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Guildford Can Be Proud of the Way It Welcomed The Olympic Torch

Published on: 20 Jul, 2012
Updated on: 23 Jul, 2012

A personal view by Martin Giles

I am not a crowds person. Normally where there is a crowd you will find me walking away, but yesterday I was part of the team to bring you news of a major event.

Guildford was welcoming the Olympic Flame and it did so in exemplary fashion. We at The Guildford Dragon News say hats off to all those involved in the organisation of the event.

Crowds gather in Bridge Street to welcome the Olympic Flame. Picture by David Rose.

Many at Guildford Borough Council were involved and hundreds from many other organisations and agencies too. They should all take a bow and know that they helped set up an event that was enjoyed by thousands and will provide many happy memories for future years.

Austin Playfoot, the perfect choice to light the cauldron

The idea of giving octogenarian Austin Playfoot the honour carrying the torch on its last leg in Guildford and  lighting the cauldron was entirely fitting. He was not a celebrity, he was not even a famous athlete. He was a simply a local man who loves athletics.

Austin’s important claim to fame was that he carried the flame when it last visited our town, at a time when perhaps the Olympic ideal was  purer than it is today with its seemingly inevitable commercialism that can be all too obvious.

One of the sponsor vehicles that preceded the torch – the face of obvious commercialism which was, thankfully, unable to take over

And the commercialism was ‘in your face’ obvious. Sponsors Coca Cola, Samsung and Lloyds TSB made sure of that. For some of us it might have seemed a shame, even a shock to discover that over half of the tickets for the event were distributed by the sponsors rather than the council whose allocation was snapped up within hours by keen local residents.

But putting any such reservations to one side it was impossible not to be impressed with the event, especially the atmosphere. There was real sense of goodwill and welcome towards the flame and what it represents: the coming together of people from every corner of our world to compete honourably with sportsmanship. Some might fail to maintain that ideal but the huge majority will live up to it and the games are something to look forward to.

A street entertainer works the crowd which happily responds

There was also a real infectious sense of fun and excitement among the crowds. Entertainers in the High Street had a symbiotic relationship with the crowd, happy to laugh and cheer at the same jokes over and over.

Deciding to carry out a spot of impromptu point duty the man and woman on stilts stopped police cars and motorcycles at a whim, even placing a parking ticket on one. One police motorcyclist went along with his hand out allowing the crowd to touch it as if he had just broken a world record and won a gold medal!

Not surprisingly, the High Street was packed with people hoping to catch a glimpse of the Olympic Flame. Picture by Fiona Giles.

When the torch arrived there was much spontaneous cheering but more than that a real, almost palpable, surge of goodwill. It really became a symbol that embodied the spirit of the games and the best hopes of all of us.

Guildford can be proud of what it did on Friday evening. The event attracted the attention of the national media who should have been impressed with the good organisation coupled with the wonderful reaction of the enthusiastic crowds.

Singling out individuals for mention is always risky. The list will never be complete. But some of those worthy of mention are: Cllr Terence Patrick who was determined while he was the Town Mayor to bring the event to the town. Cllr Jen Powell who was the lead councillor behind the event organisation.

The celebrations at Stoke Park continued into the evening. Picture by Fiona Giles.

Others behind the scenes were:

  • The many council officers and workers involved, especially those who worked so hard and successfully  to make Stoke Park presentable after the damage caused by all the rain that fell during GuilFest;
  • The entertainers and display organisers who kept the crowds entertained;
  • The GBC PR team who efficiently  kept the media supplied with up to the minute information in the lead up period;

Senior Marshall David Hodge and part of his team sighing with relief, mission successfully accomplished

  • The volunteer marshals led by David Hodges. Together with the police they struck exactly the right note working without officiousness but with a sense of humour and fun whilst watching out for everybody’s safety;
  • And finally, the council workers who were clearing up the High Street even before the last of the crowds had dispersed.

Even before the crowds had fully dispersed the street cleaners were at work

What do you think? Did you attend the event? What were your observations? Or did you stay away? If so why? Was it the crowds, the commercialism or something else? Is there someone else who should be thanked. Share your views by using the ‘Leave a Reply’ feature below.

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Responses to Guildford Can Be Proud of the Way It Welcomed The Olympic Torch

  1. Cllr Jen Powell

    July 23, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Needless-to-say I was delighted that the hard work, and well coordinated effort, put in by [Council Officer] Chris Mansfield and his team, came to fruition.
    It was a most exciting and successful day with the weather definitely making a huge difference.
    Now for the Road Cycle Race ……………….