When everyone put a shoulder to the wheel...

After 60 years playing, watching and writing about sports I find myself as keen as ever that these Games should succeed, writes Ted Corbett.

Seven years ago we thought Paris would win the bid for the 2012 Olympic Games and that made the announcement that London had been given the toughest job in sport all the more thrilling.

It seemed that all Britain was united behind the Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had exhibited his famous smile to good effect at the ceremony in Singapore, Lord Coe, gold medal star turned politician and David Beckham, the most easily recognised sportsman in the country, in their determination to make this the greatest of all Olympic Games.

We had plenty of time to achieve our goals and now, even though cracks have appeared and doubts have been raised, it looks as if we have met all our targets.

The truth is that we loved the idea of putting on another Olympic Games — our first since the post-war, economy and grey Games of 1948 — and, frankly, we have talked about little else since.

British workmen can be ornery, truculent and bloody-minded when the deal does not suit them, but on this occasion they set to with a will.

Stadia, race tracks, swimming pools and equestrian courses were so clearly going to be finished on time that no one questioned their progress. Athletes declared they wanted only to be fit by 2012 to have had a satisfactory life. Planners ditched everything else to be sure the 2012 — as it soon became known — not only was the best of British, but a new part of our long history.

Football clubs bid to buy the main stadium when it was still a bare, swampy patch of earth and the athletes’ flats will be turned into — much-needed — general housing.

We wanted to be ahead of schedule in a way Athens had never been before 2004, as efficient as Beijing in 2008 but — in particular — to wipe the ugly smirk from the face of the Australians whose much praised Games had been so near to perfection in 2000.

They had annoyed us by suggesting, as we notched one medal after another in Beijing, that we could only win gold, silver and bronze if we were sitting down. They sneered at our cycling, rowing and horse riding although at the same time they won precious little standing, sitting or rolling over.

This time, we thought, we would show them that not only could we win on the track but that our timetables would be strictly observed, our buildings would have a long life and remain beautiful and fit for purpose long after the Games ended.

In addition, in contrast to the general expectation, we wanted to prove we could — if not make a whopping profit — at least keep to budget and to schedule.

Until a month ago, it seemed Britain had triumphed. I suppose we should not have crowed so loudly, kept to our usual standards of modesty and let the rest of the world tell us how brilliantly we had succeeded.

Sadly, just when we thought everything in the garden was lovely, we found the weeds.

Someone in the security firm that was supposed to see the athletes, the spectators and the officials were safe in a land that has had more than its share of terrorism both home-grown and from overseas, had grossly miscalculated the numbers it could recruit and train. Control had to be enhanced by troops.

Some of those soldiers had just returned from Afghanistan, which has killed British soldiers for more than a century. That connection is always controversial and the idea of our men being forced to work — however much more congenial it might be than Helmand Province or Kabul — instead of relaxing after an arduous tour of duty, made many people very angry indeed.

The government which is going through the sort of unpopular phrase that all ruling parties find from time to time — it’s the economy, of course — was also clearly annoyed, particularly when the security firm declared it would demand every penny it was due under contract.

The summer had been our wettest in many years and now more problems sprang up. Within the first two days there was a row about public admission to Lord’s which had been taken over by the archery tournament, traffic ground to a halt in parts of London which was criss-crossed with special lanes for Olympic folk but which caused many a firm to declare a holiday until the Games were finished.

Still, we have an infinite capacity for laughing at ourselves and a greater ability — we call it the Blitz mentality from London’s Battle of Britain in the Second World War — for dealing with exceptional circumstances. So we had a giggle and got on with our lives.

We also think we are artistic, a wonderful product of our history and ready to prove that we are the greatest nation on earth even though that is no longer true.

To an extent that was shown by the opening night of the Games when thousands gathered at the Stadium in the East — poorer — End of London to show just what we could do.

To be fair, it was magnificent as rappers, rockers and Royalty played their part. Did it swing? Did it rock? Of course it did.

Danny Boyle, the producer and the imaginative mind behind the movie Slumdog Millionaire, gave us hour after hour — perhaps too many hours since by the end the Queen, bless her 86 years, looked by midnight as if a nice cup of cocoa and her bed was what she needed most — of superbly composed music, brilliantly acted sketches, drama and humour.

More than 25 million of us stayed the course, yawning and laughing, almost in sentimental tears as the music from the Beatles and the theme tune from Chariots of Fire took us from industrial Britain to the modern day and as the Queen was guided into a helicopter by Daniel Craig, the most modern James Bond and — apparently — parachuted into the Olympic Stadium.

Critics have questioned whether visitors from overseas would understand the British sense of humour, the detail of our history or some of the quirky ideas on display. A group of Conservative MPs protested against the emphasis on the National Health Service and it needed the firm hand of David Cameron, the Prime Minister, to have so many nurses included in the pageant.

Another took to Twitter to protest the “left wing” nature of the evening. I doubt if he will be re-elected, particularly as his own party has damned his words.

Those MPs thought the reference to the NHS gave too much credit to the Labour Party now in opposition. Who cares what politicians think? The fact that one of the biggest audiences in our TV history applauded it gave the idea credence.

Now for the sports. After 60 years playing, watching and writing about the subject I find myself as keen as ever that these Games should succeed.

I met an 18-year-old Seb — now Lord — Coe when gold medals and the administration of sport were not even a first idea in his young head and was impressed with his cool manner and his width of knowledge.

In those times his father went everywhere with him. Now he is his own man, as great a hero as the railway and bridge designer Isambard Kingdom Brunel who appeared as a linking theme in that marvellous tribute to Britain and the British.

Lord Coe says he wants to be a future head of the Olympic movement. If the Games are a success — and I see no reason to doubt it — he will deserve nothing less.