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Wembley Stadium
  France v Japan
Monday, August 6th, 2012, 5pm
Womens Olympic Football Semi Final
By Peter Gordon

Football wasn’t initially top of my list of Olympic events that I wanted to attend but given that most sports were sold out but were available for the Womens’ semi final for £20 and I’ve always wanted to see inside Wembley stadium it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.  There is unlikely to be another Olympics in my home city in my lifetime.

I go past Wembley stadium several times a week when travelling into Marylebone.  Getting there was very easy – the train took eight minutes from West Ruislip.  I was rather concerned about the pre match publicity advising against taking any bags whatsoever on pain of possibly missing the match, which seemed rather unreasonable.  As it was there was absolutely no queue whatsoever so I when through the “Males with bags” entrance where my bag was manually searched.  This can’t have taken more than two minutes, indeed I was through security within thirty minutes of leaving home. 

My first impression was favourable.  My cheap ticket was in the top tier which required going up three escalators. There was a large foyer that went around the complete stadium (indeed I walked the whole way around, apparently is about one kilometre. Presumably it can be segregated for cup finals and other such matches.  There were plenty of toilets, both male and female.  Presumably the stadium was designed to cope with a Barry Manilow concert as well as football matches.  There were queues outside the ladies’ at half time but it appeared to be moving fast.

Catering was expensive (as with other Olympic venues) but I brought sandwiches.  There were long queues for the water fountains although one very helpful catering assistant was taking peoples’ bottles and filling them, which was a nice touch.

I was in the back row.  The stadium is a large bowl and the top tier is quite steep so all seats give an unrestricted view.  Obviously the back row in a 90,000 seat stadium is not ideal if you are short sighted - I had trouble reading the big screen, but overall I was very impressed by the stadium.  The seats themselves were comfortable with reasonable leg room.

Unlike other Olympic events most stewards were provided by the stadium rather than the Olympic organisers. They were friendly and everything seemed well organised but then you don’t expect any agro at an Olympics Womens’ football match.

There were a surprising number of French & Japanese fans given that it was not clear who would be playing until the results of the quarter finals – I don’t know whether they were sold at the last minute or if the fans just struck lucky.  The bulk of the fans not surprisingly were British.  I would estimate that about 75,000 of the 90,000 seats were filled – certainly better than matches held outside London though not the full house of the final.  It was enough to create a good atmosphere, although the match did not really come to life until half way through the second half.  I think that the bulk of the neutrals were ending up cheering France who were playing more aggressively but behind – but also cheered Japan when they had a good break away.  Perhaps they just wanted extra time. But there wasn't to be any with Japan winning 2-1.

I rushed out immediately the final whistle had blown, trying to avoid the queues that I had encountered exiting another Olympic event.  Getting out of the venue was not a problem with wide staircases.  Obviously there was no need to segregate rival fans.  There were three separate queues at the Chiltern station for northbound trains depending upon destination, although all trains went from the same platform.  I had my doubts about this, but I was allowed on the platform in time to catch my planned train.  I’m not sure what it was like for those behind me.

If you like the tribalism of football this would not have been the match for you but I saw it as a once in the lifetime chance to see the Olympics.  Overall I was very pleased that I attended the match and had a great afternoon out.  Wembley is certainly a worthy national stadium.

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