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About A Week: Barmy Brits And Olympic Triumphs

Britain this week is celebrating its sporting heroes, Peter Hinchliffe reports.

Scores of thousands of jubilant Britons are lining the roads in cities, towns and villages across the land to welcome home their Olympic medal winners.

Triple-gold cyclist Chris Hoy and three other medal-winning members of Team GB rode through Edinburgh in an open-top bus this week.

Scottish pipers played triumphal tunes as more than 50,000 gathered to wave flags and cheer them on their way.

Double gold winning swimmer Rebecca Adlington also rode into town in an open-top bus – the town being Mansfield, Nottinghamshire.

Tony Egginton, the mayor of Mansfield, a town which rarely features in the national, let alone international, news had promised Becky a new pair of shoes if she won a medal. He duly presented her with a pair of gold Jimmy Choo shoes.

Two of the town’s pubs and three streets where Becky lives already have signs up featuring the name Adlington, and a 4.5 million pound swimming pool will be called the Rebecca Adlington Centre.

Britain placed fourth in the Beijing Olympics medals table, the country’s most successful Olympics campaign in 100 years.

China had 51 golds, the USA 36, Russia 23 and Britain 19.

Team GB’s successes have put smiles back on millions of faces in a credit-crunched nation which is battening down the hatches to sail through stormy economic waters.

Britons have been starved of sporting success. Football is the nation’s leading sport. England’s Premier League provides entertainment via TV for millions of sports fans round the world. Yet England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all failed to qualify for the finals of this year’s European Cup.

England’s cricket team are usually bested by arch rivals Australia in the five-game Test series. Back in 1994, when England was on tour in Australia, defeats came thick and fast. It seemed as though the team from the Old Country were even incapable of beating a Primary School second XI. England’s travelling fans continued to cheer, make noise and enjoy themselves. The Aussie media named them the Barmy Army.

The Barmy Army, now a registered organisation with an annual membership fee, aims to make watching cricket fun. With flags, banners, songs and chants, they attend Test matches around the world to spice up the proceedings.

“Australians, both players and supporters, serve especially as foils for our humour,’’ says a Barmy Army spokesman.

Their chants and songs go thus:

We are the Army
We are the army, the Barmy Army
Oh we are bonkers, and we are mad
We are the loyalest cricket supporters
That the world has ever had

We are the Barmy boys
I-oh, I-oh
We are the Barmy boys
I-oh, I-oh
We are the Barmy boys
We're England's famous cricket fans
We travel near and far
When we're not singing
You’ll find us at the bar

With an abundance of British irony English football fans now chant “Barmy Army, Barmy Army...’’.

Now, with a total medal haul of 47 from the Beijing Olympics, the “barmy’’ Brits have ample reason for joyful chants.

Adding to British joy are sour grapes comments from old rivals, Australia and France.

French sports minister Bernard Laporte said, "We aren't just going to concentrate our means on four or five sports to bring home the medals, like the British have done." Team GB did particularly well in cycling, sailing, rowing and swimming.

John Coates, the president of the Australian Olympic Committee, asked to comment on Team GB’s swimming successes said that Great Britain, for a country that has few swimming pools and not much soap, seemed to be getting there.

Team GB’s medal haul seems to have altered the attitude to the Olympics of a number of cynical Britons.

A friend of mine, a journalist, said a week before the Beijing games began, “The worst thing this country ever did was to bid for the Olympics. It was a bad news day when we heard they were coming to London in 2012. It’s going to cost us a fortune. And who’s interested in watching some hefty chap trying to chuck a lump of metal further than anyone else?’’

When I bumped into him during the games he said, “That Adlington lass did well! She seems a really nice modest lass. Er...I just happened to see her on the news.’’

The Beijing Olympics were extremely well organised in brilliant settings. (By the way, that Bird’s Nest Stadium was constructed under the direction of a British engineer. And Beijing’s airport, the biggest in the world, was designed by a British architect.)

In the closing ceremony, when the Olympic flag was passed on to Britain, it was good to see an ordinary everyday red London bus take centre stage.

I for one hope that the London 2012 games will concentrate on the sport, rather than nationalistic chest-beating. (Leave that to us journalists.)

Certainly Chris Hoy is an athlete we barmy sporting Brits can be proud of. He’s our best Olympian in a hundred years, and humble with it.

Richard Moore, in an article in last Sunday’s edition of The Observer newspaper, told of a taxi ride with Chris, hours after the Scot had won the last of his three gold medals.

Chris, with his three gold medals stuffed in his jeans pockets, had been out for a few drinks, but not too many. He was sitting in the front of the taxi. Moore was in the back.

Before the taxi could pull away a large set of knuckles rapped on a window.

In Richard Moore’s words:

“The door swings open and a huge figure looms. 'You going to the athletes' village?' asks a Canadian accent. We are, so Hoy vacates the front seat and moves into the back. The man mountain squeezes in.

He is Ari Taub, a 6ft 3in, 19-stone wrestler. How had his Olympics been? 'Ah, not so good. I got beat,' he says. 'What's your sport?' he asks, turning, with some difficulty, to face us.

'I'm a cyclist,' says Hoy.

'Oh yeah?' says Taub. 'You ride the Tour de France?'

'No,' says Hoy, 'I'm a sprinter - I do the short distances, in the velodrome.'

'Oh,' says Taub, a little disappointed. 'I love the Tour de France. One day I want to ride the whole Tour, in front of the race.'

Crikey, we think. 'One guy in our team, Mark Cavendish, won four stages this year,' says Hoy.

'Yeah, I know!' Taub says. 'How about that? I watched it all. That guy's awesome, eh?'

The taxi arrives at my hotel, and I leave them chatting about Mark Cavendish, though not before telling Taub that Cavendish happens to be the only member of the British track cycling team not to have won a medal in Beijing. At that he swivels his considerable bulk 90 degrees to look more closely at Hoy, who has kept resolutely quiet about his success. 'This guy made history yesterday,' I tell Taub, and leave them to it.’’

Yes indeed. Chris Hoy. A man of true gold.

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