UNDER overcast skies, the golden glow of Team Scotland’s historic Commonwealth Games lit up Glasgow this evening on a homecoming to remember.
Around ten thousand people turned to welcome the host nation athletes of Glasgow 2014 as they returned to the city of their greatest ever triumph.
Whereas a month ago, those waving to the crowds from a convoy of flat bed trucks could have walked down any street in Scotland wearing the cloak of anonymity, their turn wearing the blue tracksuit of Scotland ensured they were afforded the kind of adulation normally set aside for matinee idols.
Whether a postman, a schoolgirl or a taxi driver, they were ordinary Scots who achieved extraordianry feats, and their welcome showed the feelgood factor remained nearly a fortnight after securing the nation’s most bountiful medal haul at a Games, with 19 golds, 15 silvers and 19 bronzes.
In all, 181 competitors and officials from Team Scotland were greeted by applause and fluttering Saltires every step of the way along their 75 minute journey from the city’s west end to its civic heart.
Although there were some notable absentees - including Eilidh Child and Lynsey Sharp, both competing at the European Championships in Zurich - the trucks were lined by faces well known from television and the front pages of newspapers in recent weeks.
A beaming Erraid Davies, the 13-year-old Shetlander whose success in Tollcross pool is still causing ripples, waved and laughed for hours on end; Alex ‘Tattie’ Marshall, who became the unlikeliest of idols after a series of golden performances in the lawn bowls, looked like he had reached down the back of the couch only to pull out a winning Euromillions ticket.
On an evening billed as a last hurrah for Glasgow 2014, officials said the turnout demonstrated how the event had been a “truly incredible experience” which “captured the imagination” of people.
If the noise which shook the likes of Hampden, the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome and the SSE Hydro was something to behold during the Games, the decibel level seemed to crank up a notch for the parade.
Setting off from Kelvingrove Art Gallery at 4.15pm, it trundled eastward from
and Museum along a Saltire-stewen Sauchiehall Street before it entered the city centre, skirting Blythswood Square then winding through Wellington Street, Argyle Street and Queen Street.
In between roars of approval as the trucks passed her, Isabella Rankin, a 87-year-old great grandmother, told The Scotsman: “The Commonwealth Games was just brilliant and I had to be here, I had to say ‘Well done’ to everyone. They made me so proud to be Scottish.”
Such love, it seemed, was contagious. Even a fleet of four Police Scotland vans following the procession received cheers, while tourists on one of the iconic red Glasgow tour buses looked on bemused as they too were saluted by the crowds.
At 5.30pm, the parade, led by a police motorcade and Mackenzie Caledonian Pipe Band, ended up in George Square for a final celebratory event. There, 5,000 people had gathered to hear some of the medallists speak, and they were not disappointed. Davies, one of the first to address the audience of fans, Clydesider volunteers, officials and relatives of athletes, brought huge cheers when asked to describe how her life had changed.
“It’s been okay,” she began sweetly. “I’ve just kind of been at home watching the telly, but we got a free curry.”
Though they have had some time to recover from the Games, others still seemed shellshocked at their success and overnight change in status.
Speaking ahead of the parade, Marshall, explained: “I’ve bowled for the best part of 40 years and bowling has never had this media attention before. The Games and Scotland’s success have changed that and it’s all good.
“It’s been a rollercoaster ride over two fantastic weeks and although it’s sad to leave Kelvingrove, it’s a chance to say thank you to Glasgow and Scotland.”
Gold medal winning judoka Chris Sherrington, who retired after the Games to concentrate on his career with the Royal Marines, articulated what many in the Scottish camp felt when he insisted: “This parade is not for me, it’s for the people of Glasgow and all the volunteers who helped out.
“It was an event on an epic scale and it required everyone working together to pull it off. This is us thanking them.”
Charlie Flynn, the indefatigable young boxer who won gold and became a breakout star thanks to his post-final interview, said: “I feel on tip of the world man, everyone wants to see you and talk to you and it’s great to give back to the public what they gave to you. Signing T-shirts and talking to them is the least you can do.
“Before this I was just a wee guy running around in a trackie, a wee nutter who couldnae stop training, but it’s all paid off and everyone’s loving it.”
First Minister Alex Salmond hailed the “overwhelming” success of Games and said it was fitting to have such a grand celebration.
“The parade through the streets of Glasgow is for the athletes of Team Scotland who, with their record medal haul, should rightly have the chance to party with their supporters and celebrate together in the overwhelming success of the Games,” he said.
“I am sure that everyone in Scotland will agree that every single member of Team Scotland, not just the medal winners, has done us proud and there is no higher honour than to represent your country on a global stage.”
Michael Cavanagh, chairman of Commonwealth Games Scotland, said: “My ears are still ringing from the fantastic support Team Scotland athletes in every sport received at every venue at Glasgow 2014.
“The Scottish public roared us on to our greatest ever team performance of 53 medals including 19 gold and the athletes’ parade is a special way to say thank you for their incredible backing. The turnout again shows just how much the Commonwealth Games captured the imagination of people in Glasgow and across Scotland. It has been a truly incredible experience to be part of.”
Louise Martin, chair of sportscotland, added: “The Team Scotland athletes’ parade through the streets of Glasgow was a fantastic and fitting finale to the best ever Commonwealth Games.
“After the record-breaking performances of the athletes, it was wonderful to see people from across Scotland coming out to show their appreciation for what the team achieved during the Games.
“It was a memorable day for all the athletes as they got the chance to say a big ‘thank you’ to the whole country for the support they had during an unforgettable 11 days of competition.”
Gordon Matheson, leader of Glasgow City Council, said the parade was an opportunity to acknowledge not only the athletes, but the residents and volunteers from Glasgow and beyond who had helped make the XX Games “simply the best ever.”
He said: “As a city, we rose to the challenge and delivered on a global scale. So too did our athletes who achieved a record medal haul for Team Scotland. They are a credit to the city and to Scotland. The parade was a chance for us to line the streets and cheer them on, just as we did during the Games themselves.
“Key to the success of the Games were our wonderful volunteers. On countless occasions I was approached by Glasgow residents and visitors to the city who wanted to praise the warmth of the welcome they received from both the Clydesiders and the host city Volunteers.
“The athletes’ parade gave us the chance to celebrate the success of all our athletes, and to recognise the hard work and commitment of all of the staff, visitors and volunteers who made Glasgow’s Games the enormous success story they were.”