Guest blog: The 2012 ticket-hunters whose help reduced athletes to tears

I’m away for two weeks so the Olympic links are on enforced hiatus. In my absence: guest blogs.

I’m delighted to welcome, as our first guest, John aka @volshy.

In the run-up to London 2012, John became a leading figure among a group – a cult, I’d verge on calling them – of Olympic ticket-hunters whose tale became more extraordinary by the week. Their work came to encompass far more than the simple act of buying tickets. Read on and enjoy.


London 2012 tickets
By John aka @volshy

Madness. It really was utter madness.

A bunch of strangers, desperately looking for London 2012 tickets, meet on Twitter. They search every possible avenue to find the tickets they want and then attend both Olympics and Paralympics. Becoming ticket-buying experts, they use their skills to help the friends and families of at least 25 athletes attend the Games; raise over £5,500 for Medecins Sans Frontiers; give away about 40 tickets to two youth charities; and help a young lad with leukaemia at Great Ormond Street Hospital go to the Danny Boyle’s brilliant opening ceremony.

How did this happen? Why?

For a start, we knew. We knew all along that London 2012 would be special and we had no time for the naysayers, the doom-mongers, the cynics. But that didn’t stop the whining, complaining and general misery for vast swathes of applicants in the Round 1 Ballot in 2011. We all know the story.

From my point of view, three out of 20 events from the ballot was about the average success rate. I was pleased of course. Pleased and thankful, yes, but also interested in the remote possibility of snagging more – if I could. If the opportunity arose, why not? Wouldn’t you?

Then it happened.

The Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times published articles highlighting the apparent ease with which men’s 100m final tickets could be bought from the IOC’s Authorised Ticket Resellers (ATRs) for Germany and Denmark. Find website, place tickets in basket, check out and you’re done.

Wait. WHAT? REALLY??

Yes, really. 100% legit as well, and all the information was there on the official ticketing info page at London2012.com!

A few old hands at this game told us to fill our boots, and filled they were. So began 13-14 months of … well, madness.

Around this time James Pearce, then the BBC’s sports news correspondent, seemed to be the only journalist who had any useful information regarding the ballot process and how it was progressing. Ah yes, @pearcesport, aka JP . Where would we be without him? We and thousands of others owe him a huge debt of gratitude for all the information he tweeted about various sales of tickets from ATRs across Europe. We’re proud to say we now consider him a friend.

June and July 2011 were a blur of phone calls to practically every ATR in the EU, frantic notes being taken and websites being researched.

Early July saw a huge breakthrough by Neil Douglas when he managed, after much wrangling, to persuade the Icelandic ATR (not EU but EEA) to sell Olympic tickets to EU residents. Successful for him and very helpful to us all, but as would so often be the case, frustration for many!

We were on our way and Neil put together his brilliant website – a veritable treasure trove of info about availability of Olympic tickets from the ATRs throughout the EU.

By mid-July 2011, an extreme herd mentality quickly established itself among us. Desperation? When you make an excuse to your wife to stop at a motorway service station, just so you can go to the gents to check your Twitter feed for a potential lead on tickets, you know things are bad. (That wasn’t me, I should add…)

It was the aftermath of the ridiculously convoluted and complex Slovakian ATR Olympic ticket application process that saw us all ‘bond’ via Twitter. It involved signing and scanning their PDF form and then either emailing or faxing it (or both!) at 11pm on 31-July. We had to chuckle at the image of people in their tents somewhere in France, desperate for a 3G signal on their phone, trying to email at midnight local time.

Out of the stress and humour of that evening was born the @2012Tweeps Twitter account, created by the mysterious Alex – @akersley. For months we all thought Alex was some angry adolescent teenage boy. Oh how wrong were we were!

Along with Alex, a group us of discussed the idea of trying to list the tickets we had bought between us so far . Within 24 hours, Neil – with Alex’s help – had put together the first version of The List, a website showing exactly which tickets we had bought and from where. Neil and Alex’s dedication went way beyond the call of duty.

