Notes from World Cup 2010 and South Africa

Originally posted with the nice people who presumably still run SoccerBlog.com, miraculously still up eight years later. Reposted here because i don’t want to lose it.

6/13/2010
hello there. my name is rob colonna from boston, massachusetts. i support the usa, new england revolution, and charlton athletic. in 2006, christian and shourin were kind enough to invite me to write about some of my adventures in germany, and after hearing that i was off to south africa, asked if i could do the same. hope it’s entertaining. (us/england match discussion is at the bottom, after some local color)
– i got up at 0600 on friday morning in boston and flew BOS-ATL-JNB, arriving at the latter at 1710 local (1100 the next day in boston). had an exit row on a 777, near the galley and bathroom, where people gathered to chat. there was enough room to practice charlie davies’ stanky leg dance over the fifteen-plus hour flight, and talk strategy with other people who would also be landing with three hours to get to rustenberg.
– the typically modern, glass-and-steel airport was filled with the periodic blasts of vuvuzelas. i missed a great shot of some wildly dressed locals blasting away from an upper-level walkway, because we were trying to figure out the fifa ticket machines. they work fairly well, and probably would have been no problem at all if there wasn’t such a hurry. it’s also easy to find them at local shopping malls, assuming you have a car. (if you don’t have a car, i don’t know how you’re planning to get around.)
– so, we were not entertaining the option of making the nice lady at our lovely guesthouse stay up until 2am. after checking in, we were down to about two hours before kickoff to make a roughly two-hour drive. but: we got directions from the proprietor of the house, and set off, hoping that the tom-tom app on my iphone would get us there.
– the r24 to rustenberg is a windy, narrow road with crumbling edges creeping into the lanes, sharp turns, and poor marking. people pass recklessly in oncoming lanes. it’s in the middle of nowhere, and while it was nice for this city boy to glimpse the milky way, it was a bit of a white-knuckle trip.
– all that being said, somehow we wound seeing the lights of royal bafokeng about five minutes after kickoff. great news! unfortunately, the stadium signage disappeared at a key moment. this was a good thing and a bad thing. on the one hand, we were totally stumbling around looking for parking that wasn’t sketchy looking. on the other hand, we actually found a dirt lot that would let us park really pretty close for 100R (it was actually 50R but they didn’t have change and i didn’t care). walking around the stadium was no more clearly marked than the surrounding roads or parking.
– i desperately wanted to walk in (nearly halftime) and find it still a match. every roar of the crowd made us nervous. we’d just punched our tickets and heard the sound that could only mean a goal. we saw england flags waving and our hearts sank, but then the american flags rose and the chants of “u.s.a” were heard. the announcer said dempsey’s name, and when we finally glimpsed the field and squeezed into our row that already had extra people getting cozy, we had a match.
– it was tense, but not terrifying, if i had to sum it up. england’s buildups were threatening, and i suspect the usa’s multiple nearly-in-on-net missed counters probably made the english fans feel the same way. maybe. rooney couldn’t ever be marked tight enough for us. cherundolo was a beast down the right, always finding an extra step to get the tackle just right. clark couldn’t hold the ball well enough, but made key stops. donovan and dempsey were most visible (remember we were only there for the second half) for their contributions on defense, which were timely. hustle back saw dempsey’s orange boot snatch the ball from rooney at the 18 at a nervous moment, for instance. gooch noticeably stepped it up in the last fifteen minutes, as if he could sense that more was needed of him. the extra time actually was a bit anticlimactic, if you can believe it; it actually felt under control, maybe even a chance to steal it, at that point. the steep, packed, usa supporters’ sections erupted at the final whistle.
– it was a great feeling to be able to applaud the whole team as they came over after the match. you really felt like you were helping to propel every throw in and corner in the attacking end, and it was nice to see they heard us.
– the english were mostly good sports. at halftime, there was a spirited discussion begun by a shocked “how the f*** can england not have a goalie?” out of an england supporter in the wrong section. nobody had an answer for him. lots of handshakes after the match amongst fans.
– i’ve got to be honest, especially after dealing with the efforts required to get parked for the upcoming matches at soccer city and ellis park, things have not been that smoothly organized here. royal bafokeng is simply not up to the standard needed for this event (we were keeping our own time in the stands, for goodness’ sake!). but that shouldn’t be a reflection on any of the thousands of volunteers, police, and private security, as well as any other citizens of south africa we’ve encountered. they’re all extremely friendly and cheerful and helpful.
– netherlands-denmark at soccer city tomorrow; hope to share more photos and other stuff later this week.

