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  • Black Country Translator

Birmingham 2022: A Brumming Brilliant Games

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

Around a year ago, the West Midlands ticket ballot opened for the Commonwealth Games — my home games. I hadn’t really followed the games before, thinking it was no more than a rip-off version of the Olympics, but I thought I may as well apply for tickets; I wouldn’t need to ask for time off as my own boss, plus I knew I would get to see some of the world’s greatest athletes on my doorstep. I wasn’t aware of the magnitude of the event at this point, but I was still disappointed to see that my application was largely unsuccessful, with only tickets for the rugby sevens finals and a preliminary boxing session to show for my efforts.

So, I thought I’d have another go in the next, nationwide ballot, which was more successful, but not as successful as I’d hoped; only tickets for the women’s beach volleyball semi-finals and the first group games of the women’s T20 cricket tournament were added to my account.

I had also applied for the mountain biking at Cannock Chase — a regular walking place of mine – hockey, athletics and swimming, but I told myself that it just wasn’t to be — at least I would still get to see a few events. I felt disappointed at first, but that disappointment soon went away; I said to myself: “It’s only the Commonwealths, at the end of the day. It’s not that much of a big deal.”

However, this indifference towards the games soon turned into pure excitement. I could sense that something special was going to happen in the city and the region as a whole. Half of Birmingham Library had already been converted into an interview site for prospective games volunteers; work had been stepped up on the Birmingham-Wolverhampton tramline; the famous Perry Barr flyover, where the A34 and A453 intersect, and which had seemingly been there since time immemorial – for as long as I can remember anyway – was being knocked down to make way for a modernised road junction; the Alexander Stadium was undergoing a major redevelopment; a new, state-of-the-art aquatics centre was being built up the road from my beloved Hawthorns…

A big fuss about nothing, as I had initially thought, was actually a big deal; real change was starting to be seen in the area, and the games were still around a year away. I therefore started looking into the venues that were going to be used and taking an interest in certain Commonwealth sports. But this was only a passing interest, because I was still largely focused on my specialist sports, both in my free time and as part of my work. So, despite the ongoing works and all these changes, I still hadn’t acknowledged the enormity of this upcoming event.

And that was still the case just a month before the games; Perry Barr and the area surrounding the Square Peg, one of three Whetherspoons in Birmingham City Centre, were a complete mess. In fact, so much so, that I felt the games must have been a joke to Birmingham City Council. There was no way that these works would be finished in time. Why hadn’t they got the ball rolling much sooner? What would the athletes think about competing in a large building site?

But I couldn’t have been any more wrong; as I set foot in the city for the opening day of the games on 29 July, with two sessions of T20 cricket to look forward to, Birmingham was immaculate. The city had never looked so clean and all these works were complete, and more importantly, highly impressive. All the excitement from the opening ceremony the night before, when an imposing mechanical bull forced almost everyone to flee the Alexander Stadium athletics field in a prolonged bout of rage, was certainly not short-lived or simply a cover-up for an underwhelming spectacle expected to cost £778 million in total, according to the BBC. It was actually a sign of things to come: the ten most enjoyable and unforgettable days imaginable for the people of Birmingham and the West Midlands as a whole. Well, that’s how I felt as a sports fanatic and Walsall native.

Day 1 and 2: T20 Cricket at Edgbaston

As many of you will already know, I am a cricket nut. I’ve always loved the game, but especially over recent years as I’ve started following Birmingham Bears and Birmingham Phoenix extremely closely. Edgbaston has slowly become my third home after my actual home and The Hawthorns, so there couldn’t possibly have been a more fitting way for me to start the games than at one of my favourite places watching two cricketing heavyweights: India and Australia. I also saw Barbados beat Pakistan on Day 1 despite the large number of wides accrued by the Caribbean nation’s bowling attack.

As there was quite a long gap between both games, I headed back into the city centre to see if I could spot any noticeable changes. To my surprise, there was a large festival site in Victoria Square, just a stone’s throw away from New Street Station, with a large screen showing BBC’s coverage of the games and many deck chairs for people to relax between events or to simply watch the live sporting action. I had never seen so many people in Birmingham – it was quite overwhelming, almost London-like at first – but as I continued walking towards Centenary Square to admire the bull used in the opening ceremony, even more people started to appear. What is usually a quiet transit point between Brindley Place and the city centre was overflowing with people of all nationalities, all of whom were scrambling to get into the games megastore – and believe me, it was mega – and marvel at the astonishing mechanical animal, which, surprisingly, is made mostly of foam. Trust me, I was as gobsmacked as you are when I heard about the bull’s construction on BBC Midlands Today several weeks ago; I would have put my house on it being made mostly, if not entirely, of metal.

