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‘I think the game was England v Italy but we were so far back I couldn’t see what was happening anyway’. Rod relives the Rome Olympics

February 11, 2011

(photo credit: The Ducks)

Rod is my godfather. I told him about biglop and he told me that he went to the 1960 Olympics in Rome (good photo’s here) when he was 14 with his school. He said he went to the Greco-Roman wrestling and saw a football match. I figured it was time to ask him some probing questions.

So Rod this is pretty random – how did you get you go to the Olympics in Rome?

The train we went out on had a number of school parties, including a girls’ school in a proper sleeping car with bunks – we just had to kip on the seats. Somebody must have thought it would make a nice trip for the teachers (probably the teachers themselves, who were no doubt reimbursed for their expenses) and we persuaded our parents to fork over the money. I think it was as simple as that.

It’s interesting that you saw a football match. As you may know the future of our Olympic stadium hinges on the viability of watching football in an arena with an athletics track beteween the seats and the pitch. Now it just so happens that Stadio Olympico – where you might well have watched this match – is one of the few Olympic stadiums that has managed to accommodate athletics and football – both Roma and Lazio still play there today. Who was playing the football match you saw and how was your viewing experience? How did it compare to other football or sport you had seen? This is crucial information – consider your answer carefully.

(Stadio Olympico Today: photo credit: befuddle)

Yes, I don’t know what all the fuss about the running track has been about, as I thought the new Wembley had been built with one, in case, er, the Olympics ever come to London. I also though the original idea was to disassemble the stadia and ship them off somewhere. I think the game was England v Italy but we were so far back I couldn’t see what was happening anyway (about 5 years later I realised I was short-sighted…) Can’t remember who won. It is the only football match I’ve ever been to. Come to think of it, the only sporting event I’ve ever attended, apart from a couple of point-to-points I’ve been taken to when staying with people for the weekend.

We all hope that when the Olympics is on here, there will be an epic party round these parts and that this will give young people who want to promote bands, djs and put on entertainment lots of opportunities. What was the party like in Rome?

This was 1960, so bands, DJs and whatnot were pretty much still in the future (we hadn’t had the Beatles yet). Also, we were pretty closely supervised – so we visited the Vatican and the catacombs but no discos (not sure there were any then).

Did you see the Olympic flame? What did it look like?

Can’t remember seeing the Olympic flame, though I guess it must have been blazing away somewhere (might not have shown up in the Roman sunlight during the day). We were there some time between the opening and closing ceremonies, so missed all the razzamatazz.

The organising committee of the London Olympics want the games to inspire a generation of young people to play sport – preferably athletics. Did Rome 1960 inspire you to play sport? If not sport did it inspire you to do anything else?

I have to say not really. One hears much about kids not doing sport at school these days and all the playing fields having been sold off. We did gym twice a week and an afternoon of team games (cricket or rugger) every week. We also went to a local swimming pool. The school had its own playing field a short walk away and there was a tennis court next to the playground. We had a cadet force with its own 0.22 range (shooting being an Olympic sport), so I guess we were already doing a fair bit of sport anyway. I think we fielded 3 or 4 cricket and rugger sides, as well as house matches. I spent the summers at school trying to bunk off cricket (a bunch of us were allowed to go for long runs round the playing field, so at least we got more exercise than playing cricket) but liked rugger in the winter. I think my athletics were limited to coming last in the 440 yards at about this time. If this sounds like I went to a public school, I didn’t. It was a day school in gritty New Cross.

You are an illustrator. Did you draw any pictures of Rome when you were there. Have you drawn any since? Do you still have them?

No, no and not applicable

You were 14. Did you meet any nice girls from other countries?

Unfortunately not. We didn’t even meet any nice (or otherwise) girls from England – they were even more closely supervised than we were. When we penetrated (if that’s the right word) the girls’ sleeping car we were intercepted straight away and sent packing.  We did wonder about the girls across the street but you can’t mention them.

Do you have any good stories not covered by the above?

None that you can mention.

Come on Rod, what was the highlight of your trip?

The first thing I always remember about the trip is the peaches in Italy. They were much larger and juicier than the ones we got in the UK and we ate loads of them. (Hamburgers hadn’t come to Europe yet.) We were in Italy last summer and people were selling peaches by the roadside. They were good but perhaps not quite as big as I remember them from 1960.

I suppose the real highlight was not being in England and seeing the scenery unroll outside the carriage window. I remember looking out while the train made its way over a narrow bridge, high up in the Alps. Breathtaking view and unlike anything I’d seen at home.
Incidentally, the trains were not the air-conditioned ones you get today. They were like the Hogwart’s Express you see in the Harry Potter films, with compartments off a corridor. There were eight seat in each compartment and you could open the windows and smell the countryside (or in order not to smell your companions). If you got fed up with sitting in your compartment, you could stand in the corridor and look out the other side of the train. Also a good place to meet the girls going up and down from the refreshment car…

Finally: what’s special about the Olympics, Rod?

Lots of people get very worked up about them and the BBC assumes everyone wants to know all the latest results. I am not one of those who does and maybe we will go away while the Olympics are on. To be honest, I sometimes think Olympic athletes are a bit self-indulgent, spending all their time trying to win a medal every four years. I also support the idea of holding them in the same place (not London) instead of moving them around the world every time. Maybe the UAE would be a good spot. The Emirates are knocking themselves out building airports, hotels and shopping malls, plus they are mainly desert so there’d be room for lots of stadia. Also the weather is very hot, so athletes would have to spend a lot of time there getting acclimatized. Maybe Abu Dhabi could have the Olympics…

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