LONDON – The opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games will take place on July 27, but two days before, Olympic football is already kicking off.
While most of the Olympic events and activities will take place in the capital, football is being spread across six state-of-the-art stadiums in the United Kingdom starting July 25.
Men’s and women’s Olympic football will grace Hampden Park in Glasgow, St. James’ Park in Newcastle , Old Trafford in Manchester, The City of Coventry Stadium in Coventry, the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff and Wembley Stadium in London.
During a briefing at the London Media Center last July 23, five representatives spoke about their respective venues and what their cities have to offer in terms of tourism for the visiting fans and media.
Millenium Stadium, Cardiff
The Olympic football tournament will begin at the Welsh City of Cardiff, wherein Great Britain and New Zealand open up the proceedings in their Group E women’s preliminary match.
Millenium Stadium has a capacity of 74,500 and will host a total of 10 Olympic matches, finishing with the men’s bronze-medal decider on August 10.
Ed Townsend of Cardiff and Co said the city is “up for it” and that things have been transformed to fit the occasion.
“It’s an impressive stadium at the best of times, but now it looks totally different,” Townsend said. “It is full of Olympic branding instead of Welsh rugby branding.
“We love our rugby in Wales but we’re delighted to see the Olympic branding coming to the city as well. It’s a real coup for Cardiff,” he added.
The City of Coventry Stadium, Coventry
Situated in the center of England is Coventry, where 12 games will be played over the course of eight days. The City of Coventry Stadium will welcome national teams from South Africa, Mexico, Sweden and Gabon.
The stadium has the smallest capacity among the six venues with 32,500, but Tom Clift from the Coventry City Council believes it will not be an issue.
Clift said Coventry is used to hosting maor events, having hosted the UK School Games in 2007 and the British Transplant Games in 2009.
Coventry has also been awarded one of the 22 outdoor big screens, which will broadcast the 2012 Games. Coventry’s screen, also known as Live Site, is located at Millenium Place.
“It’s a warm, friendly, family place to watch the games and enjoy the city center,” said Clift, who is also the operations manager.
“We can’t wait. It’s a bit surreal. We’ve been looking forward to this for seven years. We’re ready and we can’t wait to give people a great welcome,” Clift added.
Old Trafford, Manchester
Olympic matches in Manchester will be played at Old Traffor, the home of football giant Manchester United FC.
Also known as the “Theater of Dreams,” Old Trafford holds 75,811 people and is the second largest stadium in England after Wembley.
It will feature nine games, with the first two kicking off on July 26. The first Group A men’s preliminary match is between the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, beginning at 5 p.m.
The following fixture at 8 p.m. witnesses the return of Great Britain, who have been absent from Olympic football for 52 years. They will take on Senegal.
Paul Simpson, the managing director of Visit Manchester, is confident the city has the facilities and resources to handle the influx of visitors.
“We’re used to hosting near to 76,000 people every other week for Manchester United,” he pointed out, adding that they also host 40,000 people at the Etihad Stadium for Manchester City.
“Manchester is a sporting city. We’ve hosted Commonwealth Games, Champions League finals and UEFA Cup finals, so in terms of security, it won’t be a problem,” Simpson added.
“It won’t be a huge issue for the Greater Manchester Police. They’ll take this one in their stride, I have no doubt.”
Simpson said he has felt the Olympic excitement building up.
“We’re going to see a vibrant kind of buzz about the city over the next few weeks. It’s just that association with the Games,” he said.
“I think it’s great the city of Manchester, and the people of the Northwest of England can actually be connected to it through football,” Simpson added.
St. James’ Park, Newcastle
In the northeast of England is St. James Park, the home of Newcastle United FC.
The stadium, also known as the Sports Direct Arena, seats near 53,000 people and is famous for the atmosphere created by its passionate fans.
St. James’ Park will host teams such as Brazil, France and Canada. Its opening fixture will be the mens’ Group B clash on July 26 between Mexico and the Korean Republic.
Hampden Park, Glasgow
The most northern venue to host Olympic football matches is Hampden Park in Glasgow.
The 52,000-seater is Scotland’s national stadium and used to hold crowds of over 150,000 before tightened regulations and seating rules came into play. The noise generated by the fans in the stadium has been dubbed the "Hampden Roar."
Moira Dyer of See Glasgow feels it is the ideal palce to host matches.
“Hampden is a really special stadium with a really unique atmosphere, and we think it’s a fitting location for some of the Olympic football,” she said.
“Glasgow is in the top 10 in the world’s sporting cities. We’re ranked ninth, and we’ll probably increase from there over the next few years,” Dyer added.
Glasgow will also be hosting the 2014 Commonweath Games.
World and European Champions Spain will open their Group D campaign against Japan at Hampden Park on July 26.
Wembley Stadium, London
Nine games will also be held at the Wembley Stadium, which is considered as the spiritual base of British football.
Steeped in history, Wembley is the home of England’s national football team and accommodates 90,000 people.
It hosts some of the country’s largest sporting events such as cup finals, as well as concerts.
Both the men’s and women’s finals will take place at Wembley, with the women’s gold medal place set for August 9, and the men’s gold medal match two days later on August 11.
Group A: Great Britain, Senegal, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay
Group B: Mexico, South Korea, Gabon, Switzerland
Group C: Brazil, Egypt, Belarus, New Zealand
Group D: Spain, Japan, Honduras, Morocco
Group E: Great Britain, New Zealand, Cameroon, Brazil
Group F: Japan, Canada, Sweden, South Africa
Group G: USA, France, Colombia, Korea DPR