There was a lot of pessimism and negativity in the weeks, months and years prior to the World Cup. We’d never be ready in time. Criminals would take over. An earthquake would strike Cape Town and wipe out all the England fans (ok, that was just the Daily Mirror). And then, slowly but surely, hope began to creep in. The stadiums were completed, and looked fantastic. The Gautrain construction was perfectly on schedule. People began wearing their Bafana Bafana shirts on Fridays – men, women, young, old, black, white, coloured, Indian (united in ugliness, some have said. Really, that colour does nothing for anyone. But I digress). Mirror socks appeared, originally the result of Mini’s Six Colours to Stand By campaign (do yourself a favour and check out this video); and then flags, of varying sizes, on cars all around the country – and then on houses, in trees, and decorating office blocks. We got excited.
The national euphoria reached fever-pitch two days before the start of the World Cup. All over the nation people gathered at midday on Wednesday to blow their vuvuzelas, wave their flag, and generally let the gees rip. The epicentre of this madness was in the heart of Sandton, where the national team were set to parade around the block in open-top buses. According to radio station 702’s website, the roads would be closed from 11:45 am. In reality, though, the people filled the streets from 10am onwards, making it impossible for vehicles to get through anyway. They gathered in their thousands, nearly quadruple the amount of people that were originally expected. Wearing Bafana shirts, soccer ball hats, makarapas, and carrying flags, vuvuzelas and posters, they waited for their team to arrive.
Word had it that the coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, was dead-set against the parade, saying it would distract the players and it was more suited to a victorious team than to one likely to become the first host nation knocked out in the first round (I’m paraphrasing). But what he failed to understand was that the people needed it; they needed an outlet for all the gees building up inside. And the team needed to see it; they needed to personally witness that the entire nation was, quite literally, behind them. And it was fantastic.
Two moments that stand out most clearly: several young white people dancing with a whole group of black people, doing the whole chant-and-shuffle-around-in-a-circle-thing. Who cares that white men can’t dance! And two: the DJs outside Bafana’s hotel playing Fairytale by Liquideep followed by Loslappie (Kurt Darren) – and everyone in the crowd singing and dancing along to both songs with equal enthusiasm. Yeah, we’re awesome.
The Opening Ceremony and Match: Bafana vs Mexico
Our editor, bless him, gave the whole office the day off, so I had plenty of time to gees-up. I was too excited to stay in bed any longer, and anyway, the constant blasting of vuvuzelas outside kinda made it a little difficult. As I was about to leave for the fan fest, I hurried across the road to the pharmacy to buy earplugs. When the pharmacist, clad in a Bafana shirt, of course, stopped laughing, he told me that his supplier was bringing in more stock, but would only be there about 12pm. “All I can do for you is give you some cottonwool,” he said kindly, chuckling as he held the nearly-empty jar towards me.
The streets of Sandton were beyond packed. We ended up parking about half an hour’s walk from the Fan Fest, simply because the traffic was so bad, and once inside Innesfree park it took over half an hour to get anything to eat or drink, but in the end, none of this mattered. Standing there, wearing a bright yellow soccer shirt, surrounded by people of all ages and all races, all wearing the same shirts, all singing our lungs out in the same national anthem, is something I will never forget.
The fact that we scored the first, and arguably the best, goal in the tournament, was really just the cherry on top of a Proudly South African, gees-filled cake.
I Go to a Match
My dad, prudent and far-seeing as he is, had purchased tickets way before we even knew who was playing. Because you can only buy four per match, he ended up taking my sisters to Ghana vs Serbia at Loftus the one week, and my brother, my mom and I to Ghana vs Australia in Rustenburg the next. (You will note that this arrangement meant he got to go twice. Well, I suppose he was paying.)
The stadium itself is nothing to write home about, stuck in the middle of the bush with a dusty patch of open ground serving as the park n ride area. Our seats weren’t great (there’s an athletics track around the field so if you’re sitting on the sides, as we were, you feel very removed from the action) but the vibe – it was amazing. Philip was definitely there. (There is much debate as to who exactly Philip is. He was born when someone phoned into a local radio station to answer the question: what is the SABC’s slogan for the World Cup? She said “Pheeeeeleeeeeep eats here!” (The slogan is actually “Feel it, it is here.”) And that is how Philip came to be; a byword for World Cup gees, vibe, party spirit, whatever you want to call it. Typical South African, I like to think.)