The List. By the time London 2012 got under way, we had successfully persuaded 500 people to sign up and submit their ticket details to it. By the start of the Games, a total of 20,000 tickets, worth approximately £1.5m, had been registered. Did this help facilitate a few swaps among friends? I guess it did. It made many people very happy!

At this point you may be thinking, “these sad folk probably had a t-shirt”. And you’d be right.

Alex put her heart and soul into the project, came up with a great design with a friend and, with a little help from her Twitter friends, we managed to raise £5,513.76 for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). That total was also helped along with sales of our own ticket lanyards and pin badges which proved incredibly popular of course.

Tickets for athletes

It wasn’t just punters and #2012Tweeps using Twitter in the desperate search for London 2012 tickets. As soon as the ballot was over, it was clear that many athletes couldn’t get the tickets they wanted for family and friends.

Fast forward to late January 2012 and the German ATR had a huge sale. Come the day and Fliss Hill, fiancee of Team GB rower Zac Purchase, was having difficulty with the German website.

Lo and behold, several 2012Tweeps stepped in and dropped thousands of pounds worth of rowing tickets on their credit cards, buying them for her and Zac without any thought of how or when they’d be paid back.

This typified the generosity of spirit of the 2012Tweeps. Huge expense shelled out on tickets for people whom they’d never met, trusting that they’d be re-imbursed at some point. Needless to say, Fliss and Zac were quite happy with the outcome, as were we.

Valentine’s Day: Tuesday, 14 February 2012. A night of and for romance, yes? You’d think so, but not for your average, desperate, London 2012 ticket hunter. Oh, no.

At 6:45pm, just as most of us were starting our romantic evening, those checking their Twitter timeline saw a tweet that made them tremble, twitch, shake and probably produce a pathetic sound of some sort – and then run off somewhere quiet.

It was a huge, unannounced sale that happened to have Dai Greene’s athletics sessions available. Dai and Sian had no idea of course; they were on a motorway, probably moaning about Channel 4’s Dispatches programme on Olympic tickets! But after some frantic tweeting by Matt, Sian and Dai were ecstatic. Of course, Matt appeared on the BBC’s Six and Ten O’Clock News!

A Saturday afternoon in late April 2012 was another standout moment. We were able to help out (Lady) Cath Wiggins – yes, Wiggo’s wife – get tickets for the men’s time trial that Sir Brad so memorably won. Another unannounced sale by the Germans resulted in us sorting her out for all the tickets that she and a few other Team GB families needed. Cath sent me a quick message saying she’d had to pull into a lay-by and have a little cry, she was so happy. She came to thank us during one of the sessions in the velodrome and that was undoubtedly a highlight of mine. What a lovely lady!

Apart from Zac Purchase, Dai Greene and Cath, we managed to help out several athletes with tickets. A longer but not comprehensive list is below:

Rowing: Anna Watkins, Zac Purchase, Mark Hunter, Sophie Hosking, Andy Triggs-Hodge;
Athletics: Dai Greene, Chris Pozzi (brother of Andrew), Helen Jenkins (triathlon), Holly Bleasdale, Paul Hession (Ireland);
Cycling: Cath Wiggins, Geraint Thomas, Dani King, Adrian Trott (father of Laura), Lauren Bason (partner of Andrew Tennant);
Swimming: Missy Franklin’s mum, Rebecca Adlington, Fran Halsall, Kate Haywood, Craig Benson, Ellie Faulkner, Mauro Pavoni (father of Robert), Nick Thomas (USA);
Handball: Ciaran Williams and his team-mates;
– and a whole of load of Dutch athletes, helped by our fantastic 2012Tweeps from the Netherlands.

Operation Starlight and tickets for charity

Perhaps our most memorable and favourite moment in the ticket hunt came in early June 2012.

Instead of focusing on ourselves, our friends and family or athletes, we were presented with a rather special opportunity and a challenge.

