Janie and I were fortunate (or skilled) enough to get three sets of tickets in our Olympic Games application; badminton, tennis and hockey. We were thrilled with that. Add to it a day at the Paralympic games a few weeks later and that makes four really memorable days.
Our day at the Olympic Park to see women’s hockey was our only opportunity to see the park itself, so we needed no further invitation than the suggestion in the spectator guide that we ensure we arrive at the park plenty early. We indeed wanted a good amount of time to take in the atmosphere and enjoy a whole day.
We timed our journey and arrival to be outside any rush hours (business or Olympic) but early enough for a good stroll around the park before our afternoon of hockey started (at lunchtime).
Security, the stewarding, the atmosphere around the park was all wonderful, as was widely reported at the time. We’d had great experiences at Wembley Arena (badminton) and Wimbledon (tennis) by then, so expected nothing less. But all of that character together with the sheer size and scale of the park was something to behold and remember.
We still got to our seats in very good time and saw some players warming up:
The first game we saw was China v Japan.
I recall clearly that Japan won the match 1-0, thanks to a 54th minute goal by Komazawa…
…OK, I don’t remember a thing, apart from the fact that we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves and the crowd was getting well into it. All of the results of all of the matches, together with reports, can be found through the Wikipedia entry on the tournament – click here if you are that interested.
It was the second match, between South Korea and Belgium, that was especially memorable. Directly behind us, between the matches, had arrived a large contingent of Korean Buddhist monks. Had this been a cricket match in, say, the Eric Hollies Stand at Edgbaston, I would be talking about a bunch of beer-swilling Brummies in fancy dress, looking vaguely like monks.
But this was a sizeable posse of real Buddhist monks, with South Korean flags and prayer drums. As the game commenced they started to chant, “Dae Han Min Guk” very slowly and then beat out this phrase as five beats on their prayer drums.
Now there are several places where you can read about and see video of Korean soccer crowds making this chant rather rapidly – click here for but one (quite good) example – or alternatively try clicking here for a more percussive but less sporty outburst – but I cannot find examples anywhere of monks dispensing this chant and rhythm in a dignified, Buddhist stylee. So you’ll just have to take my word for it that the monks slow, profound version was an amazing, hypnotic sound.
I had in any case already decided to support South Korea for this match. After all, a South Korean publisher had ponied up some serious bucks for the rights to The Price of Fish – still available of course in the original Ameringlish (and now also available in all good South Korean bookshops and on-line – here). Whereas we still wait in vain for a Belgian publisher to do the right thing viz “Fish”.
So, naturally, Janie and I started joining in with the monks. Soon lots of people were joining in. Even children waving Belgian flags started joining in, only to meet reproach from their parents and then, in some cases, to ignore the reproach and continue to join in anyway. You get the idea.
I’ve no idea whether it was this extraordinary wall of sound or simply the comparative skill of the South Korean women, but our lasses won the game 3-1. The rather unfortunately named Kim Jong-eun (not to be confused with the Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Jong-un) scored two of the goals.
We strolled a little more after the matches – we didn’t really want our day to end, but it was purposeful strolling really towards the best exit for our journey home. As was the way for just those few weeks of that summer, there was a friendly atmosphere amongst strangers on the tube home.