Like the Olympics, the Paralympic Games offers the watching world a chance to sample some sports not ordinarily consumed by your average fan. In the run-up to the 2012 Games, the sport of Goalball set the imagination running amongst spectators and was expected to be a cult fixture. The game - devised primarily for those with visual impairment - is simple yet alluring.
Teams of three guard large goal areas on a small pitch, and throw a weighted ball containing bells towards each other. Each player wears eyeshades (so levelling the field) and rely on sound to hear the ball approaching them. The aim is to score, or to stop depending what end you are at. Played at the Copper Box on the Olympic Park, the sport is similar to Handball from the Olympics but it is the finer nuances of the game which make it so engrossing.
My first encounter was a session on the Paralympics' opening weekend, catching some of the group games. It was there the intrigue was satisfied, prompting a further trip on Friday night to watch the men's finals. Where Goalball shifts the proverbial posts is on the matter of noise. The game has to be played in virtual silence so the players can hear the ball moving and play to the fullest of their potential. Any major disruption causes a halt in play. As such, this challenging demand on a eager crowd creates this fission of edge in stands.
Spectators watch on, pensive. Some are on the edge of their seats, others are quite possibly texting the person next to them their thoughts not because of boredom but that most human need to share. You want to will them to save the ball, or direct the ball in the right area. But you can't. Unlike other sports, your cheers and screams will not lift the players on the court. Which is why any break in play, or indeed a goal, is celebrated wildly.
On finals night, Turkey faced Lithuania to settle the bronze medal position while Finland took on Brazil for gold. The Finnish team are a fine outfit; I saw first hand their talents as they dispatched Great Britain in the group stages 7-3. That's the other thing with Goalball: the unpredictability. The finalists had faced each other eight days earlier, with the South Americans winning a tight match 6-5. Finland lost their next game 10-0 to Lithuania. And yet, it all comes down those intangibles in the game. Hearing at just the right moment, showing supreme physicality and being mentally strong.
Goalball is riveting stuff. And bite size too. It's easy to digest and follow, though impossible to predict where the goals will come from, let alone an eventual winner. On tonight's proceedings, the Finns relied on their familiarity of their own team structure and a large dose of good fortune, as goals as early in the first and second minutes set the gold standard agenda. The Brazilians had some rotten luck, but their inability to score was down in no small part to the Scandinavians looking like a team that has played together for some time.
As Turkey clocked a 4-1 win over the Lithuanians to win bronze, so Finland came out on top to win gold by beating the Brazilians 8-1. The score was a touch harsh on the men in yellow but early mistakes cost them very dear.
The finals night was the very last action the Copper Box will see in its current guise. With no more events scheduled for the Paralympics it soon undergo its legacy transformation as a multi-purpose venue. Goalball, as part of broader disability sport provisions - will be one of the fixtures at the amended venue which is important. The native instincts and skills of the competition would suit our domestic psyche; the British team were in the stands watching both games and were probably rueing a missed opportunity. The new venue will hopefully inspire a generation to build on those performances.
But again, that is Goalball. Form, reputation and country size does not matter a jot. Two teams will show up and give it their all. Goals will follow, but who scores and how? Who cares. We can all just sit on the edge of our seats and let these exceptional players make the noise we want to.