I spent large amounts of time muttering bitterly about the Aussie fans, as you do, and engaging in some spirited banter with the South African to my right who was, absolutely unaccountably, supporting Australia. I should have called security and had him locked up. (I’m kidding. Mostly.) It was a great feeling to cheer along with all the Ghana fans, to shout and scream and blow my vuvuzela – although I got some very odd looks, my vuvu-technique being in need of some refinement at that stage.
In the interests of fairness I must relate this incident: as we were shuffling along in a great crowd of people towards the exit, a middle-aged Australian man reached over and clapped my brother on the shoulder (my brother was wearing a Ghana flag as a cape, as we all were). “Good game, mate,” he said kindly.
The buses back to the park n ride were chaotic to say the least, so we eventually gave up and started walking back. On the way there my mother spotted a taxi with a placard for our parking area in the windscreen. She waved it down and we all climbed in, followed by others who’d elected to walk. My dad, my brother and I climbed into the back; my fifty-year-old mother sat in the front seat next to the driver. She spent the ride back talking to him about his life, his music and his job, blowing her vuvuzela out of the open window in between.
I really, really wish I had a photo to insert here.
Immerse Yourself, She Said
Our beloved trainer took us off-diary for a whole week, which means we didn’t have to do any work, but went to movies, art galleries, and spent hours discussing various aspects of writing. But because she doesn’t come in on Thursdays, we arranged that day for us each to go off and do “field work” in anything we liked.
Hm, thought I. Wednesday night at home (my family lives in Pretoria) is Roast Chicken Night. If I arrange to do my field work in Pretoria, I can go home and eat roast chicken. (It’s been a while, ok.) So when we discussed our field work choices, I hinted vaguely at something in the Pretoria area, involving the World Cup and tourists, and so on, etc, etc… “You should go to a backpackers,” said my colleague helpfully. The trainer approved, so I agreed. Not a bad idea, I thought.
I picked a backpackers off the list the Colleague sent to me; mainly by default. There were only three on the list. One’s website didn’t work, and the other looked more like a guesthouse than a backpacker. I wanted real travellers: dirty, smelly, possibly stoners. Or not. I wasn’t fussy.
As a backup plan, I arranged to meet a friend at Tings n Times (a really cool reggae-themed bar with the most amazing food, if you’re interested). With great apprehension (I hate talking to people. Great attribute for a journalist, I know) I set off for the backpackers. The owner waved me around the corner to the back where I waited, feeling like an idiot, for a good ten minutes, although it felt like a lot longer. Eventually the other owner appeared, wanted to know who I was, then extremely unhelpfully informed me I should have been there the week before. Er, thanks for that. While we were talking two guys appeared; the owner introduced us, then promptly disappeared.
Well, “awkward” is not the word, but we got talking. One times Australian, in South Africa for the World Cup. Ditto one American. Later on two more backpackers appeared (brothers from the UK) and joined the conversation. Long story short: I ended up taking them all to Tings with me. Friend looks up as I walk in, mouth drops slightly. “I brought backpackers!” I stage whisper, feeling ridiculous and crazy and excited all at the same time.
We taught them to count to ten in Afrikaans, the waiter taught them to call Black Labels “Zamalek”, we introduced them to South African shooters, we talked about our worst jobs ever. (Everyone just laughed at mine. Waitressing was hard, ok!) Eventually, as you do, we ended up in Hatfield Square: Oxford’s (“This is nothing like an English pub!” declared the UK brothers) and then the awesome, the mighty, DropZone. I got home at half past three in the morning – and had three hours’ sleep before I had to wake up and drive through to Jo’burg for work. But you know what? I’d do it all over again in a flash. Best. World. Cup. Experience. Ever.
The Closing Ceremony
It was finally over. No one could believe it. Just as we were getting used to it, it got snatched away from us. But it did not go quietly into that good night: no, it went out with an awesome technicolour bang.
The opening ceremony was good. Simple, unassuming, gently inspiring. (Yeah, I’m just throwing out adjectives now.) But the closing ceremony was mind-blowing. Singing, dancing, awesome newspaper graphic on the stadium floor (how did they DO that?) – all combined to make us feel proud of what we’d done, what we’d accomplished, the way we made the world sit up and take notice of this far-off country on the tip of the African continent.
We show’d em, South Africa. We did it.