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Head Over Wheels: Manchester City, The Paralympic World Cup & Larry David

May 30, 2011

It’s always a quite surreal experience outside a football stadium in the off-season. This particularly applies to the larger grounds, with their heavy use of club iconography in a vain attempt to indicate there is a soul in the “multiplex-style” arenas used in the higher level of the professional game. This much can be garnered from visiting the City of Manchester Stadium on such an occasion. I wasn’t there for such observations though. I found myself sat down next to the Summerbee Bar (closed as all was, save for 2 outside club shop displays and a “ticket enquires & queries” kiosk) killing time which was meant to have been done via a stadium tour but we’d apparently missed the last tour of the day. 25 minutes had been spent wandering around the area of the stadium, wondering what the place would be like on a matchday and whether players saw such a stadium merely as a standardised workplace, leaving the ground with Alice Cooper blaring out as they went on their holidays. Enough of the conjecture though and the reason why we were there in the first place was for wheelchair basketball, an intriguing sport served as part of the BT Paralympic World Cup.

It’s good to try different things and thanks to my father volunteering his services for the event, I was presented with the opportunity to watch a sporting event, an offer I’m never likely to turn down. The games we were to watch would be played in the Manchester Regional Arena. Our tickets were for session two (the two games from 17:00 onwards) but thanks to our earlier arrival and a generous steward, we were able to catch the majority of the second half of the last game of session one. The game involved Great Britain and Japan and it served for me as an introduction to the sport, its rules and regulations. I had a vague knowledge (largely manifested from what you’d expect of the sport of basketball albeit with the use of wheelchairs) but what I found was greatly surprising.

Basketball is usually a non-contact sport (much in the way, top-flight football is arguably heading towards) while wheelchair basketball is the opposite. Throughout the course of the evening, players would be knocked down, jolted via a hearty challenge, one over-zealous player reaching for a ball headed out-of-bounds drove through an advertisement hoarding and went head over wheels. The pace of the game is delightfully quick, game plans are as meticulous as you’d see in any sport and the players play with a professionalism that you’d see rather rarely in more popular sports. It’s not that I was not expecting this but the mixture of them all makes for a hugely enjoyable spectacle. Japan edged the game by a single point but with results later it wouldn’t be enough for Japan who would have to make do with a fight for the bronze medal. The following game, accruing knowledge of the sport as the event and I went along, was the last of the group games for the men with France taking on Brazil. Brazil came complete with oddball fan who attempted to rouse support for his nation via the medium of pantaloons, miniature umbrella, “Brasil” team jacket, facepaint, off-beat dancing (falling well into the Dad category) and his celebrating each time Brazil converted an opportunity. This was something they did frequently as they eased to a 75-55 victory. The game was good, faster than the women’s and to me, surprisingly cleaner (the foul ratio was low and looked more to do with mistakes than tactical play, unlike what was to follow).

The final game of the day saw Germany take on Canada in the last women’s’ group game before the next day’s medal games. The game was more a story of two halves as the first half was low-scoring (16-22 in favour of Canada) in part due to Canada’s game plan. It was evident that the Germans had more attacking ability but Canada’s determined defence kept the game score low giving themselves an opportunity of victory. The second half saw Germany’s more attacking play get the reward and edged ahead 28-27 at the end of the third quarter. All the attacking action was reserved for the final quarter as Canada had to attack to make a game of it. Their attacking abilities left a lot to be desired in contrast to their opponents and this was the telling feature of the game as Germany exploited the fragilities in Canada to their maximum, winning the match 52-37 and in the process setting up a final with Great Britain.

I encourage anybody to go and watch a game of wheelchair basketball. It’s a greatly underrated sport which deserves more of an audience. The audience for the games I saw was primarily schools and/or kids with their parents, which is of course good but particularly in the last game, kids’ attention was not on happenings on the court. I’ll illustrate my point via overheard comments in the last quarter of France v Brazil. Behind us were what turned out to be a girls’ dance troupe who performed at half time in the Germany v Canada game. One explained to the other the rules of the sport in which the other laughed and protested ignorance to what had been said. Then one screeched “Wow! Look! That man’s got no legs at all! That’s amazing”. I don’t blame the girls in any part in regards their ignorance. I just think that if the sport wants to progress in attention, it needs to do some things a little differently. Either way, I’m more than happy to refer to wheelchair basketball as one of my favourite sports. Give it a go, who knows you might just like it.

For more on the BT Paralympic World Cup, click here . For those wanting to know more about wheelchair basketball, visit the GBWBA website

• According to the wall of faces at the City of Manchester Stadium, Larry David is a Manchester City fan. See below for proof. I didn’t even know that Larry David was mildly interested in soccer. I wonder if he was a Manchester City supporter before the cash injection provided by Sheikh Mansour.

• Cee-Lo Green was much better when he was part of the Goodie Mob, a time when fame hadn’t reduced him to schmaltzy pap music.

• Some Manchester City fans may be living in the past. That or its some sort of ironic comment on the Swede’s allegiance.

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