Hackney’s youngsters were last month amongst the first in the world to experience sporting events at the new Olympic Park in Stratford.
At the end of last month (23-27 November) inhabitants of Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham and Waltham Forest were exclusively invited to the London Handball Cup, a test event at the brand-new Handball Arena, which can seat up to 6,000 spectators.
In addition to the 700 tickets generally allotted to Hackney, children from 40 schools across the borough were in attendance during the week.
Significantly, this marked the first occasion on which members of the public were permitted to walk through the near-completed Stratford site.
The opening day of the test event (Wednesday 23 November), witnessed by the Hackney Citizen, saw the Great Britain women’s handball team dramatically defeat Angola 22-20.
Despite being a relatively unheard-of sport in this country, the arena was about a quarter full with spectators that included children from six Hackney primary schools.
Most will have come to the event with perhaps only a basic understanding of this Olympic sport, but, despite its pace, the game is easy to follow, especially with the help of a large scoreboard and loud commentator.
Each team, consisting of seven players on the court (and seven waiting to be called on from the bench), battles it out over the other over the course of a one hour match.
With Great Britain storming into a 3-0 lead in less than three minutes, it wasn’t difficult to establish how goals are gotten – players, who pass and bounce the ball between themselves, score by throwing the ball past the opposition goalkeeper.
In spite of their convincing start, Great Britain, pegged back time and again by a resilient Angolan side, were level 11-11 at half time, and later, with 50 minutes gone, found themselves 20-18 down to the 2011 African Games champions.
A penalty by Britt Goodwin and equaliser scored by Ewa Palies with six minutes to play set up a grandstand finish to the match, drawing an incredible atmosphere from the crowd.
In the final minutes, goalkeeping heroics by Jane Mayes and a winner scored by GB’s youngest player Nina Hegland in the 59th minute put the hosts in front before Goodwin, again from a penalty throw, guaranteed victory with just seconds to play.
In attendance amongst the crowd were Burbage Primary School students, who were thrilled with their fantastic opportunity.
Speaking on their behalf were 10-year-olds Derya, who described the day as “amazing!” and Isaac, who together are Burbage School’s Olympic Ambassadors, appointed in a scheme organised for primary schools by The Learning Trust. Isaac said: “I enjoyed myself and really enjoyed watching the countries playing.”
In charge of the Burbage fans was Elliott Anderson, who summed up the excitement of the day: “Once we came off the train in Stratford, we all felt the excitement of the Olympics and the guards stationed around the Westfield complex and the Olympic Park were so helpful in directing us to the Handball Arena.
The children really enjoyed the matches and the atmosphere associated with a competitive match.”