LONDON — A big part of the Olympic experience is the omnipresence of volunteers. London’s Games has them by the thousands, all wearing the same purple-and-red shirts and hats, and a good deal of them are tasked with the duty of telling media members where we can and (mostly) can’t go in every labyrinthine venue arrangement. I had snuck into some empty, off-limits sections of stands at Lord’s Cricket Ground around noon Friday, awestruck and in search of decent photo angles, when a volunteer came up a set of stairs and headed in my direction. I figured I was getting booted.
What he said, once he reached me, was, “Do you like cricket?” He was an older, British-Indian man, but his face was filled with child-like wonder. “Because if you do, you know this is hallowed ground.” Then he walked past me, right down to the edge of the pitch, and took out his camera. I wasn’t getting booted. This was his Fenway, his Wrigley — except Lord’s is nearly 100 years older than those two — and he was just trying to soak up some history. He had a credential that let him freely wander around the place, and he looked like he was having the best lunch break of his life.
I went to Lord’s superficially to see the last day of Olympic archery, but really because I’m an old-stadium junkie, and this was my last chance to set foot in the “Home of Cricket” during the London experience. Last summer around this time, Lord’s had just finished hosting the 2,000th international test match in cricket history, between England and India; this summer it was comandeered for a bow-and-arrow extravaganza. They covered up the ghastly modern press box with Olympic rings, put two sides of scaffold-seating on the pitch and created a makeshift-yet-grand archery arena in the middle:
Somehow they trusted the media enough to let us inhabit a deck of the Marylebone Cricket Club’s normally members-only pavilion, which dates back to 1889. (Naturally, the IOC controlled the pavilion’s famed Long Room; we just had the open-air level up top.)
In May of this year, the MCC, apparently concerned that attire in the pavilion was getting too casual — and showing too much flesh on the females, who weren’t allowed to join until 1999 — passed out this photo dress-code guide:
(Source: The Daily Telegraph)
The dress code was not in effect during the Olympics. This was unfortunate; I really would have liked to bring these knights to the pavilion and find out where they fell on the acceptable/unacceptable spectrum.
The best part of the day was not the archery, although with the help of big-screen scoreboards zooming in on the distant targets, it makes for an average spectator sport. Korea’s Oh Jin Hyek beat Japan’s Takaharu Furukawa in a rout to win gold, and no Americans (including No. 1-ranked Brady Ellison) even made it to the final day of competition.
The greatest part of the Lord’s experience was this band, playing just to the right of us atop the pavilion:
That’s the 36-member Band of the Royal Yeomanry, which calls itself “Britain’s senior volunteer Royal Armoured Corp regiment.” They are not a fixture at Lord’s; they were enlisted by the London organizers to play daily, pre-archery shows that set a proper mood as the crowd trickled in. “We were asked to play nostalgic music,” said the director, Major Roy Falshaw. “So basically mostly British [songs] and a few other ditties that we hoped the audience would enjoy — film scores like James Bond and Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Falshaw joined the British Army in 1973 as a junior musician and finished his regular service as the bandmaster of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards — including a tour in the first Iraq War, where his regiment’s duty was to help the U.S. cut off the top of Kuwait City and not allow the Iraqis to escape. “A bit hairy,” he said of the experience. “I don’t want to do it again.” He has been with the Yeomanry for the past 15 years.
In addition to the film scores — and in hopes of amusing the crowd — the band assembled a repertoire of archery-themed songs: The William Tell Overture, March of the Bowmen, and the themes from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and a long-running BBC radio program called The Archers. “I think we’re fully extended with all of our archery links now,” Falshaw said after they finished their final performance of the Olympics, to a smattering of applause.
From the balcony of the pavilion, he eyed up what will soon be converted back into the world’s most hallowed cricket ground. He and the band made a trip out on the grass earlier in the day to to pose for pictures. “This is mecca,” he said. “We had to get out on the pitch and stomp around a bit.”