Day 2 was also exciting, starting with an excellent game between South Africa and New Zealand at the home of Warwickshire C.C.C., followed by my first ever trip into Moseley for a nice spot of lunch, a place I’d highly recommend if you fancy a few drinks in a more upmarket area of the city. But that wasn’t the most enthralling part of the day; England vs Sri Lanka was still to come. Although Heather Knight was out injured, the girls were very commanding in their performance. Led superbly by Katherine Brunt, another stalwart of the England national team, the hosts restricted the visitors to 106-9 from their 20 overs, paving the way for a comfortable run chase. I also enjoyed watching Birmingham Bears star Izzy Wong and Birmingham Phoenix’s wicket keeper Amy Jones in action once again. There wasn’t a typical Edgbaston atmosphere for this game, but the home supporters were right behind the team and I have never seen so many England flags in the stadium, and I’ve watched quite a few England games there in the past.

Day 3: Boxing at the NEC; Rugby Sevens Finals at Coventry Arena:

As much as I enjoy watching a good fight, my experience of watching pay-per-view heavyweight bouts has often left me disillusioned with the sport in the past. Were the Commonwealth boxers going to back off and throw shadow punches as much as the pros? Was all the excitement going to be short-lived, as is usually the case with pay-per-view fights? All these thoughts were running through my head as I caught the train from Blake Street, a small station around five miles from my house on the edge of Sutton Coldfield, to the NEC. And before I forget, I ought to mention that all forms of public transport were free for games ticket holders.

However, as soon as the first fight started, I knew I was right to apply for boxing tickets. My cousin said that it would be good to watch, since many pro boxers make a name for themselves in the Commonwealth Games, and he wasn’t wrong. Every single bout in the men’s and women’s competitions, no matter the weight division, saw two excellent fighters go at it hammer and tongs. Some hard, decisive punches were landed in most bouts and the crowd in NEC Hall 4 really enjoyed themselves. My favourite memory from that day was seeing England’s Lewis Richardson beat Uganda’s Yusuf Nkobeza 4-1 – I have no idea what fight the one judge was watching – in the men’s middleweight round of 16, and my cousin and I even managed to catch a selfie with him on my way out of the arena.

But Day 3 was only going to get better. Despite being absolutely gutted that I missed the Women’s Euro Final, I had an incredible evening at Coventry Arena, sat in almost exactly the same seat as when I watched West Brom play Coventry there earlier in the year. As an avid follower of Welsh rugby – if you didn’t already know, I have a long line of relatives from Nantyglo, Gwent, including my grandfather – I was very disappointed that Wales failed to reach the final classification matches, but seeing England’s women beat Scotland 25-9 in the fifth place play-off certainly made up for that. I have no idea why, but I enjoy a victory over Scotland more than any other nation (sorry, Dan!). It was also great to watch Jamaica, Sri Lanka and Uganda – I had no idea that these nations played sevens – and the medal matches were highly entertaining. In the women’s tournament, New Zealand beat Canada 19-12 to win bronze, while Australia defeated Fiji 22-12 to get their hands on the gold medal. Meanwhile, in the men’s tournament, New Zealand beat Australia 26-12 in the bronze medal match, while South Africa hammered Fiji 31-7 in the gold medal match. I must also add that I bought the official games rugby ball to add to my ever-growing collection of football and rugby balls, which will soon be on display in my new office.

Day 4 and 5: Back to Work

Day 6: Weightlifting at the NEC:

I wasn’t supposed to be attending any other events until Day 7, but I had the bug by now. I’d watched the 3x3 basketball, a bit of hockey and quite a bit of weightlifting over the two previous nights on TV and I was chomping at the bit to be back in Birmingham to do it all over again, so I decided to buy a ticket for the weightlifting.

I was slightly apprehensive during my journey to the NEC, fearing that the short intervals between lifts would be as dull and eventless are they were on TV the night before, but I was quickly proven wrong once again. In fact, the lifts were only a minor aspect of the spectacle in my opinion, because I was totally gripped by the tactical game of chess in which all the coaches and athletes were engaged, constantly upping the declared weight for their next lift in an attempt to push their opponents’ seemingly beyond their capabilities.

In spite of the fervent support of the raucous home crowd for England’s Gordon Shaw, he just couldn’t compete with the three medal winners, especially Pakistan’s Muhammad Nooh Dastgir Butt, who outlifted the rest of the field during every single one of this attempts, with his best being the 232 Kg lift in the clean and jerk — he didn’t even need his sixth attempt, with his gold medal already secure after the fifth.

