Pete Sixsmith enjoys a day of great achievement for British athletes – except those, with foreign teammates, playing in Sunderland’s deeply unpromising pre-season programme…
Well, that was some day wasn’t it. Six Gold medals in a 12 hour period that showed sport at its glorious, mind blowing best as various runners, rowers, cyclists and jumpers became national heroes and showed that bread and circuses can transcend economic and political gloom.
I am delighted that I chose to forego a trip to Southern Sweden and spend much of the day in North Yorkshire. With the trusty DAB personal radio playing through the earphones, I set off for Richmond on the bus in order to watch Richmond Town host their first game in the Wearside League.
I saw the first gold in the Darlington Building Society, heard the second one while waiting for the X27, news which I imparted to my fellow queuers – most of who, were, like me, travelling on the Over 60s Bus Pass.
In Richmond, the sun shone, knights were jousting in the castle and Lily’s Tea Rooms did a good baked potato and a light and fluffy Victoria Sponge. The Castle Hill Bookshop is hanging on despite Waterstones and Amazon and did me a good deal on a signed copy of Simon Armitage’s “Walking Home”, his account of walking the Pennine Way backwards – from Kirk Yetholm to Edale that is, not a la Spike Milligan at Christmas.
Richmond Town won the Teesside League last year and were elected in to the Wearside, which is the lowest level of senior football at Step 7 of the FA pyramid. They play at Earl’s Orchard, a wonderfully picturesque ground on the west bank of the beautiful River Swale, with the backdrop of Richmond Castle for those standing opposite the dug outs.
Their opponents were newly relegated Easington Colliery, back in the Wearside after a horrible season in the Northern League, where everything that could go wrong did. I cannot think of many games which reflect such a cultural gap as this one; Richmond, a Georgian market town with its book shops, fudge shops and tea shops; Easington with its charity shops, pound shops and closed shops. Football allows these two very disparate communities to rub shoulders.
The game ended in a 3-0 win for the home team. The first goal was a speculative 35 yard lob from the left back which had the young Easington keeper backpedalling furiously, to no avail, while the other two came from the penalty spot. Both were rather harshly awarded but both were dispatched confidently and certainly better than the attempts by Messrs Ramsey and Sturridge later on in the evening.
There was time for a pleasant chat on the X26 back with a former Villa supporting ground hopper, who had been to Moscow for that infamous Europa League game that MON had written off and who thought that he had lost a lot of his credibility with the Villa faithful because of that.
As the 1B trundled through Jubilee Estate in Shildon, the third gold medal was wrapped up in the Velodrome and it was back to Sixsmith Towers to see what the athletics could provide for an expectant and increasingly excited nation.
The radio coverage of the games has been stupendous. I have used the radio more than the TV as it has the capacity to follow a story, whereas TV has set pieces. So, while Greg Rutherford was leaping his way to what turned out to be an unexpected gold medal, the telly was showing a montage of Jessica Ennis as they awaited her entrance to the 800 metres. We 5Live aficionados knew that he had taken a comfortable lead before those watching did.
Jessica did what the nation wanted her to do with a magnificent win in her race, which kind of set the tone for Mo Farah to win the 10,000 metres. Both athletes were quite magnificent and epitomise the positive aspects of sport in that it shows that hard work and training can make you the absolute best.
Alan Green, a far better rowing commentator than he is at football, made a very interesting point when he talked about how accessible the majority of athletes are compared with footballers. Bradley Wiggins goes to the fans after he wins his gold, the rowers look for friends and family when they stagger out of the boat, Farah’s daughter skips across the track to greet her dad.
Footballers walk into stadiums with their earphones on, collars turned up and, far too often, ignore the fans. They give anodyne interviews where they say nothing worthwhile and usually perform two or three notches below expectation.
Which brings me to Helsingborgs. Another poor performance and result in a pre season which is as bad as last year’s and is beginning to rank with the pre-19 point one. We clearly have forward problems and the noises coming out of the SoL are not very positive. There are two more games to try and get a pattern of play established. Whether Sessegnon and Elmohamady will have visa problems for Derby and Leicester remains to be seen. A no show by Sess on Wednesday night will certainly set the alarm bells ringing.