Monday June 14th June posted Friday 18th June (Andy’s blog)
We decided to head down to the Holland vs Denmark match at Soccer City, Soweto and see if we could get a couple of tickets from the touts. Dom, Nat, Simon, Pilks and Chris were going too, so we took two cars this time as Dom, Nat and Pills were headed off straight after the match, to Durban I think.
One unusual aspect of the Johannesburg skyline is the mine dumps which are scattered on each horizon. These are mini Table Mountains, but man made and are made from the waste slag from the mining process, gold mainly. Due to technological advances, these mine dumps are now being reprocessed for their gold deposits, so will eventually disappear. More on the gold issue later, as it seems to be one of the key issues for this country going forward.
We passed the Orlando Pirates’ stadium on the way, which is not owned by the football team, and is currently shared with the big local team, the Kaizer Chiefs (note the man who started the team hates it if Kaizer is spelt Kaiser!). The Chiefs, who produced Phil Masinga and Lucas Radebe who played for Leeds, are set to move back to Soccer City once the World Cup is over. There seems to be some controversy about whether that legacy will be fully utilised. Controversy about the legacies is another key feature of this tournament.
On a lighter note, we swung into Soweto proper by turning left at Snazzy’s car wash, next to Snazzy’s petrol station, adjacent to Snazzy’s
snack bar and Snazzy’s corner store. Looks like Snazzy was a big player in Soweto. Soweto is massive and we are told there are three million people living their. Famous amongst other things for the protest by students and school children in 1976 against being taught Afrikaans and their ensuing skirmishes with the police, Soweto became the symbol for black South Africa against the ruling white apartheid regime. Much has changed in the former township and houses are being built. However, as with much in this beautiful country, the whole project is very much work in progress and there is still plenty to do. Nike have built the superb the Soweto Soccer Training Centre as a legacy project and it was here we parked the car and took a bus into Soccer City. It turns out that a friend of mine, Steve McKevitt, led the design team back in the UK that designed all the graphic imagery used at the centre. Small world eh? Getting smaller I hope!
Conversation on the bus centred around poor old Robert Green again. Jokes being spun by a couple of the local lads who worked for Nike. ‘God save the Green’ and ‘Green’s computer had developed a virus and it can’t save anything’ tickled me in a quasi ironic way, but it was all well intentioned. Everyone out here is mad on football and so many of the lads know more about English football than most England fans. From Thomas the security guard at Dom’s who is a walking encyclopaedia of world football to the lads on the bus, to the boys who work in the hotels and bars, through to every taxi driver, football knowledge is both deep, accurate and ubiquitous.
We had a pleasant drive to the ground, arriving a full two and a half hours before kick off, to allow for ‘ticket acquistion’. Five minutes after parking I found a local lad and parted with 800 Rand ( about £80) for two tickets, which felt like a great deal given our England tickets for the first round have a face value of $140 USD, thank you FIFA.
The sun was out and very hot and the armosphere created by the Dutch all bedecked in orange along with the Danes was first class. The Vuvuzelas could be heard throughout and added to the good humour. What a pleasant experience, more so being neutrals and not having the stress of having to endure an England performance for once! Happy days. The stadium is impressive, like a slightly larger Wembley inside and pretty steep. We were surrounded by locals all who were full of smiles and laughter. The game passed without much really happening if I am honest. Holland’s subs did not warm up at half time, and good old Jubulani managed to fly through the air and bounce high at every opportunity, spoiling the game for the most part. So much so that it was only 15 minutes in before the crowd started a Mexican Wave which lasted a full five minutes. Even the goalies got bored with the ball and punted it to one another without any other player touching it. Holland looked solid all over the pitch and should progress to the second stage easily enough.
Getting out and back to the Nike centre was easy enough, unlike the previous time the stadium was used, when all the bus drivers went on strike over pay and conditions which happens a lot out here. I am never sure who is in the right, employer or employee, but it is happening all of the time. Everytime you ask the question as to why this is happening more than not, the answer comes back ‘this is Africa’.
The perfect footballing afternoon, a carnival atmosphere and totally relaxing. Only one blip really as we filed out of the ground we got talking with or rather talked at by a couple of old school white blokes. One of them asked me, ‘why do you think there are holes in the outside shell covering the stadium?’. When I replied,’ because it is part of the design and let’s light out at night’, I was told ‘no man, it is because the bloody Sowetans have stolen them’, followed by guffaws of laughter. Obviously I nearly laughed myself to death, given this boorish oaf’s hilarious gag, ignored him and walked off in the opposite way. Anyone laughing at their own jokes is somewhat suspect in my view, but to be openly dismissive was somewhat cliched. Still cliches are their for reason aren’t they? Let’s hope that these two were the only dinosaurs in the crowd of 83465 at Soccer City that day.
Home and hosed, we caught the Italy vs Paraguay match on TV later that evening over a few beers. The Italians were pleased to get a draw, looked a little toothless up front, but still looked a tough team to beat. The weather was appalling, rain litterally falling out of the sky, not boding well for our next stop Cape Town.