2012 Olympics finale kicks off at last
YESTERDAY afternoon, in the middle of a rain-sodden forest in the Scottish Borders, the last sporting event of the London 2012 Olympics finally got under way.
But there was no Clare Balding in the commentary box or Prince William in the stands, just several hundred curious onlookers, a lot of umbrellas and wellies, and four highly unusual teams – some of whom had never played a 90-minute match in their lives.
Craig Coulthard’s Forest Pitch, an ambitious artistic project that constituted Scotland’s biggest contribution to the Cultural Olympiad and the London 2012 Festival, came to fruition among the tall trees on the Duke of Buccleuch’s estate near Selkirk.
Over three years and almost half a million pounds in the making, it involved two football matches played on a specially created “forest pitch” by teams of amateur footballers, many of them new residents to Scotland.
The event was delayed by a month after the pitch was declared unfit for play by the SFA in July following weeks of torrential rain in the area.
It has courted controversy from the start. Creative Scotland has flung £460,000 at the project and Dr Lindsay Neil, vice-chairman of the Royal Burgh of Selkirk Community Council, recently described it as a “ridiculous waste of money”. There were even concerns over whether anyone would turn up – particularly given the relentless rain.
But yesterday there were around 400 spectators huddled under London 2012 ponchos. Some were there to support friends on the pitch. Annie Kepche, 33, had come on the bus from Glasgow to support her friend who was a goalie for one of the teams. Originally from Burkina Faso, Kepche has been in Scotland for three years.
“It has been great, I’ve met people here today I would never have met otherwise,” she said. “It’s so nice to meet people from other communities and see more of Scotland.”
Some in the crowd were less enthusiastic, however. Calum Flanders, 47, who works on the Buccleuch estate, said he thought the event hadn’t been promoted locally: “I can’t see many locals here at all. They could have done more to advertise it to the people who live here.”
He also took issue with the decision – part of the artistic project from the start – to replant the area with trees once yesterday’s matches were over. “They should give it to some of the local youth teams,” he said. “That would be a much better use of the space rather than just having it for one day.”
It was hoped that Forest Pitch might be reminiscent of the Carterhaugh ba’, an early version of rugby dreamt up by the then Duke of Buccleuch and his brother-in-law the Earl of Home. The pair arranged for an enormous game to be played in 1815, with men drawn from the Duke’s estates versus men drawn from Selkirk, Melrose and Galashiels. It was quite the event in the area, drawing more than 2,000 spectators, including James Hogg, the famed author of The Private Memoirs And Confessions Of A Justified Sinner, and local celebrity of the day Sir Walter Scott, who lived at nearby Abbotsford House.
There were no James Hoggs or Sir Walter Scotts yesterday at the forest pitch, although Michael Moore, secretary of state for Scotland, attended in his capacity as local MP.
“The last time I was here it was just a clearing, so I’m really impressed,” he said, peering out over the field. “Not everyone will agree that this is art, but then art is what makes you think.”
Mohamad Najib Naheb, captain of the Nemea team, one of the two men’s teams, certainly has the sort of story that would make you think. He fled Afghanistan in 2010 after he was targeted by the Taleban for campaigning for women’s rights in the country.
“I was accused of being a spy and they attacked me,” he said. “I knew I had to get out of the country or I would be killed.”
Now he is waiting to be granted leave to remain in Britain. While he is, he cannot work and his family, who also fled Afghanistan, are elsewhere in Europe and cannot join him. So he joined a football team: Glasgow Afghan United, a team of Afghans now resident in the city. In total there were 11 of them playing yesterday.
Abdul Bostani is another player, and has been in Scotland since 2001. “It has been very good being a part of this because I have met different people from different communities. I have met Iranians, Americans – this is very interesting to me. We have got to know each other and we will stay friends, undoubtedly.”
Coulthard himself, nervy and excited in a bright yellow cagoule, was keen to make the point that Forest Pitch was ultimately about bringing people together: “We have a diverse Scottish population and I wanted to reflect that in the teams. It’s a celebration of diversity more than anything else.”
The games themselves (Corinth won 5-1 in the women’s game and, in the men’s game, Nemea won against Olympia 4-3) were no great shakes in the skills department. But then, as the teams would say themselves, this was a work of art, not sport.
Valeria Cardozo, a Peruvian from the city of Lima who has lived in Glasgow for three years and played for the losing women’s team, said after the game: “This is ultimately what things like the Olympics are about. I got to know the other members of the team, and we’ve bonded. There are girls on the team from Africa who speak Spanish and we’ve been able to communicate in Spanish. That’s really special. It’s something we’ll only do once in our lives.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 26 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
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