Let’s put things into perspective. one game down, a draw thanks to a dreadful error by Robert Green and two games to play. Our World Cup campaign has got off to am averag start and now we must be focused not only on winning our next two games but scoring some goals. We all know this, but more to the point Mr Capello and his braves will be thinking of nothing else. Before the game I predicted a 1-1 draw and howls of derision from the tabloid press of ‘bring ’em home, we’re not good enough’. It turned out better than this, although from what I can see, our noble tabloid press can’t help but conform to type. We can forgive them that, after all they are desperate to sell their rags – they even have locals out here selling The Sun and The Mirror in the middle of the road as is their custom. It looks extraordinarily dangerous if you ask me.
I am sure we will line up differently against Algeria, whether Green gets picked again, I am not so sure. But I do think we will see a different formation. Rooney on his own with Gerrard behind, Lampard, Barry, Lennon, Joe Cole in midfield and a back four of Ashley Cole, John Terry and Glen Johnson. Only doubt outside of the goalie is whether we play Carragher or Upson or Dawson. Watching Upson all season, I would say my vote would be with Dawson, but I am sure Mr Capello would pick Carragher. So that’s the football speak out of the way, a good thing given that it is only a game, all be it the reason we are out here!
Keep calm, carry on.
Yesterday was one of the best days I have had at a football match since Japan 02. The atmosphere built up and up through the day. I have often said, when the England fans and players grow up, England FC may actually achieve something. Just think rugby fans and players, especially English ones. The chasm between England fans and players of the two sports is huge, but I do feel the football fans are at last getting the message. If you want to drink a gallon of beer, feel free, but do it with a smile on your face and do it with grace. Equally the environment can play a part. Yesterday, as with every day so far on this trip the locals are always smiling, always interested in meeting you, knowlegeable about football, friendly and welcoming. The American fans, in Rustenberg in their thousands, were loud, brash, patriotic and boisterous. But they were friendly and the banter was just banter and nothing else. Go back to say Italia 90 or even France 98 and things were so different. England away now is far more Barmy Army than a Mongol horde. As I said in Japan, it takes a bit of give and take on all sides and things get better. Segregation in the ground was thankfully non existent, that leads to tolerance and understanding. For those of you tired of hearing the Vuvuzelas on TV, don’t diss them. I can tell you the atmosphere they create is unique. Having them blown in your ear is a shock granted, but it is non offensive and actually quite funny. More power to the Vuvuzela, may you sound be heard throughout this World Cup.
Rustenberg was miles away from Johannesburg in every way. This was the Africa that you see on a David Dimbleby or Michael Palin documentary. Vast areas of deep red landscape, houses and shops built alongside the roads and little else. The poverty was inescapable and for those of you who have visited Africa, you will know what I mean. You do wonder when FIFA’s profiteering claw has left in just under a month, will there be a legacy? One that will actually make a difference to people’s lives? A decent as the Rustenberg stadium is, there is no visible sign of anything else. No hospital for instance, and If there is one, I bet it would be of a pretty low standard.
Having said all of this though, the afternoon in Rustenberg with Nat, Kirsty, Pilks, Dom, Chris and Simon will take a lot of beating.
The journey was a little tight, given we were 7 in a car built for 5, but at least we got banter heads in early. Dom decided that he would phone some hostelries to check availability. He spoke to Lucky Bar, Uncle Tom’s and Cecil’s Bar. Most of the recipients were clearly confused, but it amused Dom and passed the time.
We stopped by a park and ride place which was completely empty and decided to get closer to the ‘action’ which proved to ve a wise move. Along the way we saw the chap who had cycled here from England on his own, starting out in October. Hats off to him, that is some achievement.
Eventually we parked our charger in someone’s house for a small fee and then hitched a lift with the happiest bus driver known to man a short distance to JC’s bar. This was proper. Picture the scene. A place with a reed cum rushes roof, beams, thick concrete and mud walls and a long high counter which was the bar. Beer was unfeasibly cheap and round for 7 of us was about £10. When we stepped in, early doors, there were a few locals, some plastic chairs and a pleasant vibe. On a big screen in a darkened room was South Korea vs Greece, the picture a little on the fuzzy side but visible. I watched the second half whilst the others decided to take some sun in the car park entrance a lovely scene, only spoilt by a Millwall flag. Bless. South Korea looked a decent side and Greece looked like England at Euro 88. Hapless and hopeless. For the good of football let’s hope young Messi is not taken out by the Greek choppers. As one American wag in the bar quipped, ‘their football looked about as good as their economy’. Enough said.
