My own Glaswegian nature is usually be be slightly cynical about a lot of things, particularly enforced jollity. However I was determined to make the most of the Commonwealth Games visit to Glasgow. Alongside the sports we were also promised a series of cultural events, under the Festival 2014 umbrella. The mounting anticipation to the event was heightened in the days leading up to it by the sight of long neglected road markings on many of Glasgow's streets being given a fresh lick of paint, a flurry of pothole repairs, grass cutting and fence painting. If there is one good "legacy" of the Games, it is surely to make it clear to Glasgow City Council that a wee bit more effort from them in the future in maintaining such basic city infrastructure wouldn't go amiss.
Then the barriers around the venues and athletes' village went up and the level of disruption that would occur became obvious, particularly for those living in the east end of the city. However, despite the best efforts of the media to uncover dissenting voices, most people were getting caught up in the excitement of it all and looking forward to Glasgow being the centre of attention for 11 days. I diverted my usual jogging routes to have a wee nosey at the Games venues as they were made ready (here) and finally the Games arrived in town. Anyway here is a quick review of how I found the Commonwealth Games.
Commonwealth Games - Cultural Festival
|In an effort to highlight Glasgow's obesity problem Tunnock's tea |
cakes and Irn Bru featured prominently in the opening ceremony
Before even the opening ceremony started I had already seen Aidan Moffat's Commonwealth Games funded musical tour of Scotland earlier in the year ("Where You're Meant To Be"). Also, running for about 6 months under the auspices of the "East End Social" banner, Glasgow record label Chemikal Underground launched an ambitious series of events. "Part music programme, part community engagement project" it brought music and musicians to areas and venues normally overlooked in the eastern side of Glasgow. They brought Edinburgh's poetry led Neu Reekie evening to the Platform in Easterhouse, where I heard readings from Jackie Kay, a presentation from top video artist Rachel Maclean and music from Broken Records and The Pastels.
Throughout the Commonwealth Games the cultural programme provided a varied list of events, based largely on Glasgow Green where music from as diverse a list as Sydney Devine, Lloyd Cole and the Amphetameanies was on show. The Glasgow Green site was usually free entry although once you visited the bars you realised where the profits were being made.
|Ford car showroom on Glasgow Green|
|HMS Bangor moored on the Clyde|
|Commonwealth Flotilla on the Clyde|
It was great to see the newly refurbished Kelvingrove bandstand in use again. As a child we were often here or at the bandstand in Queens Park for political rallies. I had also spent many an afternoon down here at the Radio Clyde sponsored heavy metal days for some reason and as a student I think The River Detectives or Horse would've been the last acts I'd have seen here before it was closed down. Horse was back again one evening and I managed to catch some of the excellent Remember Remember one night (go buy their great new album "Forgetting the Present" if you haven't already). In the earlier evening one day I came down to catch a film "A View From Here" about refugees and Glaswegians living in Glasgow multistorey flats. I've been trying to see this for a while as I spent my teenage years in the Lincoln flats in Knightswood that feature in it. My block is in the process of being demolished and the arts projects involving tenants, which featured in the film, to commemorate their lives in the flats seemed a more appropriate way to mark their demolition than the abandoned (and crass) plan to blow up the Red Road flats for our entertainment in the opening ceremony. My only gripe down here would be that as we were all being encouraged to walk, cycle and use public transport it might have been an idea to lay on some bicycle racks for the dozens of us that took this advice.
|Remember Remember at the Kelvingrove bandstand|
|Ben Nevis bar|
The other non-sporting thing I'd like to commend to you was "Clyde the Thistle". The official mascot of the games appears to have shifted tens of thousands of soft toys and the trail around Glasgow of 25 photogenic Clyde statues seems to have been strangely popular. These statues looked cheery and slightly scared at the same time, I'm not sure if that was intentional. As a lifelong Partick Thistle fan I am pleased that so many people have taken this lowly weed to their hearts despite (from a football fan's perspective) the anachronistic naming of a Thistle with the title of our one time footballing rivals. As a close relative of mine spent a good amount of time over recent months as one of the Clyde mascots, even receiving training at the Conservatoire of Scotland to "express without sound how Clyde would show that he was excited?", etc. I'm pleased that he was a success. Children took to him more that they did to the unsettling Mandeville and Wenlock mascots from the Olympics, so well done 12 year old Beth Gilmour from Cumbernauld (current home to Clyde FC) for designing him. My personal favourite was seeing Clyde in the red and yellow of Partick Thistle at Buchanan Street bus station.
|Clyde the Commonwealth Games mascot|
|Partick Thistle mascot "Harry Wragg" back in the day|
(photo stolen from @greigforbes)
Commonwealth Games - Sport Festival
When they initially went on sale, getting tickets for the Commonwealth Games was a bit of a hassle. Like many people I applied for a variety of things on their fussy website but got nothing initially. Then in the second phase of ticket sales I applied for a wider variety of things and ended up getting almost everything this time. As we have three children one disappointment for me was that for most things you could only apply for four tickets, meaning that we couldn't all go as a family to anything we were interested in. Also price reductions for children were not available in all sports, and if they were then only on the cheaper seats. This stank of squeezing as much money as possible out of ticket sales. Then as the games drew nearer we find that suddenly hundreds more tickets were available, presumably returns from the sponsors and other nations. Much as my children, as keen swimmers, had wanted to go to Tollcross Pool, by now I'd spent so much already on tickets that I wasn't going to try again for the third time for swimming tickets. The rush for these new tickets led to the website crashing and was poorly managed. From the outset the ticketing created bad feeling, however Glasgow was swept up in the excitement of the Games arriving in town and the impression on TV was that venues for all the sports were crowded and noisy.
