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Not the triumph but the struggle

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 17:21 UK time, Friday, 17 August 2012

I have a confession to make. Though I have lived for over 18 years in London I've never been to a live football match.

I eagerly watch all of them on TV.

But then, all of a sudden, I had a dream ticket to the final of the Olympic football tournament - Brazil vs Mexico. One of the best teams in the world against one of the most aspirational teams. On top of that, one of the most talked-about rising stars of world football - Neymar - was in the Brazilian starting list.

Does it get any better than that?

Brazil's goalkeeper Gabriel fails to catch a shot by Mexico's forward Oribe Peralta at Wembley stadium

Mexico's forward Oribe Peralta opened the scoring at Wembley

So I was expecting a real feast - or rather 'fiesta' - of football. In anticipation of the match I recalled all my fondest memories of going to stadiums, which took me right back to my early childhood.

Lo, those ancient years when I was six or seven and used to march five to six kilometres in an excited crowd towards Tashkent's 'Pahtakor' stadium...

Lo, that feeling of a dream or fairy tale, when the emerald surface of the pitch suddenly appears in front of you as you enter the gigantic crater of the stadium, and a fresh breeze flutters the toy-like corner flags...

Lo, the music that solemnly reaches a crescendo as football players enter the pitch for the warm up, and then...

Then the match starts, and you forget yourself, becoming a part of that passionate and noisy organism, like a volcano, which at the moment of a goal erupts into the sky...

I put my best clothes on and left my house three hours before the match. In half an hour I was already at Wembley Park station and joined the colourful and joyful crowds of all-yellow Brazilians with some islands of evergreen Mexicans. Everything was preparing me for the Fiesta.

As part of that majestic flow I reached Gate K and after all the formalities was sent upstairs to find my place.

I didn't spend any time in the bar and cafe area, but decided to go straight to my seat.

As I entered the stadium that same feeling of the emerald pitch and the light breeze fluttering the toy-like corner flags filled my lungs...

It lasted an instant, because the next moment a steward approached me and asked for my ticket. I showed him and he smiled opaquely and said: "The very top!"

Yes, it was a place at the very top of the stadium, beneath one of the floodlights, under the roof, next to a concrete wall. It was the last seat in the row and next to me was the emptiness of the concrete floor.

I looked at the pitch; it was smaller than on my TV screen.

Somehow the feeling of the feast or rather 'fiesta' had disappeared.

I tried very hard to hype myself up to the occasion, thinking that when the stadium would be filled that feeling would return.

But alas, it didn't happen, either when the players appeared for the warm up, or when the dream game started.

Even when Mexico scored in the 38th second of the match and the stadium went berserk, I was trying to join the crowd, but looking at my single neighbour I noticed how confused he was and that made me even more confused.

In brief, I could hardly see what was happening on the field apart from the 'Olympic' mega-strategic view, I didn't feel that I was part of that 'organism', my fiesta was ruined and on the top of everything Brazil lost while Neymar didn't perform well at all...

Brazil's Neymar, sitting down at the end of the match, can only look on as Miguel Ponce, Hector Herrera and Jorge Enriquez celebrate winning gold

Brazil's Neymar, sitting down at the end of the match, can only look on as Miguel Ponce, Hector Herrera and Jorge Enriquez celebrate winning gold

But one positive thing did come out of the experience. Then and there I fully understood the meaning of the famous phrase by Pierre de Coubertin, who revived the modern Olympic Games: "The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle", which was later rephrased as: "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part."

Then and there I felt what the Olympic champions may feel in their airless heights as opposed to those of us who muddle along in the crowd.

Prior to that experience I was laughing at reports in the Turkmen press, when they were praising their athletes who broke personal bests, but not mentioning at all that that PB was only ranked as the 49th or 36th place among others.

But now I'm much more sympathetic to those athletes who were fighting not against others but against themselves.

Ultimately isn't that the greatest fight?

Yes, I say after de Coubertin, participation is more important than the loneliness of Olympian heights.

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