So said Prince Imran, the Malaysian president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, last Sunday in winding up Glasgow’s 11 days in the spotlight, and “the best Games ever”. Even allowing for the hyperbole which comes as standard on these occasions, he wasn’t far wrong.
My apologies to readers of this blog that it failed to deliver on its undertaking to issue regular Games-related scribblings from beneath its flysheet on a rugby club camp site in Glasgow, but a combination of a wandering WiFi, an improbable Barbadian themed week in the clubhouse bar (think A&E flavoured rum punches) and, let’s not be coy here, my own idleness, means that today is the first time I have been able to put finger to calibri. And, to tell the truth, I was having far too good a time in Glasgow to bother to tell you about it.
I still wear my t-shirt from Manchester’s Commonwealth Games in 2002 (it has been washed occasionally since). I loved the London Olympics and the Paralympics and I certainly wasn’t going to miss Glasgow 2014. (I just like collecting t-shirts; it makes me feel I’ve been around a bit.)
Since you ask, the camping was fine, though Mrs. Blog (who, you will recall, was billeted out of harm’s way with a fellow clan member) visibly winced when I described the communal showering arrangements. I didn’t mention the toilets.
Both Mrs. Blog and her cousin had put themselves forward at an earlier stage as volunteer “games makers”. Under “skills” they had offered to advise visitors to Glasgow on their specialist subject – branches of M&S. Unfortunately their applications appear to have been mislaid as they didn’t hear back.
Where were we? The opening ceremony.
What’s not to like about dancing Tunnock’s teacakes or a major public celebration that features (twice) a statue of a mounted Duke of Wellington with a traffic cone on his head? Or a nation that regards “I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more da-da-da-da” as a national anthem”?
Mrs. Blog was particularly keen to be at the opening bash, and well, I know I’m gonna be, I’m gonna be the man who goes along … da-da-da-da – sorry, it’s got to me.
I don’t know how it came across where you are – and to be honest, I’m not right bothered – but sitting where I was, the opening ceremony was a knockout, though the unabated heat wave came as something of a surprise. Mrs. Blog, who has a feel for these things, pronounced the event as “not too teuchtery”, which seemed to be important. This means, apparently, taking only an occasional sideways glance at the White Heather Club, tam o shanters and (yes, it was foretold by this blog) Donald Where’s Your Troosers? Personally, I have never subscribed to the commonly held view that the definition of a gentleman is someone who can play the bagpipes, but doesn’t. I could happily have coped with a tad more in that direction but was well up for the fayre put in front of us.
Clearly no gentlemen…
I loved the Amy Macdonald, Rod Stewart and “cast of Glaswegians” version of Rhythm of My Heart which set an early template for a homespun, slightly-self-mocking-but-really-quite-proud event, but, near the end of the evening, Nicola Benedetti’s “Bonnie Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond” nearly made my eyes moist, and I’m not even from Scotland for goodness’ sake. Mrs. Blog tells me that she’s now changing the choice of music for her funeral to “Bonnie Bonnie Banks” – but it doesn’t mean I’m changing the date…
No point comparing the Commonwealths with the Olympics. They’re what they are, the Friendly Games, and you only really get to feel that if you’re there. It doesn’t matter who’s not there. The FA Cup is still the FA Cup, even if Real Madrid aren’t in it. Rugby’s Home Internationals are just that, without the All Blacks. And only in the Commonwealth Games do you see an athlete from Kiribati on the podium, or lawn bowls players from Norfolk Island taking on, and beating, South Africa.
I’m most reluctant to admit it but, by googling, I came across something from the Daily Mail that actually made sense:
“But then, the modern Olympics long ago parted company with the Corinthian aspirations of their founding fathers. The Commonwealth Games — with just a 20th of an Olympic budget — have not.”
It would have been quite wrong, even if it could have been done, for Glasgow to seek to rival London 2012 or any other Olympics for scale or magnificence. The “Commonwealths” continue because they have their own niche, affordable for provincial cities around the world without bankrupting themselves.
But, what a standard Glasgow set. I attended eight events in the Games programme, from the opening ceremony at Celtic Park to three nights of athletics at Hampden, via hockey, netball, squash and rugby sevens at Ibrox. While Scots in the crowd roared their support for their athletes – and especially in the occasional team event against the “auld enemy” – they were never less than wholehearted in applause for every competitor. I also took in the marathon as the runners headed through Pollok Park but, in wanting to ensure I didn’t wander across the course too soon, I do now regret asking one of the competitors, “Are you the last one?”
All this hardly left time to scratch the surface of the city’s other attractions, both permanent and temporary. Perhaps, as a native Liverpudlian, I find things in Glasgow and its citizens that are easy to empathise with. I’ve been overwhelmed by the townscape and the quality of its buildings, new and old and I still have one or two Charles Rennie Macintosh creations to seek out.
If we thought the Manchester and London volunteer “games makers” were cheery, my hands ached last week from high-fiving those foam fingers and my face was set in a permanent grin. While Mrs. Blog took a dim view of any attempt in the various stadia to capture her on KissCam, Glaswegian street cleaners sought us out to provide assistance and mounted policewomen chanted crowd directions in unison while demonstrating their own synchronised dressage. They’ll all no doubt now be feeling the kind of withdrawal symptoms which many of us in the south experienced after London 2012. And I’m feeling them myself. I guess following the Commonwealth Games through your TV set is a bit like supporting your football team on Sky’s rolling sports newscasts: it misses the point. It’s not the results or the records that matter, it really is about taking part, or, if most of us can’t manage that, it’s about being there. I’m so glad I was.
Local volunteers overcoming natural reticence…