One of the group, Richard Cooper, highlighted his support for the children’s charity Starlight (“Granting wishes to seriously and terminally ill children … throughout the UK”). They’d had a request from the family of a young lad called Charlie, battling leukaemia at Great Ormond Street Hospital, who had his heart set on going to the opening ceremony.

Starlight were willing to pay for good tickets but they had no idea how to get hold of them. Richard asked the group if we could help.

The 2012Tweeps took to the task with relish and, come 10:58am on 8 June, Operation Starlight swung into action. Fingers were ready to pounce on that website we all know and love. Logged in? Check. CAPTCHA screen passed? Check. The Death Star didn’t stand a chance against the massed ranks of X & Y-wing fighters approaching it…

The excitement and tension was palpable as upwards of 50-100 of us were glued to our screens, watching the posts as they were made every 5 seconds or so, waiting, watching, to see who might succeed in snagging the tickets. After a tense few minutes, one of the group confirmed that two Category B ZO001 tickets had been successfully bought. WOW!!! Result!

The monies were transferred within days, and Charlie and his mum had the night of their lives watching Danny Boyle’s masterpiece. To help a young lad like that was quite emotional for us all. Operation Starlight goes straight in at No.1 in our Hall of Fame of memorable moments.

Building on this theme, one of the group then suggested another initiative: “Tickets For Charities”. The idea was to give away to charity any tickets that we had spare.

The response was fantastic and two great charities, both with young people as their focus – Headliners and Off The Record – received about 40 tickets to 16 different Olympic sessions, taking in modern pentathlon, volleyball, archery, taekwondo, handball, BMX cycling, and football. This video of young Daniel attending volleyball at Earls Court put a lump in many of our throats.

Legacy

The biggest legacies coming out of the 2012Tweeps are enduring friendships, regular meet-ups and the creation of an army of expert ticket-hunters – for not just sport but pretty much anything!

The first meet-up took place as early as September 2011 for a tour around the as-yet-unfinished Olympic Park. Unsuprisingly, the 2012Tweeps are mostly British, with a high concentration in London and the south-east but with all parts of the UK represented; I’m from Merseyside. Reflecting the international nature of the Games, we have people in the US, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, and even Australia.

The trust and generosity shown between what were effectively strangers was something very special. People giving up their time and going to extraordinary lengths to buy tickets for people they’d never met but knowing somehow that they would get paid.

Looking back, I’ve estimated a total of 90 different sales of London 2012 tickets from various official sources, including LOCOG and European/US ATRs. That doesn’t include any non-EU ATRs, such as those for Australia or Africa.

For some background reading on the ticket hunt, I recommend you look at this great Olympic-themed blog.

I can’t continue without mentioning Conrad Readman. Conrad was a character, especially on Twitter which is how most of us knew him. He had an eye for the ladies and was always looking for a photo-op with anyone vaguely famous. On the evening of Monday, 6 August 2012, when many of us were attending a session of some sort at London 2012, we received the devastating news that Conrad had died the previous Friday, 3 August, at the velodrome during the track cycling finals.

It’s fitting that I’m finishing this blog on the first anniversary of his passing away. We were all utterly shocked and very saddened. Conrad, thank you for your big-hearted generosity and for making us smile. I dedicate this blog to his memory. R.I.P.

Obsession. Frustration. Exhilaration. Generosity. Trust. Exhaustion. Distraction. Stress. Neck and shoulder muscle ache. Headaches. Fulfilment. Altruism. Expense. Fun.

Glorious.

EPIC.

These are the just some of the words, feelings and qualities that come to mind when I look back now on quite a special period in my life, and that of many others, that resulted in the “2012Tweeps” being formed, and attending and taking part in the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games – a wonderful and momentous time for us all.

And I’ve only told you a fraction of the story.

Cheers,

John / @Volshy

PS Please pass this on to any Brazilians you may know! *waves hello*