Summer Olympic Games

Aug 3, 2012 5:26 PM

Olympic Buzz Hits Soccer's Co-Host Cities

MANCHESTER, England (AP) - A typically chilly and rainy Manchester afternoon didn't stop a couple of hundred people from turning out to watch the Olympics on a huge TV screen set up in the main shopping district.

While London has seen plenty of pandemonium surrounding the games, the Olympic buzz has extended to cities such as Glasgow, Newcastle, Coventry and Cardiff.

Officials have done their utmost to showcase their cities and create atmosphere, putting up TV screens and Olympic banners in iconic areas so people feel part of the London Games. In Manchester, one large screen is set up in Exchange Square on the facade of the Corn Exchange, a building damaged in a huge 1996 IRA bombing that devastated the city's main commercial area for years.

Natalie Mudie, a 29-year-old teacher, doesn't believe being far removed from the main Olympic events makes residents feel disconnected from the games, especially since some of Britain's athletes hail from the region. She's noticed many people coming out on their lunch breaks to watch events in the square on several rows of long, semicircular stone slabs. Some huddled under umbrellas.

"It's nice having the big screens," she said Thursday as she watched women's judo. "It gets everyone involved."

Mudie, who is British but grew up in Flemington, N.J., before moving to Manchester seven years ago, also watched the British men's rowing team take bronze the previous day.

"It was a really good atmosphere at yesterday's rowing. People were cheering and shouting," she said. "We have a lot of northerners at the Olympics, so there's a lot of support."

Sitting a few rows in front of her, 75-year-old retiree Robert Bill, said "there's a little bit of a feeling of being disconnected from the Olympics, but out here there's a good atmosphere."

Bill said he normally watches the Olympics at home, but his wife wanted to come downtown to buy shoes, so he decided to watch on the big screen. A cheer went up from the crowd when the British woman won the judo match.

A stall selling official Olympic merchandise near the screen, however, didn't appear to be doing a brisk business. The kiosk's manager refused to comment when asked about sales.

The nearby National Football Museum, which opened in Manchester last month after moving from Preston, put up a large Olympic soccer icon on the front of the building. The museum appears to be benefiting from the hundreds of thousands of visitors who have come to watch matches at Old Trafford.

"We have only just opened so every day has been busy at the moment," museum marketing manager Philippa Duxbury told The Associated Press. "However, days when matches have been played do appear to have been particularly busy and we've definitely seen more international visitors in the museum, coinciding with the games at Old Trafford."

She said the museum is looking to expand its collection of Olympic soccer items to add to the 1912 gold medal won by Arthur Berry, who played for Britain.

"We've got an Olympic buzz," headlined a report in the Manchester Evening News, according to which 5,000 people had flocked to Exchange Square to watch the opening ceremony on the big screen. The Manchester Chamber of Commerce estimates 30 million pounds ($46.6 million) will be injected into the local economy because of the soccer matches.

Foreign fans also have flowed in to support their teams, adding to the buzz.

In Cardiff, hundreds of Brazilian fans took over St. Mary Street before the team's opening match against Egypt, dancing in the streets and bringing life to what normally would be a calm city center on a Thursday afternoon.

Traveling supporters from other countries, including the U.S., Spain, Morocco and Japan, have added color to the city - waving their countries' flags, blowing horns and wearing face paint.

Newcastle set up a screen right in front of Grey's Monument at the top of one of Britain's most scenic streets, and placed huge Olympic rings on the Tyne Bridge.

The co-host city farthest from London is Glasgow, about 640 kilometers (400 miles) north of the capital. There was less of a sense of Olympic fever there - especially since not a single player from Scotland was on Britain's football team. Nonetheless, a large screen was up in the heart of Merchant City, and Olympic rings were in the main George Square.

Fans from Japan, Sweden and South Korea have been among those who have flocked to Coventry to support their teams. Twelve games will be played there, including the women's bronze medal match on Aug. 9.

"There's definitely a buzz about the city," 21-year-old resident Kathryn Byrne said. "I am really excited. It's a great atmosphere in Coventry at the moment. People are really getting behind it. ... People who wouldn't usually go to something like this are heading down to the arena."

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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