Posts Tagged ‘South Africa


world cup diary- the final and road trip

Spanish fans celebrate in Durban- but as every Englishman knows, it's the taking part that counts.

Spanish fans celebrate in Durban- but as every Englishman knows, it's the taking part that counts.

With the world cup finally over it’s with a heavy heart I post the last installment of my diary. As Oleta Adams once sang “just when I thought our chance had passed, you go and save the best for last” substitute the word ‘best’ for ‘daftest/dodgiest/stupidest’ and you’ll get the jist of my final week in South Africa.
In our infinite wisdom a couple of the lads I’m here with and I decided to get out of Johannesburg and do a bit of travelling, after all it’s not much of a trip to South Africa if you’ve not experienced such basic things as the seaside or seen any mountains.
We decided we’d watch the final on the beach in Durban then drvie down to Coffee Bay, as it was recommended as being a great place to visit.

For our journey we obviously needed a vehicle and due to budget restrictions weren’t going to be troubling the chaps at Avis or any other mainstream car rental company. We went with a mob called ‘Rent -A-Wreck, who could never be sued for false advertising as the car we rented from them was to put it politely an absolute sh*tbox. It was a Ford Laser, which I’d never even heard of before to be brutally honest, and would quite happily never hear of again.

Let's take a 2750 kilometer trip in this car- okay then.

Let's take a 2750 kilometer trip in this car- okay then.

We set off on saturday morning with me being designated driver due to being the only one who’d driven in the past three years, the decision was made pretty assured when my passengers proceeded to get p*ssed before there could be any form of deliberation, or talk of swapping over driving duties.
After an eight hour drive, we arrived in Durban where we stayed in one of the nicest hotels I’ve experienced for quite a while. The journey was helped at the end by the listening to the commentary of the 3rd place play off on radio 2000. The commentator is an absolute legend, putting even the pundits on SABC to shame.
My particular favourite was “Opportunity!!!! Forlaaaaaaaaaan!!!!!!!……………Nearly scores a goal.”
After we’d dropped our bags off and had a drink in the bar with the manager a Zimbabwean called ‘Innocent’ which is easily the best name I’ve come across in South Africa, we headed for a night out in Durban.
The night was fairly innocous to be honest as we were all knackered, after our long drive so we ended up sat on our balcony looking out onto the sea, putting the world to rights by about 2am.
The next day was obviously the final, which seemed almost unreal. After being here for nealry six weeks and experiencing the world cup first-hand it felt strange that in a few hours it would be all over.
After a disastrous walk up the beach, which ended up with the three of us turning round after two hours of trekking and walking almost all the way back as the tide was coming in and we were in danger of drowning, we managed to cadge a lift of some random bloke and his mates who took pity on us.

We got to the fan park in Durban about an hour before kick-off, and after chatting to some lads from England who’d booked their time out here for the latter stages months ago under the illusion that England would be involved, we made our way to the big screen. Unfortunately the fan park was full, but there was an overspill one about 2 minutes away so went headed there.

After some drama in the beer tent, where after a half hour of queueing the police turned up told the bar tenders to stop serving and close the bar, before changing their mind after ten minutes of near-rioting we went and found a spot to watch the final. We were situated nicely in front of the massive screen about 20 metres away and all happy with our decision to come and watch the final on the beach.
About twenty minutes into the game, I experienced one of the stangest moments of my trip when a woman came on the microphone and asked everyone to sit down, as I turned to my mates who were stood behind me, and laughed at her naivety, I couldn’t believe it when I turned back to face the screen and saw that everyone had complied with her ridiculous request.
After some debating between the three of us as whether to attempt to lead a mutiny and simply stand, we basically bottled it and sat down.
For the second half we stood nearer the back and after Spain eventually won were treated to a firework display and lots of Spanish singing and dancing.

I decided to get an early night as I knew I had a monster drive ahead of me the next day, so I left the lads to it and went back to the hotel.

