Philip Barker

Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) vice-patron Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex closed Birmingham 2022 after a Ceremony without ceremony at the Alexander Stadium.

In fact the very description "Ceremony" was probably a misnomer.

Closing party would probably have been nearer the mark.

"We finish strong" had been the message on the official programme.

"It gives us all a chance to reflect and celebrate," Prince Edward’s message said, as he described the Games as "a great celebration of the Commonwealth."

Queen Elizabeth II herself closed seven Commonwealth Games and often left the stadium with a joyous and informal escort of athletes running alongside a Land Rover in Christchurch 1974, the official car in 1982 and even a horse drawn landau in 1986.

The last time The Queen was present at the Closing Ceremony was in 2002 and it has been noticeable that in recent years that the Royal presence and attendant ceremonial has been greatly reduced.

Here there was no national anthem.

Prince Edward and other dignitaries arrived literally without fanfare.

Prince Edward closed the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images
Prince Edward closed the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images

Organisers had it seemed learned from Gold Coast 2018 where it seemed everyone had something to say and the Ceremony stalled as a result. 

Here we heard from John Crabtree, chairman of Birmingham 2022 and CGF President Dame Louise Martin. 

Sport Relief ambassador and star Para swimmer Ellie Simmonds also appeared to appeal to viewers to donate to an initiative designed to help those less fortunate.

There had been a similar initiative at Glasgow 2014, spearheaded by film producer Lord Puttnam in aid of the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

As the athletes entered the stadium, we saw a conga from the Welsh and others danced to the music which began with Keep on Running by the Spencer Davis Group.

Ellie SImmonds made an appeal on behalf of Sport Aid at the Closing Ceremony ©Getty Images
Ellie SImmonds made an appeal on behalf of Sport Aid at the Closing Ceremony ©Getty Images

It was all very different from 1962 when Dame Louise was competing in swimming.

CGF chairman Sir Arthur (later Lord) Porritt was outraged that they crowded onto the track and impeded the exit of Prince Philip and the Guard of Honour.

"It was a shambles," said Sir Arthur.

"I didn’t mind them coming in straggly but marching the wrong way and conducting the band was overdoing it,"’ Porritt fumed.

Dame Louise was not amongst the culprits as her Scottish teammates had taken a power nap at the Athletes Village and by the time they woke, the ceremony was already underway and it was too late for them to reach the stadium.

The teams are supposed to enter without distinction of nationality.

This follows a suggestion made by Chinese Australian boy John Ian Wing who had suggested the plan at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics as a way of symbolising peace and understanding in a troubled world.

The word together had been displayed on a giant tower which had taken shape in the middle of the arena as an "Engine Room of England" was built, after the Second World War which had seen the region devastated by bombing.

The similarities with a more contemporary conflict will not have been lost on anyone. 

Four years ago, many were critical of organisers for forcing the teams to enter before the television broadcast of the ceremony had begun.

Rarely has it been executed properly, a notable exception being Edinburgh in 1970 when the athletes were filmed skipping in and truly mixed up.

Vanessa Amorosi performed in the Victoria 2026 handover ceremony ©Getty Images
Vanessa Amorosi performed in the Victoria 2026 handover ceremony ©Getty Images

Perhaps when the Games return to Melbourne as part of the Victoria axis in 2026, they could give it a real go,

The welcome to the next hosts had been billed as a welcome to "a home away from home," and Indigenous welcome sequences were reminiscent of those seen in 2018.

The presentation ended with Vanessa Amorossi, which immediately transported you back to the start of the new millennium.

As Sydney 2000 came to an end, Amorossi, then only 19, sang "Absolutely Everybody," an appropriate anthem for any sporting event. 

Nor was this her first appearance at the Closing Ceremony of a Commonwealth Games in England.

At Manchester 2002, she had sung "Melbourne Girl," as rain fell during the Closing Ceremony as part of the handover to Melbourne 2006.

After grey skies in the week leading up to the Games, Birmingham had been blessed with glorious weather which at some points made it hotter than the Gold Coast had been.

The crowds were still flocking to see the Bull from the Opening Ceremony in its new place of honour, for now at least, in front of the city’s Central Library.

Fireworks crackled over the stadium after Black Sabbath had brought to an end an evening which had a distinct Birmingham soundtrack from the moment it began with Dexy’s Midnight Runners.

By glorious coincidence, they were top of the "charts" aka the Top 40 national rankings of pop music, based on record sales, exactly 40 years ago this week.

More a party than a ceremony then, and it does beg the question, whether the Closing Ceremony which has been steadily moving towards a rock concert for the athletes in recent years.

Ever since Lionel Ritchie sang "All Night Long" at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the Ceremonial has been underplayed not to say almost sidelined at most major Games including tonight.

The Closing Ceremony, or party did not go on all night this time, but there are probably many who will wish it had and Birmingham might never be quite the same again after this exhilarating fortnight.