I can’t say that this was a lifelong dream fulfilled because I had never dreamed of attending a Rugby World Cup match. It just wasn’t on any radar in my life.
It all started with an email I received on Monday 28/09/2015, from Multiple Sclerosis Ireland, offering the winner of a competition 2 tickets to Ireland v Italy in the group stages of the Rugby World Cup in Olympic Park, London. The competition involved a question concerning none other than Brian O’Driscoll and his record number of World Cup tries (Keith Earls broke that record on Sunday). I replied with the relevant information and much to my surprise and incredulity I won. It was then that the mad scramble began in earnest; airline tickets, accommodation, an appropriate green jersey and most importantly someone to accompany me. Travel = Ryanair to Gatwick – sorted, Accommodation = Jurys Inn Croydon – sorted, Green Jersey = Lifestyle Sports – sorted, Elaine Sheehan = Travelling Companion – sorted.
Since this is a blog site mostly about accessibility let me say that all sections of our journey were accessible. Olympic park was constructed with accessibility a major consideration. The tube was accessible without help and the over ground railway was accessible with a bit of help but that help was always close by. Jurys Inn was also accessible but we didn’t have time to do a full look around.
Excitement had been building for a few days and when Sunday morning eventually crept over the horizon at last it was time to head to the Cork Airport for the first leg of our journey. I was like a child fidgeting with excitement – are we there yet, are we there yet? We landed in Gatwick Airport and transferred to a train to Croydon and on to our hotel. Back to the station to discover that the elevator to Platform 4 was not working. Momentary feeling of dismay. An alternative way down was via another elevator to Platform 1 then a push up a big ramp and back down the other side to Platform 4. Elaine was brilliant. On we went to London Bridge where we transferred to the Tube. We were seriously pleased that the elevator was operating. Wow it’s a long way down to the Tube platform. We carried on to Stratford Station where the pre-match excitement was really palpable. We were making our way to the exit when an English gentleman, a very perceptive gentleman, approached us and asked whether we were going to the match and if we were would we like a spin? There was a fleet of custom fitted mini buses operating between the station and the stadium which was operated by volunteers and it was free. We loaded up for the short trip to Olympic Park.
Arcelormittal Orbit 80 meters high
Unfortunately The Orbit had closed by the time we got there but I would have loved to get a ‘Bird’s Eye’ view from the top. A return visit has gone onto the bucket list.
The Fan-Zone was accessible albeit with a bit of hard work on the grass. The area was a mass of green jerseys and food and drink was plentiful. The atmosphere was building up and we watched some of the Argentina v Tonga match on a huge screen while we had a liquid and solid lunch. Then we headed for the stadium.
There were absolutely no accessibility issues getting into or around the stadium, as I said accessibility was a major consideration when the Olympic Park was being planned and built. Henry told me that there are over 300 wheelchair points and all have uninterrupted views of the pitch. Accessible toilets are in a number of locations around the stadium.
After the match was over, WE WON, we headed back to the shuttle buses for our return journey to Stratford Station and back to Croydon. The tube from Stratford was absolutely packed but Elaine managed to find a spot for us.
And so our truly memorable weekend was coming to an end. More food and drink in Jurys Inn but with the added company of Mairéad and Rowan. Monday morning we headed back to Gatwick Airport and then on home.