6/17/2010

hello again from freezing cold johannesburg.
– it’s pretty clear that the folks who are running things are learning as they go along. the parking and logistics situation at soccer city improved markedly between netherlands-denmark on monday and argentina-south korea today. for instance, they mowed the grass in the parking area–of course they mow the grass by lighting it on fire and now it’s a charred wasteland. the biggest improvement they could make is a boldface mention of the fact that you need to buy ticket for a park-and-walk lot or a park-and-ride lot for ellis park and soccer city, and that you need to buy this from a computicket outlet (online, pick it up in a local supermarket). once you figure this out, all that’s left is to leave for the match a good 2.5-3 hours early. going to an afternoon match is an all-day commitment.
– the empty seats everywhere are a bit disappointing, but the atmosphere in soccer city is certainly not lacking because of it. it’s a vast, covered stadium which does nothing to dissipate the noise of vuvuzelas, but still allows you (at least in person) the ability to hear singing and drums and yelling. on monday, the dutch were in predictably good voice, and today, there were two small but very well-organized south korean sections which drummed and chanted until the end of the match (as well as pulling off some great flag displays).
– the crowd roared today when maradona randomly side-footed a ball that came to the technical area. messi is not too bad either.
– vuvuzelas are as little as 30R, but are surprisingly hard to use. i have two already. i plan to give one to the small children of all of my friends, so that they will hate me forever.
– it’s unfortunate that so much about johannesburg is so decentralized. security concerns, whether or not they’re warranted, have you going from hotel/house, to car, to mall/restaurant/stadium, and it’s a rare treat to walk even a block, in pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods like melville or newtown. it’s a huge switch from the fan-fest/city-center centric experience in germany. even so, we’ve met/talked with/had drinks with people from dozens of countries already, which is half the point of coming to the world cup. it’s an unstoppable social experience.
– both the locals and the americans we’ve run into love rooting for the underdog–even if it’s north korea.
– we were downtown last night cheering on bafana bafana at the fan fest, which for once was actually populated (see previous statement). the locals we’ve talked to apparently detest the cold, which explains some of this. the penalty/red card call took a lot of the starch out of them, which made us sad; we’d all like to see our hosts have as good a time as they’ve helped us have. even if many of them still prefer rugby.
– is it me (with a limited-commentary, live/foreign viewpoint on the matches), or have there been a ton of short corners, free kicks that don’t clear the first guy, etc., and can we blame the lack of scoring and underperforming of the superpowers on this? i will choose to until proven wrong. argentina-south korea at least delivered some truly high-quality scoring plays as opposed to the parade of mostly soft goals or o.g.’s that preceded.
– us vs. slovenia tomorrow–come on, usa!

6/22/2010

– let’s talk about the usa-slovenia match and get it over with. i was seated in the usa supporters’ section near the second half offensive end. it was utter bedlam after the equalizing goal; we all knew it was coming and it did not disappoint. beer flying, hugging strangers, jumping up and down. the third goal was almost a continuation of it, and upon catching a glimpse of the referee, i was trying to get people to stop celebrating and look at the field. by the time it had calmed down, it was practically too late to boo and swear. i think a lot of the hardcore supporters took it better than i did; it felt like the party we’d righteously earned had been stolen from us.
– practically everyone we ran into (still wearing assorted usa jerseys) for the next 48 hours would stop and tell us how screwed we got. practically the entire security staff at the stadium in durban wouldn’t let me through until they said as much, and barely patted me down.
– durban is a six hour drive from johannesburg, but couldn’t possibly feel more different. the walled-garden/gilt cage secured houses/malls/parking lots of johannesburg feel a bit stifling after a while. durban, on the other hand has miles of lively boardwalk along the beach, dotted with high-rise hotels. couple that with warm winter weather, drinking beer outside, and the fifa fan fest in the sand, on the beach, and it’s a great part of the world cup.
– beyond that, moses mabhida stadium is one of the most spectacular sporting facilities i’ve ever been to.
– i made a point after the netherlands-japan match on saturday of complimenting japanese fans we met on their team’s performance. their support against the netherlands was great, and they’ve been a fun team to watch.
– brazil-ivory coast at soccer city on sunday night did not quite live up to the billing on the field. it was, however, the first time my hearing felt threatened by the vuvuzelas. the brazilian fans do not take no for an answer when attempting to expand their party to fill the available space. the stewards were very patient in repeatedly removing the drum corps and dancers from the aisles.
– my internet connection here is slow and i’m not around to use it much so i haven’t kept up on news coverage. is anyone talking about the dust situation at soccer city? it’s surrounded by giant plateaus of old mine tailings, and empty lots of red dirt that blows around like mad and makes it hard to breathe on the 2km walk to the stadium. between the dust and the smoke (at any given time, i’d bet that there are 50 fires of various size burning brush or structures in the johannesburg area) and the altitude, soccer city may as well be the new azteca.
– leaving the country on thursday, usa-algeria on wednesday beforehand. looking for a happy plane flight home.

 

Author: rcolonna

crashes, bangs, maniacal laughter.

One thought on “Notes from World Cup 2010 and South Africa”

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