Day 7: Boxing at the NEC; Rhythmic Gymnastics at the NIA:

I was back at the National Exhibition Centre the following morning for my second boxing session of the games, this time with my mom. This session was equally as good to watch as the first, but I was delighted to finally see a Welsh athlete in action: Ioan Croft in the men’s welterweight quarter-final. The Welshman was totally dominant, defeating Malawi’s Luwis Zakeyu Mbewe Maw in just the second round, when the referee had no choice but to stop the contest. There were also two victories for team England in that session, with Gemma Paige Richardson and Lewis Williams both qualifying for the semi-finals in their respective weight divisions.

But Day 7 still had far more in stall, with a bit of rhythmic gymnastics for me to enjoy. Now, I have to honest and say that gymnastics wasn’t on my radar before the games. In fact, I’d never really watched it before, so my mom had to persuade me to go. As the artistic gymnastics sessions had already finished, we decided to watch the rhythmic gymnastics teams finals at the NIA – another late games tickets purchase – and I was truly memorised by the sheer brilliance of the athletes, especially with the ribbon (how do they not get tangled in it more often?) and the ball (David De Gea should take a few lessons from their catching ability). Unfortunately, England performed all their routines earlier in the day, but I still had team Wales to cheer on. Backed by a huge Welsh contingent in the classic red, yellow and green bucket hats, Gemma Natasha Frizelle, Elizabeth Petrova Popova and Lauryn Jade Carpenter all put stunning performances for the Land of My Fathers with all four apparatus: hoop, ball, clubs and ribbon. But unfortunately, they didn’t quite do enough to secure a Welsh medal. I still don’t know how at least one of Malaysia or Cyprus didn’t make the podium, but it would ultimately be England who won bronze – finally, a medal in an event I’d watched for one of my two nations – Australia who took home the silver – at least it wasn’t another Aussie gold – and Canada who claimed gold. Here’s my footage of the medal ceremony:

Day 8: Back to Work

Day 9: Athletics at the Alexander Stadium; Beach Volleyball at Smithfield:

Day 9 was supposed to start at the NEC for my third boxing session of the games, but a piece of great news came my way the day before; one of my cousins’ mates could no longer attend his athletics session on Day 9, so I had finally got my hands on the hottest ticket in town. I couldn’t get one in the ballots and I wasn’t prepared to pay the extortionate prices for the only tickets that were left just days before, so I was so lucky to discover that a free ticket had become available, which I grabbed with both hands. Having seen how impressive the Alexander Stadium looked during the opening ceremony and the earlier athletics sessions during the games, I just couldn’t wait to get there, especially as it sits on the Walsall-Birmingham border alongside my bus route into the city — a true local venue.

But the action was even better than the stadium itself. The women’s 10,000 m race walk final was disappointing from a personal point of view — the two Welsh athletes who had qualified were well behind the front three from the very first lap, and Australia’s Jemima Montag won gold – but it was a very enjoyable morning overall. If you’ve ever been to watch live athletics, you will know for well that it’s very difficult to focus on one particular event with so many going on at once, but I particularly enjoyed the men’s and women’s 4 x 100 m relay heats, the men’s hammer throw final – Nick Miller’s best of 76.43 on the day meant that I finally got to see an English or Welsh gold in person – and the men’s 1500 m final, which, surprisingly, was won by an Aussie (if you’re wondering why I seem so disappointed whenever I mention an Australian gold, it’s because I’m an English cricket fan. Australia was also the only nation capable of stopping England from topping the medal table, which happened to be the case in the end).

And yet there was still more fun to come on Day 9. My mom’s friend and my cousin met me after the boxing semi-finals in Victoria Square, where live reggae acts performed to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Jamaican independence, before we all headed to Smithfield for the women’s beach volleyball semi-finals. I didn’t get to see any of the beach volleyball action at Rio 2016, and since I used to play volleyball at school, this event was on my list for Birmingham 2022 as soon as I found out it was a Commonwealth sport. I had been looking forward to the beach volleyball all week, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The night’s action started with an incredibly hard-fought and thoroughly entertaining semi-final between Canada and New Zealand. After the Kiwis won a titanic battle in the first set 31-29, Canada reeled off two straight sets to book their place in the final. But before the other semi-final, a local urban dance group provided some excellent live entertainment, as well as the games volunteers. Earlier in the week, one of the beach volleyball volunteers hit the headlines for his flamboyant interpretation of Eddie Mercury’s moves in the official music video of Queen’s “I Want to Break Free” , so I was delighted to see a repeat performance during my beach volleyball session, but this time to David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”.