The sport wasn't all top notch stuff. Lawn bowls may be popular in Glasgow (Glasgow lawn bowls blogpost) but it doesn't create many superstars. At some events such as the marathon and cycling the loudest cheers were often for the athletes in danger of being lapped. So what did my scatter-gun approach to ticket buying mean we ended up seeing?
|Hampden Park as an athletics arena|
|Discus bronze medalist from Nigeria|
Free to watch and taken in by many on the streets of Glasgow were the excellent marathon races.
|Marathon goes past Geoarge Sq. (Photo @ItsDelbert)|
As my dad used to run marathons I have spent many a cold Sunday morning on street corners applauding at races, so it was funny to watch an elite race where a clutch of runners go past you and are not followed by a few thousand plodders needing some encouragement. I watched it at George Square and then promptly came home and filled out my application for the Great Scottish Run on October 5th, which runs a similar route. That's got to be a good thing.
|The cumbersome Scottish badminton uniforms probably stopped them winning more medals|
|Badminton medal ceremony|
|Weightlifting final at the Armadillo|
|Squash doubles show court, Scotstoun|
|The Hydro where the boxing finals were held, with the Armadillo behind it|
Have a listen to it hear if you missed it during the 261 medal ceremonies over the past 11 days.
|Boxing at the Hydro, Glasgow|
I didn't get any tickets to the velodrome, but like many people headed out onto the streets to cheer on the road races on the last Sunday of the games, hoping that David Millar could end his career with a medal in Scotland. It was soon apparent that he couldn't and like many people once the rain started teaming down I retreated to a bar to watch the finale on television. Lizzie Armitstead and Geraint Thomas were worthy winners and whilst the helicopters were able to dodge the downpours, Glasgow did look very handsome and green.
Now all we need is some real cycle lanes in Glasgow, not the pretend ones we have on several streets at present.
So, in summary...
- Glasgow was buzzing throughout the Games. People threw themselves enthusiastically into it, determined as ever to show the world that we see ourselves as friendly, welcoming and hospitable. We love our city and want you to come and love it too
- The crowds at the events were big and were enthusiastic and it proved that we can organise these things successfully on our own - this may be the only point seized upon by anyone in the ongoing independence debate which seemed to have been put on hold for the past 2 weeks
- Efforts were made to have a worthwhile cultural programme running alongside the sport, particularly successful in the Empire Cafe and East End Social strands
- Public transport could replace cars. Spectators were repeatedly warned not to bring cars and followed the advice to the extent that someone I know who lives in Kings Park near Hampden loved the games as her streets were so quiet. There were glitches and plenty of shuttle buses seemed to run about empty as their routes were not well publicised. However this needs regular, reliable public transport to work, such as late night trains on the subway, cheap or simple fares. Once the games finish we won't have these again.
- You can cycle in Glasgow. More people now cycle than ever before but with barely any protected cycle lanes in Glasgow you do feel it is an accident waiting to happen. Although many cycle paths were shut by games security fences I got about easily on my bike, enjoying going along the roads the cars weren't allowed on. Simple things like more bicycle racks would help build this up and normalise it. (Note to media people - nobody but Gordon Matheson himself calls the city bikes "Gordon's Gears" - okay?)
- Glasgow looked great on telly. Well, it did, didn't it? The council need to notice surely that a bit more spent on basic maintenance is necessary to keep it looking the way it should, but I fear we'll drift back to pot holes, long grass in the parks and unpainted fences in Victoria Park
- On a purely personal note I caught up with some old friends who moved to Jersey years ago, that came back to Glasgow to see this. That was good fun
- I don't like to moan but...was that catering the best we could come up with? I soon became very familiar with the same uninspiring array of food wagons. In the Armadillo I took my seat then wasn't allowed out to them for some reason I can't quite work out, to get some dinner as I'd rushed from work. That left me with a choice of hot dogs or hot dogs inside the venue. Still I suppose I didn't really need another portion of battered haggis balls and chips. (Poor wee haggis).
- More effort could have been made to include local people in the games. Whether on Glasgow Green, Easterhouse at the Platform, the BBC activities at the Quay or the sports themselves it was always the same middle class crowds. If the locals aren't actively brought in to these things they are excluded by the prices as much as anything else. There may have been plenty of free entertainment on Glasgow Green and at the BBC, but if bodysearches stop you bringing food and drink in with you, you exclude anyone who cannot afford £4.90 for a pint of lager and £7 for a burger. Surely free games tickets could have been set aside for more local sports clubs in Glasgow rather than corporate sponsors?
- The Clydesiders were hailed/ patronised as a great Games success, but I really feel this was people doing essential work of the games without being paid. A friend worked as a volunteer driver, doing 10 hour shifts, sometimes through the night. That is just exploitation.
- The BBC coverage was thorough but struck a strange tone referring repeatedly to athletes from other parts of the UK winning medals in their "home games". I really felt this was Glasgow's Games and Scotland's Games and that they were muscling in. The same with the largely English commentators and presenters on TV. Were there no sports journalists at BBC Scotland that could have been given the gig?
- And finally, Gordon Matheson. What an embarrassing buffoon that man is!
I feared before had we'd get a bit of a showing up, but in the end Glasgow looked great, the crowds were great and we all had a great time. The Commonwealth itself is an outdated anachronism but the odd mix of sports and athletes taking part meant the Games had the pleasant feel of an event somewhere halfway between an Olympics and a school sports day. I mean that as a good thing.