Glasgow does little to give Games focus away

02:19, Jul 24 2014
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Scotland's largest city Glasgow hosts the 20th edition of the Commonwealth Games.

The mean city's reputation spreads far and wide. Sage pre-departure advice was all the same.

"Off to Glasgow, eh? Watch your back."

Twenty-four hours into our stay for the 20th Commonwealth Games and it's surreal, verging on unnerving. Yes, a major sporting event is imminent, comprising 71 countries and 232 New Zealanders. 

The stadiums are long since complete; three of them Glasgow icons - Celtic Park, Hampden Park and Ibrox. The afterglow of London 2012 adds to the feel-good factor.

But it hardly grabs you, shakes you and slaps you in the face. Glasgow has turned its frown upside down, applied some lippy, cracked a smile but added: "take us as you see us". 

As noted in Times, the sometime knife capital has become the nice capital. But Games fever? A rip-roaring opening ceremony, headlined by Rod Stewart (who else?), can't arrive soon enough to finally spark things up.

On a quiet Sunday afternoon, the airport arrival was friendly and jarring at once. It seemed like the Games had snuck up swiftly as athletes and officials were herded into long, slow-moving queues and sleepwalked through two phases of immigration. It made Heathrow look like Westport Airport.

Cheery greetings abounded at both passport stampings, but a third border patrol man was having none of it and ran to give chase near the exit.

"Where did you come from," he bellowed, staring at the baggage sticker which told him exactly that.

NEEDING A SPARK: Gloomy Glasgow is hardly exuding Commonwealth Games fever just days out from the event.

"Why are you here," he hissed, a media pass clearly visible in my right hand. Welcome to Glasgow.

The contrasts continued. A group of young highland dancers entertained the airport masses, a bagpiper puffed away, then on exiting the doors two police officers strolled past, brandishing semi-automatics.

Security is being taken seriously, and it was comforting that three security personnel boarded the media bus to the athletes' village and another scanned the underside for suspicious devices.

The main press centre had plenty of empty seats on a Sunday, and 90 per cent of those occupied seemed to be by New Zealanders. Local organisers, bless them, staged a friendly welcome complete with whisky tasting.

Our hotel sits on the fringe of the central city, between two pubs with history. One, The Scotia, is billed as Glasgow's oldest and served its first pint in 1792. Across the road is the bleak and tragic sight of The Clutha, boarded up, where a police helicopter crashed in November, claiming eight lives.

Monday dawns and it's a lot brighter down Argyle Street Mall; huge colourful flowerpots line the street and the lunchtime buzz increases among the Glaswegians. Cabbies are grumpy at being excluded from dedicated bus lanes, but otherwise they're ecstatic. The weather's balmy and forecast to rise into heatwave territory, 26 degrees Celsius, for tomorrow's opening ceremony.

People swarm the street; buskers do their thing, one singing David Bowie, another Bob Dylan. Even an elderly woman playing an accordion seeks her fortune among the masses in Buchanan St.

This is the heart of a city with its share of grim surrounds. Labelled The Style Mile, high-end fashion stores and al fresco dining is everywhere. But there's still cuisine for the purist. The chip shop on Buchanan offers deep fried Mars bars for £2 (NZ$4) and, if you really want to go big, some fish, chips, melted cheese and curry sauce will set you back £6.40.

A few understated red-and-green banners stretching between buildings marked simply: Glasgow 2014, XX Commonwealth Games, give the game away.

Bright red Glasgow tour buses are packed full. Down in George Square, the merchandising superstore is busy, with Clyde the purple-haired Games mascot the centre of attention as children queue for photos. Glasgow 2014 caps will set you back £10, a T-shirt £18 and a hoodie £35.

Maybe the Games buzz is arriving just in time. Then the happy scene is jarred by a blue hatchback blaring its horn, the young driver roaring past another car and offering some advice at full volume out the window, complete with expletives.

Welcome to Glasgow. It's our Games, and we'll do it our way. Come along if you fancy.