By Paul Eddison at the Alexander Stadium
As a feat of engineering, the giant 10-metre mechanical bull that dominated the opening ceremony of Birmingham 2022 will match any of the sporting exploits of the ten days that will follow.
Designed by more than 50 people over five months, the spectacular creature entered Alexander Stadium as a caged beast but by the end was dancing along to UB40 and the Spice Girls as the nations paraded around the arena.
The giant structure was pulled into the stadium by 50 chained women representing the chain-makers of the early 20th century from nearby Cradley Hall. In a cruel twist of fate, those women, who were responsible for making the chains used in the slave trade, lived a hell of their own, underpaid and overworked.
Their situation finally changed after a nine-week strike in 1910 led by Scottish suffragist Mary Macarthur from Glasgow.
The parallels with the present day, where many of those hoping to attend the Games have been forced to find alternative means of transport because of the ongoing RMT strikes, are as telling as they are pertinent.
That the bull was finally tamed with kindness rather than resistance says much of what Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight, the ceremony’s executive producer, makes of the current fractious political landscape.
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Ten years on from Danny Boyle’s iconic opening to London 2012, Knight was always going to struggle to match the feelgood spirit of that day. The world has changed, Britain more than most.
Instead, this was a celebration of the Second City of England, at times it had the feel of Tim Burton meets Oliver.
It was not without its flaws – one crash from a BMX stunt rider drew gasps from the crowd who were rewarded with a wave from the thankfully uninjured rider – but overall, it was a resounding success.
Considering its size, Birmingham often flies under the radar. Culture secretary Nadine Dorries even claimed that these Games could ‘put Birmingham on the map’, raising more than a few eyebrows.
This ceremony managed to hit the sweet spot between recognising the underappreciated delights of Europe’s youngest city without trying to oversell them.
This is one of Britain’s most diverse cities, both in population and cultural output. Adopted Brummie Malala, who recovered from being shot in the head by the Taliban at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital just six miles away, captured the imagination with a heartfelt speech.
Dudley’s finest Lenny Henry provided a level of a self-assurance that comes from a seasoned performer comfortable rousing the 30,000-strong crowd.
From a musical perspective there were nods to the birthplace of heavy metal with Black Sabbath co-founder Tony Iommi, followed by transitions from reggae to bhangra, ska to techno.
Birmingham has the reputation of a grim, industrial city that it has struggled to shake. Here, the decision was taken to reclaim that identity and celebrate it. The Union Jack made up of 72 red, white and blue cars was a captivating image, capped off by Prince Charles driving himself and the Duchess of Cornwall into the arena in an Aston Martin Volante.
This was not an evening to question where the Commonwealth Games fits in the modern sporting calendar.
If Birmingham can get anywhere near the success story of the Gold Coast four years ago, it will have pulled off a miracle.
Victoria Park in Leamington Spa is the spiritual home of lawn bowls, while Edgbaston is a venue worthy of welcoming cricket back to a major multi-sport Games for the first time in 24 years.
But neither provide the breath-taking backdrop of Coolangatta that hosted the beach volleyball in Australia.
Instead, Birmingham will have to work within the parameters of a city truly born out of the Industrial Revolution. While the shadow of Covid lingers, the buzz around the place is a reminder of the excitement that sport can provide, even in these difficult times.
For Scotland, powerlifter Micky Yule and badminton star Kirsty Gilmour carried the flag and led a strong contingent who will be keen to make history.
Para-cyclist Neil Fachie could do so as soon as Friday’s opening day of action. Lawn bowler Alex ‘Tattie’ Marshall will try to hold onto his status as the most decorated Scot in the history of the Games. By next weekend, Duncan Scott might have overtaken them both.
If any of them come close to the wonder of the Raging Bull, they will have pulled off their own miracle.
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