Sunday 28th June 2010 published Monday 29th June (Andy’s blog)

We woke up nice and early for the 7am departure and 500km drive from Johannesburg to Bloemfontein. Anticipation and excitement in equal measure, but personally I have seen all this before. This was Keith’s first big England game and Kirsty had seen us lose in the quarter finals (or the super sixteens as they are now being referred now in the ever more brand focused world we live in) to Portugal last time round.

Dom was on his usual ‘urgent’ form from the start, driving through the suburbs of Johannesburg like Colin McRae. The roads were empty, after all it was Sunday and 7am! Dom did come across one slower driver and hung on his shoulder until he wilted and pulled over. It should be said that Kirsty and I were in Nat’s car, whilst Dom drove Keith and Nat. The others were off to Durban from Bloemfontein first thing Monday to catch the 4pm kick off for the Holland vs Slovakia game, for them the World Cup is one big road trip!

The drive to Bloemfontein was superb another dead straight road passing through the countryside in a way the Romans would have been proud. Very little traffic and virtually no visible signs of life. No towns, villages and hamlets. Nothing but fields and trees, with the odd American West style windmills which I assume must be for irrigation.

We hit Bloemfontein shortly before 11am, and I got a call from my brother Richie wishing us luck! It was 20 years ago that I had nipped back after the Cameroon game in Naples to collect him and take him to the semi final in Turin, against the Germans. We soon found the B&B that we were staying in. Well the one that Dom, Keith and Nat were staying in. Ours was ‘just a few doors along’. Esther greeted us with a cup of tea and we were asked to wait as we would be shown our B&B ‘presently’. Her son and his daughter complete with her German kit, took us to where we were staying. We were greeted by a young woman and an older man, who seemed a tad on edge. The man asked to take a seat and offered us coffee as he would ‘have a chat with us just now’. Kirsty was her usual relaxed self chatting away with all and sundry, whereas I was a little more irrittated. I just wanted to dump our overnight bag, find the others and get down to where the action was. After more diversionary talk about some cheetah park we should take time to visit (this is big game day, but not that sort of game for god’s sake), the chap came clean and said that he had over booked and we were actually staying just around the corner. He admitted he had been asked to stall us and even offered to do us a little dance. This was starting to remind me of a scene in ‘The Missionary’ or ‘Ripping Yarns’ but decided I would go with the flow.

So Esther’s son and his young daughter jumped back in our car, we followed the other chap, who we subsequently found out was Russian, and we swung by and got Dom’ team to follow us. We only drove for 2 minutes before arriving at another house and being introduced to our third host of the day, Irene who looked like Nana Mouskouri. She was frantically trying to get ou room ready, which was basically an annexe off the garage. It was basic but it was ‘home’ for the night, and we would not be there long given that we would be out all night celebrating, wouldn’t we? Irene’s daughter was a younger carbon copy of Irene, complete down to the spectacles and tied back long black hair. Anway we bid our farewells and headed for the town centre, which was Loch Logan, an artificial lake with a shopping mall attached. Think Harlow or Camberley with a lake out front.

Half the mall was about four storeys high and half of it was still being built and there must have been some sort of accident with cement as their air was thick with dust. The England fans were there in their thousands, outnumbering their German counterparts by 5:1. The atmosphere was good humoured and everyone was having a good time. But boy was it crowded!

I broke away from the others to see if I could find Alan, Dave, Swiss Jimmy, Steve and Jack. I had spotted Al’s red top, red hat and rather sassy little black camera strap across his chest from across the lake. They had had a ball the night before, staying with ‘some hillbillies’ several kms from Bloemfontein. Steve mentioned that their host had brought out the brandy and Jimmy had polished off a bottle on his own and was lagging by 8.30pm. Dave had obviously had a good night also given that he had sacrificed his ‘England expects every man to do his duty and shave each and every day’ law. Having scolded Alan and Steve for non shaving on account of them looking ‘disgracefully scruffy’, his whiskers were even more notceable. I had got word that Ledley King may replace Upson. This met with universal outrage from the assembled West Ham contingent and even Al (a Spurs fan) was admitting that the thought of King playing a half would fill him with fear. Jack went so far as to say, ‘why break up Terry and Upson, they have never lost together’. Little did Jack know how wrong he would be. I told the boys of our complex plan to get flights and board in Cape Town once we won today. Kirsty had been on the case as usual and had agreed with Nat’s brother Rich to press ‘buy’ as soon as the final whistle had been blown and we were through. We even lined up a reserve credit card, just in case..

I met up with Kirsty and the others who were queuing up to get in to a place to eat. Loch Logan had never seen am invasion like this before and I doubt they will ever see it’s like again. Those bars and restauarants probably took a month’s takings in a day. Our fish and chips never did show up, instead we had to make do with some tramenzinies (little flat breaded toasted sandwiches), as the place had run dry of what I thought the waiter referred to as ‘eggs’. When I asked increduously ‘what has eggs got to do with fish and chips?’ I was told by Keith that the waiter had actually said ‘Hake not eggs’ this Afrikaans accent can play havoc with my hearing sometimes.

The football ground was literally directly behind the shopping centre. The Free State stadium was a pretty tired old structure – think The New Den on a sunny day. Spirits were still very high and I bumped into Robbie again, last scene atop Table Mountain. Robbie’s lot were heading up to Victoria Falls after the game, potentially meeting up with Steve’s lot.

The game started and within a couple of minutes I was in Kirsty’s ear telling her we looked sluggish and that Germany were ripping us to pieces in midfield. When we went two down I wa not surprised and feared a thrashing. Poor old Upson made the mistake for the first goal by Klose who I had said before a ball was kicked ‘would score’. He atoned for it to some degree with a header to bring us back to 2-1 and we actuallly got into the game. When Lampard’s goal was ruled out, we could see it crossed the line clear enough from where we were standing. These suspicions were confirmed by dozens of texts and Facebook postings moments later. At that point we were starting to boss the game and who knows what may have happened if the goal had been rightly awarded? I very much doubt we would have suffered our worst World Cup beating ever, and we may have lived to fight another day, maybe just one though. You need some luck in tournaments, and Germany just got theirs yesterday.

Anyway, forced to chase the game we were taken apart by a ruthlessly efficient and technically superior German team. There are lessons to be learned, but who knows whether the FA or indeed anyone charged with the well being of English football will be able to buck the Premier League market. More on that later.

The rest of the evening was predictably downbeat, I tried to meet up with Steve and the boys who were in 2nd Street where the action was. There was heavy police presence, but spirits were good and I saw no trouble. I think that this was more of a precautionary measure than anything else. Sadly, communication was chaotic and I never did find the boys which was a shame.

We ended up watching the Argentina vs Mexico in a restaurant and theorising on how things may change. My mood was somewhat blue but at least we were not subjected to the uber critcal English media and some of their bile. No doubt, those responsible for producing the News of The World which was everywhere that morning complete with pictures of Rooney, Gerrard and Terry with lions teeth, and headline masterpieces such as ‘Long to Wayne over us’ would be turning on the team like the girl in the Exorcist.

Much like like the English football team, Dom was so tired he fell asleep at the table, he has taken on this World Cup with the zeal of a Jesuit. For him Nat and Keith their odyssey continues!

We returned to our B&B before midnight, spirits low but not as low as in previous tournaments. The room was ready and there was a little double bar heater keeping the room, which did have an heir of my Nona’s bedroom about it, all old fashioned furniture and a whiff of moth balls. There was something familiar about this place and something familiar about the whole day really. I have plenty of theories about why this was a failure, if indeed it was, which I am currently writing up. If that goal had gone in. If – The story of England’s footballing history.


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