The next morning we set off for Coffee Bay, in what turned out to be one of the worst, most harrowing driving experiences of my entire life. Driving along the Transkei part of South Africa in the daytime is difficult enough, with lots of winding roads, cliff edges, looney taxi drivers and random goats walking across the road, doing the journey once night fell was nearly impossible. I nearly killed us all at one point by trying to overtake a truck before realising we were on a bend- there are next to no lights anywhere- and another truck was coming towards us. Fortunately we all survived- just about- but that wasn’t the end of our misadventure. Due to a combination of a p*ssed up navigator and no real road signs, when we finally came to a place called Butterworth, we found out we’d missed our turn to Coffee Bay….by about 100 Kilometres!
The idea of turning back through the dodgy darkened winding roads and looking for the turning we’d already missed appealed to me about as much as a Manchester City museum tour, so we decided to formulate a plan B. Simon, my trusty navigator, had a coast to coast book, which showed we were only about 30 kilometres from a backpackers retreat called Buccanneers in a place called Chintsa.

Without any real discussion we headed there, and thankfully made it, in one piece, despite another incindent involving a sharp turn, where I almost went one better than the truck overtaking fiasco.
After all the trauma of the journey it turned out to be worth it, as the next day was one of the best I’ve had out here.

Chintsa- just like Urmston really

Chintsa- just like Urmston really

We met a few Americans there and after giving them a football, sorry soccer, lesson on the beach I then did the same back at the bar over a game of killer pool, where I finished the winner with three lives intact, take that you yankee b*stards, that’ll teach you to finish top of our group. I also managed to bump into a couple from Sale, which was mad considering we were in deepest South Africa- mind you, there’s no escaping people from Sale.

The journey home was much, much easier, apart from needing a jump start due to a flat battery, mainly because Simon decided he’d actually drive most of the way- no doubt his near-death experiences with me behind the wheel had convinced him.
We arrived back in Johannesburg around 9pm that night, after around 30 hours of driving, grateful to be alive- literally, yet sad that our World Cup journey was at an end.
Thanks to everyone in South Africa for making it such a wonderful time. “Mint.”


World Cup diary -England v Germany

The Lampard 'goal' was at the other end- yet I could still see it went in

As soon as the Germany Ghana game finished and it was obvious England would be playing the Germans in the next round, my friends and I made a decision, no matter what we’re going.

After spending a ridiculous amount on a ticket- 150 quid for a 35 pound ticket from some bloke on t’internet- and getting rid of a Argentina Mexico one that I already had, it was time to sort out transport.
Staying in Johannesburg, getting to Bloemfontein should have been a doddle, after all they’re both big cities. However after checking train times it became clear that both trains coaches and even flights were not going to get us there before kick-off.

Due to the fact none of us had a credit card, car-hire was also out of the question, so it was dodgy lift time. My mate Simon had the number of a Zimbabwean bloke called…..erm Zimbabwean geezer, who ran a taxi of sorts so we gave him a ring. After some bargaining that went on throughout Saturday over a series of phone calls we eventually settled on a price of 2000 rand which is about 200 quid. We had a train booked to take us back at 4am so we could stay in Bloemfontein and celebrate England defeating the krauts- or so we thought.

A light aircraft had made an emergency landing on the road to Bloemfontein

We set off at 7.30 am – miraculously Zimbabwean geezer was on time, luckily for me I managed to sleep throughout most of the journey. When we got to a petrol station to get some supplies we encountered a crowd of both England and Germany fans, we were almost there.

After a four and half hour drive we arrived in Bloemfontein and made our way to where all the fans were heading- it was a good four hours till Kick-off.

All the fans were congregated round a waterfront set of bars, and the England supporters were in full voice. There were inflatable spitfires , St George flags, even a few St. George body suits on display. Unlike other games I’ve attended there was a distinct lack of vuvuzelas- although there were the odd one or two.

Both sets of fans were in good spirits and the atmosphere was jovial and friendly- chants of Deutschland and In-ger-land could be heard everywhere interspersed with the occasional “you can stick your vuvuzelas up your *rse” and the odd actual vuvuzela.

