diamond geezer

 Sunday, June 13, 2010

England 0 USA 0

Kick off. I switch off the TV and go out for a walk. If football euphoria has indeed taken over the nation, a wander round my local neighbourhood ought to prove the point. I head straight to my local park.

England 1 USA 0

My local park is empty. It's bright daylight, it's nowhere near bedtime, and the place is deserted. Normally there are children swarming over the swings and a bunch of teens making excitable noises in a big gang on the lawn. Not tonight. They must be somewhere else. One of the houses backing onto the park is holding a noisy barbecue in their back garden. The smell of charring meat drifts over the fence, along with the slightly distorted sound of the ITV commentary. As the evening continues, these are the only few seconds of the match I'll hear.

The streets are clearing, as latecomers head home. A cyclist carrying cans of lager bangs desperately on a front door attempting to be heard by those inside. A mute ice cream van passes by. Most of those out of doors appear to be female, or men wearing glasses, or people born in a country that isn't playing tonight.

The Greenway is deserted. Not a bike, not a pedestrian, not even a security guard keeping an eye on potential Olympic troublemakers. Normally there'd be residents out on their balconies at the Ironworks, enjoying the last rays of evening sunlight, but they must all be inside watching something. The Olympic Stadium, and the entire surrounding building site, are deathly quiet. For a full 15 minutes it's just me up here, and a few pigeons, and the stench of thousands of pre-match bathroom visits rising up from the sewer beneath. Next time the world gathers for a major global tournament, in two summers time, the focus will be this very spot. The entire area will be bubbling with emotion, as humanity comes together to share both victory and crushing disappointment. Tonight, however, the Olympic Park is the perfect spot to get away from it all.

Olympic Stadium June 2010

England 1 USA 1

I go for a ride on the DLR. It's quite busy, but again with a female bias. This looks like the ideal evening for a girls' night out - little black dresses, hair styled to perfection, and pierced belly button glinting. For those of us travelling during the match, the score could be anything and we wouldn't know. We are the Don't Cares, and for a couple of hours London belongs to us.

Stratford Town Centre is eerily quiet, in parts. No queues in McDonalds, not a customer in sight at Perfect Fried Chicken, and no need to press the button on the pelican crossing because there's barely any traffic. But the pubs on the cheap side of the Broadway are packed, with nylon-shirted lads spilling out onto the pavement for their half time fag break. The densest crowds are in the betting shop, where umpteen poor Newham folk have gathered to bet their benefits on the outcome. There being no TV showrooms in High Streets any more, now bookies and bars are the only places to congregate and watch.

I take the opportunity to go shopping. I pick a major supermarket and swan round its multitude of aisles relatively undisturbed. Nobody's picking up 12-packs of lager, and there do seem to be rather a lot of packs of sausage rolls and sofa nibbles left over. A small number of families are here with me, and several foreign nationals, and a few mixed couples in which the non-football supporter is clearly the dominant partner. I sail through the checkout faster than I've ever managed before, even with three quarters of the tills shut.

Whilst waiting for the bus home in time for the final whistle, I muse again on the remarkably light traffic. Earlier in the day I've seen countless cars and vans with flags on top, but tonight they've all but vanished. Throughout my match-length journey I've seen only two vehicle-top flags - one on a taxi (who presumably didn't want the night off) and one on a car driven by a woman in a hijab.

It strikes me that Stratford probably isn't the best place in the country to experience the England curfew effect. There are so many people round here whose home team is a completely different nation, so why on earth would they care that eleven sweaty Englishmen are running around on the other side of the world. And yet this great local diversity is one of the main reasons why the Olympics are coming here. The world already lives in Stratford, so when the rest of the world arrives in 2012 they'll find proud supporters already in place to cheer them on. Just pray they don't bring those bloody horns.

England 1 USA 1 [FT]

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