything was going to go wrong.

The third and fourth sets were a horrendous amount of shouting, which then turned into a stunned and miserable silence. I sank lower and lower on the sofa, my mum began to shout more and more at Petchey and my dad decided enough was enough and went off to bed. It was 2 sets all, Djokovic was annoying me whenever he moved, I wanted to kick Murray up the backside and my mum was at the stage where she was passive aggressively muting Petchey every 5 minutes.

He was so close and he just needed something, anything, to get him back into contention. Both players were knackered. I was emotionally drained and all I'd done was sit on a sofa using a toy lion as a stress ball. And then the fifth set happened.

Murray, having gone for a toilet break at the end of the fourth set, appeared to be refreshed and rushed into a lead. It was 5-2. He was serving for the match. Djokovic called for a trainer because he didn't understand that it was 2 in the morning in the UK. Murray had three Championship points. Djokovic saved one. And then, then Djokovic hit one long and Murray dropped to his knees, smothering his face with his hands. I gasped on the verge of tears, my mum was cheering, my dad was fast asleep upstairs blissfully unaware of the mayhem taking place in our living room.

I was so happy and on such a high that I was unable to get to sleep until 4 in the morning. It was the perfect way to end such a great summer of British sporting success and was something that Murray, having worked so hard, deserved. I'm still waiting for a photo of his dogs actually inside the trophy, mind.

1. Monday 3rd September 2012

I hadn't applied for Olympic tickets. I had considered it as it was my mum's 60th birthday on the first Sunday of the Games, but we ended up enjoying a lovely tea in front of the Ladies Pavilion down at Worcestershire instead. The Olympics is something that my mum has always shared with me. I first experienced it in 2000 when she woke me up shouting at Audley Harrison. On a TV that was well past its sell by date in 2004, we were both jumping up and down in the living room screaming for Kelly Holmes to cross the line. In 2008, we would be up early to watch the swimming and whatever was on the red button and in 2012, we were back to jumping up and down and clapping as the extraordinary Mo Farah won his second gold.

If ever there was a person I wanted to share the experience London 2012 with it was my mum. Late one evening, staying up watching indoor volleyball, I tried my luck on the London 2012 ticketing website. As the basket informed me that I had two tickets, I turned to my mum and asked her what we were doing on Monday 3rd September. She had a think and then said we weren't doing anything. I soon corrected her and there it was, we were going to the Paralympics in the Olympic Stadium, the stadium that we had seen grow out of the industrial wasteland each time we passed through Stratford on our way to Liverpool Street.

We arrived at the Park early, sailed through security and then were greeted by the magnificent sight of the Olympic Stadium in all its glory. It was a little while until we would be allowed into the Stadium, so we decided to go for a walk round the park.

It was a baking hot day but we walked around in our Team/Paralympic GB shirts. We sat in a Park Live area, watching some wheelchair basketball. We walked past the Velodrome, where Great Britain had been so victorious. Mum even bumped into a guy wearing a Welsh flag outfit and ended up having a good long chat with him in her native tongue. It was nearly time to head into the Stadium, but not before we sat outside the Aquatics Centre, listening to the roar for Ellie Simmonds as she broke her own World Record to win her second gold.

We entered the vicinity of the Stadium, crossing over the bridge and being greeted by one of the incredibly cheerful and fantastic Games Makers. We went to find our section of seating and then we walked up the stairs and entered the phenomenal arena. My mum's face as we climbed up to our seats is something that I will never, ever forget and definitely made my year.

Monday 3rd September was the evening that 80000 people booed George Osborne. It was the evening where Mickey Bushell stormed to T53 100m success, allowing the Stadium to fall into a silence before bursting into one collective voice belting out the national anthem. It was the evening where I watched six incredible F42 high jumpers jump over a bar at a height I could only dream about. It was in this event that I witnessed Fiji's first ever medal of any colour, in both the Paralympics and the Olympics, and the celebrations of the gold medallist Iliesa Delana were such a joy to behold as he leapt onto the high jump cushion and waved the Fijian flag to a Stadium all too happy to cheer. 

Mickey Bushell on his lap of honour after winning gold.
If you're going to win Fiji's first ever medal, it might as well be gold!
Going to the athletics at the Stadium wasn't the only piece of London 2012 I experienced. I was lucky enough to go to the ExCel arena to watch the women's sitting volleyball. Due to the trains, we were only able to watch the bronze medal match between the Netherlands and Ukraine (Ukraine won in straight sets) and only half of the gold medal match between the USA and China, but the noise in the ExCel arena was fantastic and the matches, of what we saw, were superb. 

The Weirwolf himself!

A couple of days later I headed down to London again, this time with my friend Alice, to watch the Paralympic marathons. The atmosphere, made by a Games Maker who we nicknamed Mr. S, was electric with anticipation for the man who Britain had come to know as the Weirwolf.

He was incredible, as was Shelly Woods who won silver. We clapped, we chanted his name, I even made a sign which Channel 4's Paralympic Twitter feed seemed to enjoy. 

Standing behind straw bales, wearing a GB flag as a cape and eating chocolate cake as an early 21st birthday present to ourselves as we watched Weir on his way to his fourth gold of the Games was a perfect way to end an absolutely magnificent London 2012. For Weir to win four golds in one Games, especially across such long distances and in a short space of time, is absolutely phenomenal and a testament to his character. He truly is an ambassador for his sport and, really, for all athletes, regardless of whether they are future Olympians or Paralympians. 

So that's my 2012, summed up in a gloriously long and soppy post. You can tell I was listening to Caliban's Dream when I wrote this, can't you? Thanks to everyone who made this year, there are far many people to list but you know who you are and you know how grateful I am. I will make a special mention to Amy though, as she's essentially become an honorary member of my family after this summer of travelling watching various forms of cricket.

Here's to 2013 and back-to-back Ashes, more adventures down at Chelmsford, hopefully some more success for Andy Murray and hoping that Mick McCarthy can bring back some joy to Ipswich Town.
Happy New Year, everyone.

1 comment:

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