That night I stayed over in London, and, after work again, I met Sam at Earl’s Court in the south west of London for a bout of men’s indoor volleyball. I’d been watching the beach volleyball on the TV, and the atmosphere had been incredible.
Before it all started we gathered around a TV screen inside the venue to watch Chris Hoy take gold in the velodrome, making good on Pendleton’s previous disqualification in the women’s team sprint. With the win, there were roars of support, and the sitting supporters waved their union jack flags emphatically.
To our seats, high up in the rafters, the cheapest £20 tickets, but still with a good view. The opening match would be a classic, monsters in the volleyball world, USA vs. Brazil. As we know, Brazilians know how to celebrate and cheer, and there was a raucous atmosphere as the game got underway.
Brazil narrowly took the first set 25-23, but lost out by a similar margin in the very tight second set, 27-25, despite having set point. We learnt about the stop-start sport as it progressed; the timeouts, the maximum number of touches, the dig and then the spike and the tactics. We strained to see when a point went one way or another, the subtle deflection or net touch hard to pick up without a TV and viewing from the stands. And in the breaks we watched the big screen bongo-cam, where the crowd pretended to play said instrument. It was loud, and every point was celebrated with a ten second snippet of “Got the power!”, or some other adrenaline pumping chorus.
After the second set the US took control, winning the next two sets in a row, 25-19, 25-17, to win the match 3-1. But the game itself was mammoth, going on a good 40 minutes longer than scheduled. The GBR (go team GB!) vs. ITA game was delayed starting, but soon got underway.
This was our only Team GB match, and as the 93rd seed versus the third best team in the world, we expected to lose. Still, we waved our flags, shouted and cheered for every single point. Half way through the first set we were holding our own, the red shirted guys combatting whatever the Italians threw at them, well, not throwing, that would be a foul. (See, we read the rules from Sam’s handy print-out). But Italy ended the victors, with a comprehensive 3-0 victory, 25-19, 25-16, 25-20.
Ashamedly we snuck out before the last point, avoiding the crowds and grabbing one of the last underground tubes to Turnpike Lane, where a friend put us up for the night. Two consecutive best-of-five-set volleyball matches is hard work, and we were shattered.