As we made our way into the ground, walking through a shopping mall, there were several chants of “England till I die,” which I’ve always found slightly embarrassing for some reason. It reminds me of one of those no surrender to the IRA nonsensical chants that many England fans used to sing before the Good Friday agreement consigned it to the scrapheap- although I have heard the word IRA has been replaced by Taliban.
Maybe I’m just not as patriotic as some people but I’ve always found supporting England to be something of a paradox. Standing alongside people wearing everything from Arsenal to Liverpool to Chelsea to whatever tops sometimes feels a bit weird. As does cheering on a team led by that cheating “there you go Chelsea, you have the league title” badge –or camera- kissing donut Steve Gerrard. I do want England to succeed- obviously as I wouldn’t have spent almost the rest of my entire South Africa budget going to see them but if I’m honest, they’ll always be a fairly distant second to following Man U.

The waterfront at Bloemfontein was almost like being in England

That aside, the atmosphere in the stadium was electric and the old chestnut “England fans did us proud” was actually very true.

Just outside the ground I got chatting to a couple of lads from Oldham- Royton to be precise- who told me they’d got rid of their spare tickets for a measly 20 quid a few minutes earlier. Apparently despite the rumours that there were thousands of England fans travelling to Bloemfontein without tickets and that the game would be a sell-out and then some, there were lots of tickets available from touts or supporters just prior to kick-off for ridiculously low prices. It looks like, spending 150 quid each for ours was a bit of a fook up to say the least but we weren’t to know that.

The game itself was obviously disappointing from an England point of view. We were sat behind the goal where the Germans opened the scoring, when Upson put us back in the game we thought the comeback was on. For Lampard’s ‘goal’ even though we were down the other end we –along with every other person in the ground bar the ref and linesman thought it was a goal and celebrated as though it was. When we realised it hadn’t been given we were distraught, angry, bemused, devastated, all rolled into one. At half time a woman told me her friend had texted her and the ball was at least “two yards over the line”.
Great, yet again it seemed a decision against England- a bad one- was going to cost us our chance at a major tournament. When England came out for the second half we were all still pretty confident, but obviously it wasn’t to be.

The final nail in the coffin of my England world cup experience was seeing Emile Heskey come on in the last twenty minutes. I’ve never been a fan of the Villa forward and don’t buy into the whole ‘he brings the best out of Rooney’ nonsense that’s often spouted by so-called experts. Seeing him take the field to help us gain back a three-goal deficit was a joke. The man’s scored 3 times all season and yet somehow Capello thinks he’s the key to unlocking the German defence. To quote a distasteful Ivorian striker “It’s a fooking disgrace.”

After the game we headed to a bar/club as our train journey back to Jo’burg wasn’t until 4am. The shock of being knocked out and the manner of the defeat actually seemed to subside slightly and many England fans were in good voice and getting along well with the Germans- I was almost disappointed. Surely there must have been somebody rioting or burning Bloemfontein to the ground? But no we just got on with enjoying our night.

One of the few highlights of the journey back - picture Jon Devo

The train journey home was without a doubt one of the single most stressful journeys I have ever undertaken. The carriages were all full so we had to try and sleep in a corridor which was about minus 3 degrees. It was a nightmare. The journey lasted 9 hours?! But if felt like 24, although the last two hours were less harsh as seats were available and some all the ladies in our carriage began signing church songs and dancing, it was a truly magical experience watching all these ladies singing along, clapping and dancing in the aisles. I was tempted to start of a few Cantona chants but decided against it.

We were treated to two rather disconcerting things in the final hours of our trip, we saw a dead body from an accident on the side of the tracks- I say dead without meaning to sound melodramatic but the poor chap clearly was and then someone threw a rock through the window which narrowly missed my mate Jon’s head.

