So, England-New Zealand test football. This should only be good? Right? After last week’s killer? Not so much.
It was my first visit to the Olympic Park. As you know I don’t think it should ever have been built, I left the country to avoid the event, and I also want everyone involved surcharged until everyone evicted gets rehoused. Not surprisingly, then, I hate the place.
I especially love the fact you get out of the tube, into a shopping centre, and then walk out of the shopping centre onto a narrow patch of pavement next to a taxi rank, turn sharp right, climb a staircase, into more shopping centre, and make a number of sharp turns through it until you actually see any sign of a stadium. The priorities are obvious. If you spot the signage, which is pitiful, you may find the route blocked by hoardings. Fortunately or not, there are people with loudhailers to yell at you. There must have been a fair few folk around for the ‘lympics; perhaps there is some subtlety in the design, or perhaps we got away with it.
It’s not Wembley. It’s really nothing like Wembley, either the new version or the old version. None of the occasion inherent in the design. Also, it’s a building site and I thought they said it was finished in 2012.
That said, the ground itself works well in an operational sense. There are a lot of toilets. There are a lot of toilets! It reminded me of the Camp Nou in that you can walk very quickly from outside it, to a turnstile without queuing, to a seat, to the bar, to the loo, back to your seat…without missing a moment or spilling a drop.
Once you’re in, though, it couldn’t be less like it. There is absolutely nothing like atmosphere, probably because the pitch is a million miles away. I sat above an enormous chasm of empty space created by a huge replay screen. The bloke next to me’s little son, who is turning into a terrible rulebook sea-lawyer, lost a bottle of water over it with a great thud. Wembley, Old Trafford, or Camp Nou stack you up higher, but the relationship is nonlinear – the slant distance to the pitch is still less, or seems that way.
In front of this, the athletics track has been covered with seating that seems to be literally made of scaffolding. Because the stands’ rake is so low, you’re both very far from the action and also from the other fans. This feels depressingly right, in keeping. Also, the presentation was strange and awkward. An announcer introduced “Match Two of the International Series” – surely the Second Test? – and went on to repeatedly claim that “Sam” Burgess had been substituted on.
What about the rugby, dammit? Well…it was an old school RL day. Racing charcoal skies. Pissing rain. It was that kind of game, too. The Australian ref was insistent on stopping the game at every opportunity, rather like the Aussies used to complain about ours in the 1990s. England started better than in the first test, but the game was so uninspired and uninspiring this didn’t say much. Both sides were trying for error-free rugby, and as usual this means the game was decided by errors.
Last time out, I had the impression the Kiwis looked tired before half-time; this time, neither side seemed to get an energy advantage. Perhaps all the stops had something to do with it, or they made better use of their substitutes. It seems unlikely they gained much in a week.
On the other hand, England barely seemed to kick the ball, whether for territory or in the attack. Managing the pace of the game feeds into the energy game, and I don’t think we did that. If the England side is generally quicker, which seemed possible last time out, I wonder if we ever got up to the optimal heart rate?
The forwards were great. I doubt we need to change the outside backs, seeing how little opportunity they had. But the halves? I wonder. The whole game had a 90s feel, two massive line defences that seemed happier without the ball. The question is either how to break it up, or how to manage a game like that better.
As for the ground, Spurs had a lucky escape.