My Olympic Odyssey (Part 2): Soul saved

By Jo Gunston

“Terry, Terry, I’m here on my own. Can I have a photo taken with you?”
The former England manager Terry Venables looked at me and grinned.
“Come here you nutter,” he said, both of us buzzing ahead of England’s quarter-final match against host side Portugal at Euro 2004.

My grounding in never giving up when it comes to sporting occasions started the year before London received the nod for the 2012 Olympic Games.

I was in Portugal for the two week duration of the tournament with tickets to two of England’s three group games.

I was staying on the south coast in Albufeira and spent most of the time sunbathing during the day, watching two games of football in the pub in the evening and hot footing it up north to the Estadio da Luz on a three-hour coach trip to make it to the England games.

My rather unusual solo holiday choice came about at a painful time in my life. My not recommended boyfriend-business partner combo had come to an end after nine years so I was currently without home, work or boyfriend. I was living with my folks, temping at a freelance greeting card company and was crushed.

So I turned to my go-to saviour – sport. Euro 2004 was coming up and I wanted to go.

I became a member of the England Fan Club, a prerequisite to get tickets, and persuaded my boss to let me take my lunch break at nine o’clock in the morning so that I could start trying for tickets as soon as the lines opened.

An hour later I had to get back to work having had no luck getting through. However, I placed my phone on the desk and kept pressing redial. I don’t really think they got their money’s worth out of me that today.

Early afternoon and I finally hear a voice. Scrambling for the phone I can’t believe I’m hearing an actual person. “Two tickets for the England games at Euro 2004, please,” I ask the nice lady.
“Sure,” she says. “Can you just give me the England fan numbers for both parties?”.

TicketsI hadn’t worked out who might come with me at that point, just thought I’d get two tickets. A split second decision was made. “Okay, just for one then, thanks.”

I was beyond excited and once I had the tickets in hand, there was no way I was not going to go just because I had no one to go with.

My dad says he’ll never forget dropping me off at the station to get the train to the airport for my flight to Portugal, his pale-faced, broken daughter clutching her tickets.

In the moments before England’s first game against France kicked off I called my dad. It was one of the best conversations I’ve ever had.

The anticipation of that first match plus my own personal turmoil and recognition of the guts it had taken for me to take myself out there, despite being at my lowest ebb, was extremely emotional, and for the first time in months, I felt happy. Best of all, my dad, who shared my passion for sport, could hear it too. (Although he possibly thought I was slightly unhinged when I showed him the video of when Michael Owen scored for England…).

Sport, yet again, had proved a salve for my soul and unearthing this never-give-up attitude would prove good grounding for my own personal Olympic trials.

03 Jo at Wembley Next post: An Olympic Odyssey: failure to prepare…

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