We finally arrived in Johannesburg a full 28 hours after we had left. England were out of the World Cup and no doubt the English newspapers would be blaming Capello, the referee and more than likely the linesman too. For our post-match analysis we went to a Nando’s and while the game may have been disappointing, the journey back a nightmare, the trip itself had actually been a good laugh. Now to find another team to get behind…….come on Ghana!


World Cup diary- six-a-side tournament in Jo’Burg

Showing the South Africans how not to do it

With a little football tournament called the world cup going on in most of south africa, I was well and truly in the kick-about mood. Thankfully I was sent to cover a story, well to sort of keep someone company who was covering a story, about a church organised six-a-side competition going on in Eldorado, Johannesburg.

As soon as the opportunity arose to join some unfortunate teams ranks, I grabbed it with both hands- now was the time to teach these Africans we Brits invented the ‘beautiful game’ and were still the masters of it.

The problem for me is that I’m pretty much bereft of any skill, pace, stamina, or genuine footballing ability, but what I lacked in talent I could make up for in bluster and important motivational shouts.

The tournament featured around ten adult teams plus many more kid’s teams- who took part in a separate competition- and was played on four separate pitches on a large field. The teams had an assortment of kits ranging from Celtic style green and white hoops, AC Milan style of black and red plus an assortment of greens not to mention the obligatory Bafana Bafana strip. My team were called ‘The West’ which considering some of the names on display- BBC1, BB2, Christ Like and even Crystal Magic- I was quite pleased with.

The team names were announced from a tannoy system in the corner of the field which also blared out house music while the games were played which gave it all a bit of a holiday feel.

Talking of holidays it’s worth mentioning that this tournament took place on a national holiday here in South Africa called Youth Day, to commemorate the anniversary of a dark day in the nation’s history when children were slain by police while protesting against the introduction of Afrikaans into the curriculum.

While that may have been a dark time, this day the sun was shining brightly and although, it wasn’t too hot- thank god- it was fairly warm. Almost perfect football weather.

My team lined up against a team called Ivory Coast in the first match and I decided to give myself the role of sweeper, which merely meant lingering at the back hoofing the ball clear any time it came near me.

While I was arguably at fault for the opposition’s first goal after failing to meet a pass whereby a player who by rights should be running in the Olympics, whipped past me and drove the ball through my keepers legs, it was not all bad news.

I had a hand in our equaliser by getting subbed for the scorer of it, and I also think my shouts of “let’s keep this champagne football flowing boys”, “put it in the mixer!” and “effort!” helped motivate the team.

In between the first and second games I spoke to Mikey one of the older lads on our team who explained that the church usually have an athletics day every year but changed it to football this time round due to the World Cup.

For the second game I managed to have a fairly innocuous time, other than a shot that went 15 yards wide and a sliding tackle that took place at least seven seconds too soon, I played my part in our two-nil victory.

Following a post match wors roll, I took in the some of the football on display. To be brutally honest it wasn’t of the highest calibre- hence a team containing a player like me could progress past the first round.

Me and the boys following our epic QF victory

I was shocked to hear our record of played 2 won 1 drawn 1 had been enough to see us through to the quarter-finals where we met a team of men who looked like they were auditioning for the part of Biggie Smalls in an upcoming film.

I was delighted when our coach told me to mark the largest of them, which meant I spent the whole of the game jogging slowly and occasionally making a clearance as we strolled-literally- to a one-nil win.

The refereeing in this game took a turn for the worse as the man in the middle ate a wors roll while he ref’d which meant he was not only reluctant to use his whistle due to it obstructing his eating but he also seemed pretty clueless to the rules of football.

Despite the ref’s incompetence the game was a fairly routine affair as the opposition tired quicker than you can say ‘Sky’s the Limit.’

We were now through to the semi’s, unfortunately I wouldn’t be participating- arguably like most Englishmen here in South Africa this summer- as I was told by the girl I was accompanying we had to get back to the office.

To be fair I was relieved- I’d gone out on a high, helping my team reach the dizzy heights of the semi-final of the Crystal Church youth day tournament with a performance I likened to Bobby Moore- in my own head.