A brief bit of sun, as some will know I am not keen on the sun, having been somewhat precocious as a child, I really do not need help with the ageing process, and back to the bar for the next match.
We managed to secure a nice spot by the empties and in front of the speakers for the Argentina vs Nigeria match. The bar was now heaving and I am sure that every drop of alcohol was sold out yesterday come 7pm. I quickly made friends with a lovely gentleman called Horace, smartly dressed in pinstripe trousers and leather jacket. Horace was from Mozambique, a neighbouring country, ravaged by civil war and economically worse off by a factor of ten than South Africa. Desperately poor then. Horace worked in the platinum mines, Rustenberg being famous for mining and worked as a winch operator. He spent all day 6 days a week underground and earned 3500 rand a month. That is about £350. Given that my experience of prices for petrol ( about 80p a litre) and groceries probably only 15-20% cheaper than the UK, you can get a feel of what sort of standard of living exists. Horace was well spoken, extremly polite, friendly and like everyone else, had a small as broad as the River Thames. He loved his football and spoke enthusiastically about a number of subjects uncluding music, travel and books. I did notice that he had a special relationship with the bar staff, and that was handy given the queue for the bar was out of the bar, and into the car park. A few beers from me for Horace and the barmaid, and we were sorted for the rest of the afternoon. Result.
We meandered off towards the stadium post Argentina’s victory against Nigeria and soaked up more of the atmosphere. Lo and behold along the way we bumped into Messrs Steve Eva, Alan Eva and Dave Mulhry all England away vets. They had spare tickets, an unusual occurrence in any tournament.
Entering the ground to the sound of the now ubiquitous Uwe Seelers, I noticed one thing missing. The sound and atmosphere was at fever pitch and all the fans were mixing and behaving like normal, mature people. The thing missing was the police. I could not see any. The checks on tickets entering the ground were carried out by polite Africans, always smiling and courteous. Was asked by one of the turnstile staff ‘Sir, would you mind drinking your beer up before entering the stadium’, I acquiesed without any hard feeling. The man even thanked me for doing so. We could all learn a thing or two about manners from these people. Lovely stuff.
In the ground we bumped into a couple of American fans who we met a few days earlier in the queue in Checkers. Chip and Dave, lovely geezers and into their football. Dave had done 4 World Cups, was in his fifties and vowed to me that he would attend every future tournament until the day he died. A man after my own heart. We discussed the fact that all the hoardings around the ground were occupied by England flags. I said that it was a reflection of our colonial DNA reflecting the need to mark our territory. This amused Dave. We bade them farewell, and I left them with ‘may the best team win’ to which Dave said ‘he just loved that British approach’.
And so to the match. The Eva boys and Dave turned out to be sitting a few seats away from us, amazing really. You all know what happened, but one thing worth sharing with you.
There was a lone young (like most of their supporters) Yank sitting a little behind us. He got a load of abuse, some of it pretty nasty from some of the idiots around him. Around us were some fellow old school England (no colours on the outside, only on the inside), a couple of Brummies, two Millwall and a couple of Scousers. 20 years ago these types would have been part of the few thousand in Naples. Without hesitation the Scousers called the Yank down and offered him a place amongst us. That was my highlight of the game. Have we changed? Yes we have to quote a famous American.
The journey home was pretty painless for me as I got to ride up front. We found our way back to the car via Minty’s Tuck Shop and 3 hours later we were back in Johannesburg and to bed. My thoughts go out to Robert Green. Don’t hang him out to dry, he doesn’t deserve it. If we have grown up, we will stop talking about 66, fate and all that claptrap. Back the players and the management team, we can progress through the group stages and get into the knockouts. Money on Green to save a penalty or two? If selected don’t bet against him. His record of penalty saves for the Hammers is simply amazing.