Those who remain unconverted to the idea of football being part of the sporting extravaganza about to unleash itself at London 2012 would have had all their pre-conceptions underlined at Old Trafford yesterday afternoon.
A grand total of seven reporters, plus a BBC crew, were in the Europa Suite as Pearce, accompanied by skipper Ryan Giggs, looked ahead to GB’s opening match against Senegal tomorrow. The press conference itself had been brought forward by 24 hours to allow for greater coverage of Hope Powell’s women’s side, who open the entire Games in Cardiff this afternoon.
Greeted with scores of empty seats, Pearce smiled and said: “We could have done this in my bedroom.”
Whilst a communication breakdown may have been responsible for the lack of numbers, the turnout was almost in keeping with the way GB’s participation is being viewed by so many. For them, football is about England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, not a made-up team in an event more usually associated with athletes, swimmers, cyclists, horse riders and other sports who, however briefly, get to enjoy the kind of attention bestowed on the round ball game for the rest of the year.
This view rather ignores the fact football has been an Olympic event since 1900 and amongst its gold medallists are Lev Yashin, Samuel Eto’o, Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi.
Seventy thousand people have been enthused enough to get themselves tickets for tomorrow’s game, the second part of a double header that also includes tournament heavyweights Uruguay taking on United Arab Emirates. And Pearce feels those at the game, and the ones watching on TV, are in for a shock.
“We do belittle,” he said. “If I roll the clock back a calendar year, I was fortunate to go with England to Colombia for the Under-20s World Cup. We played a group match against Argentina in front of 44,000 people. The standard was fantastic, the tournament and the exposure fantastic. Very few people in England knew there was a tournament going on.
“That is how we underestimate tournaments. “The same will apply to the Olympics. Once it gets started and they see the magnitude of the teams, they will see, they will sit up and take notice.”