But as much as I enjoyed the interlude, it wasn’t as good as the second semi-final. Despite a spirited effort from Tuvalu, a small island with a population of just under 12,000, Australia won the game in straight sets to join Canada in the final. There was also enough time to for us to enjoy the Smithfield festival site afterwards.

Day 10: Hockey at the University of Birmingham; T20 Final at Edgbaston:

I felt deflated knowing it was my final day of the games, but I still had plenty of sporting action to enjoy. As part of my “getting the bug” phase earlier in the week, I also succumbed to the temptation of buying a ticket for the women’s hockey bronze medal match on Day 10.

India took the lead in the second quarter and looked as though they would see it through; New Zealand were struggling to create any meaningful opportunities and India looked very dangerous on the counter. But New Zealand started looking more potent as the final quarter went on and threw everyone forward in the final stages, taking off their goalkeeper for another outfielder — a gamble which paid off with just 15 seconds to go, when captain Olivia Merry dispatched a penalty stroke following an infringement in the area. The game therefore went to a shoot-out – a brilliant experience – but India soon regained their composure, converting two of their penalties to win the bronze medal and send the crowd wild. I also saw Canada beat Scotland 3-1 to claim fifth spot in the standings. It’s needless to say that I also enjoyed that game (sorry again, Dan!).

I then met my mom and her friend for lunch before heading to the Smithfield festival site for the final time – England’s 2-0 win over Australia in the women’s hockey gold medal match was on at the time – on my way Edgbaston for the T20 final. Convinced that England would make the final after three impressive wins in the group stage, I bought my ticket several days before. However, after narrowly losing to India the day before in the semi-final, it would be India and Australia who would contest the final. We even lost the bronze medal match to New Zealand, leaving skipper Katherine Brunt in tears.

Even though it was painful to see Australia claim cricket gold – a nightmare for any England fan – it was a great match for the neutral and the India faithful certainly made themselves heard, as they always do at Edgbaston. As many teams do in finals, Australia decided to bat first and put a score on the board, posting an impressive 161/8 in their 20 overs. India got the crucial early breakthrough of Australian wicket keeper Alyssa Healy, but fellow opener Beth Mooney stormed to an impressive 61 off 41 balls. Australia’s total was always going to be difficult to chase, even with the strong Indian contingent in the ground. India captain Harmanpreet Kaur recorded an excellent knock of 65 off 43 balls, but her team had just too big of a mountain to climb, eventually bowled out for 152 with three balls to spare. Yet another gold for Australia, and it had to be in the cricket, didn’t it?

Day 11: Back to Work and the Closing Ceremony (on TV):

Although I loved the opening ceremony, I was quite underwhelmed by the closing ceremony. Having said that, it was a moment for reflection on what was a once-in-a-lifetime experience: a major sporting event on my doorstep. It was also a rare opportunity for Birmingham and the West Midlands as a whole to showcase itself on an international stage, and I think we did an excellent job.

Throughout the games, the committee’s outstanding organisation skills and the best of the city were on show: a perfectly arranged schedule, great crowd control, excellent, free transport links for athletes and spectators, spotless, state-of-the-art venues, etc. And the very end of the games, the closing ceremony, was no different, with many local and regional artists on show: Beverly Knight (I wasn’t too keen on her choice of outfit, mind), UB40, Punjabi MC, Dexys Midnight Runners, Musical Youth and Ozzy Osbourne, among others. We mustn’t forget either that Birmingham’s own Duran Duran headlined the opening ceremony, which also featured comedians Joe Lycett and Lenny Henry, who expertly conveyed the fascinating idiosyncrasies of the Black Country dialect (Yow alroyt, bab?).

The games certainly showcased the best of the West Midlands, a region I love with all my heart, but which often receives its fair share of criticism. If you only see the area from the M6 or M5, I wouldn’t be surprised if you had a negative opinion of it — it looks dark and dingy and very industrial — but it has so much to offer, and one quote by a passer-by outside New Street Station early in the week, who said they were from down South, perfectly epitomises that: “The area gets a lot of bad rep, but I love it here — I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a fun city and there are some really nice places to go in the city centre.”

So, although I felt worried, apprehensive and concerned in the build up to the games, my overriding emotions in the aftermath of the Commonwealths are pride, happiness and joy. Birmingham 2022 was the best eleven days of my life and I am so grateful that the city applied to host this event and was backed by the British government.

Never before have I felt so proud to be from the West Midlands. Cheers, Brum

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