The madness is underway. The biggest show on earth, the one we have been told repeatedly over the past seven years is going to alter our lives for the better, is ready to launch. Here's hoping it's as good as promised. It had better be, given we all paid for it.
And, with characteristic self-aggrandisement, it is football that gets it all underway. The Olympics competition kicks off in Cardiff this afternoon with the GB women's team playing New Zealand in front of an anticipated crowd of tens of giddily excited enthusiasts. I saw as many as three New Zealand fans at London's Paddington station this morning about to board a westbound train, which I guess signals the start of Olympic fever.
Tomorrow there will be slightly more assembled at Old Trafford as the GB men take on Senegal. It will be an interesting watch. No one is sure how the country will respond to the GB team. What to chant, for a start, is a difficult question. This is a team that is an invention, concocted for our home Games. They're not England, or Scotland, or Wales or Northern Ireland, so no one will have the emotional investment in their success. At Old Trafford, the home of sitting back and waiting to be entertained, it is unlikely there will be the most bubbling of atmospheres. This is a game that has yet to convince it really matters.
The coach Stuart Pearce claims if his side make it to the knockout stages then "you won't be able to get a ticket for love nor money," which may be true. Though Gareth Bale probably tells us all we need to know about where this competition stands in the priorities of modern football. After pulling out of the tournament with an injury sustained on a pre-season jog, the Welshman was playing for Spurs last night in a friendly before the first Olympic ball has been kicked in anger. So much for the threat of long-term damage.
Still, for most of us there will be intriguing curiosities that will bring us to the television screen, even if the absence of David Beckham will undoubtedly affect the live attendance. But actually Pearce's decision not to pick him can be seen as rather wise in retrospect. By choosing Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy as two of his senior players, Pearce played into the fact that — being Welsh — neither had ever attended an international finals before. Giggs has won everything in the game, but has appeared like a star-struck teenaged debutant when confronted with the realities of tournament football. As senior players, his and Bellamy's enthusiasm has set the tone for a squad who seem absolutely thrilled to be involved. For all his presentational skill, Beckham, a veteran of many a tournament with England, could never have faked such passion.
Whether it all works out quite so swimmingly on the pitch is another matter. The football competition is different from every other discipline at the Games in that it is not the best practitioners in the world taking part. But there will be one member of the Team GB on whom a lot of attention is focused. Already, Brendan Rodgers has made it clear that he is anxious to bring Joe Allen to Anfield from Swansea. He worked with him there and knows the value he brings to any team keen on retaining possession.
Allen has much in his favour. He passes neatly, he doesn't give the ball away and he maintains an attacking tempo - three things that might not be immediately attributable to Jordan Henderson. Presumably starting in midfield with Aaron Ramsey, Giggs and Tom Cleverley, Allen will be surrounded by players for GB who are used to playing with the ball at their feet. He should be comfortable, content, at home. If some Liverpool fans worry that for Charlie Adam in 2011 read Joe Allen in 2012 — i.e. one excellent Premier League season with an unfancied side does not necessarily mean you are a Liverpool player — the Welshman has a great opportunity here to demonstrate he is indeed the real thing. Ready to demonstrate, in fact, that his old manager's faith in him is not misplaced.
And if Rodgers does trigger a release clause in his Swansea contract to bring Allen north, it will signal the start of an interesting change of direction he wants to bring to Liverpool. With Henderson and Adam looking likely to find themselves falling down the pecking order behind Allen and the freshly restored Joe Cole, and with Andy Carroll the subject of noises about his Anfield future which are not exactly encouraging, the recent purchasing regime at the club is being given the starkest critique.
Sir Alex Ferguson claimed this week that it was the Luis Suarez business that did for Kenny Dalglish's tenure. There may be some truth in that. Though the new manager's transfer activity might suggest that last year's spending spree is now not exactly viewed as an overwhelming triumph.