In 2010 I travelled to South Africa for the FIFA World Cup. During my travels I wrote weekly articles for the Matamata Chronicle. I have combined these articles and will present them in two parts – pre-tournament and during-tournament. This wasn’t the first time DB’s World Cup Diary made an appearance. It made it’s debut for Germany 2006.
We hit South Africa and South Africa hits us!
When Joel (Matamata Chronicle Editor) told me I had about 400 words each week I thought that would be sweet. After my first week in South Africa I think I need more like four million! In trying to keep this as brief as possible, I’ll just focus on some of the highlights.
** It took me the best part of two and a half days to get from Helsinki, to South Africa, then to bed. We arrived in Jo’burg at about 6am on Monday morning and hung out at the airport for a couple of hours (as you do). Rather than going to the hotel we were told we had to go straight to Soccer City to watch the game we had tickets for (Netherlands v Denmark). We got to the ground an hour before the gates opened, but that was cool because we had plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere. The game itself was rubbish but the stadium is amazing.
** Our second day in South Africa was one of history for our country – the game against Slovakia. A three hour drive to Rustenburg, which should have taken an hour and a half, meant we were rushed to get into the ground and only made it a few minutes before kick-off. I was so proud to be listening to the NZ national anthem at a World Cup that I almost sung it (for anyone who knows me that’s a BIG deal!). The game itself was fairly even, with a tight first half before we let in a soft goal. The Slovaks cruised the rest of the match, stupidly not really pushing for a second goal. That approach came back to bite them in the butt in the last 30 seconds when Winston Reid became everyone’s favourite Danish Maori super hero. The crazy burst of emotion was so unexpected as our travelling band of fans really thought the game was gone.
** The New Zealand fans are doing this country proud in South Africa. From the guy bouncing around in a sheep costume in Rustenburg to a dude we know from Tokoroa who figured out the vuvuzela would be far more use as a drinking vessel than a horn we’ve seen many a moment to bring a tear to the eye. I’m sure there will be many more moments to savour.
** For all of you with Sky I’d invite you to watch their World Cup show – called Inside Africa – later this week. The tour group I’m part of played a game of football against a local township team and the Sky cameras were there. We played on a dusty, rock-strewn field up the back of Jo’burg’s Deepsloot township, one of the most depressing looking shanty towns I’ve ever seen. Our motley crew of mainly middle-aged, broken down has beens managed to limit the damage to 2-1, although I’m sure the locals were taking it easy on us. Actually, I’m convinced they did. Their skills were silky and they moved as if they were playing on Wembley. If you manage to catch the show on Sky keep an eye out for Matamata’s finest – Dave Taylor, Eric Van Waveren, Scott Parsonage and yours truly.
** For the gamblers among you I’d suggest you slip a lazy tenner on Argentina to win this thing. We watched them in the flesh as they demolished South Korea at Soccer City. They have some very, very sharp players and a coach, Diego Maradona, who seems to be succeeding despite his chaotic personality. The biggest cheer of the day was reserved for a special Maradona sideline trick. A nice touch.
** We’re off to watch the All Whites play Italy tomorrow in Nelspruit. That means an early start and a four to five hour bus ride. We’ve purchased some white wigs and piano key board ties just to prove that us country boys can let our hair down a little and get into the swing of things. Maybe you will have seen us on the telecast. We’re hoping for another upset but won’t be holding out much hope. The day will be all about enjoying the fact that New Zealand will be playing the world champions at the World Cup. That will be enough.
We do Italy!
This will always be remembered as the finest week ever for football in New Zealand and one of the best weeks for New Zealand sport. I’ve been able to catch glimpses of the All White fervour that has gripped the nation but have to say I’m so glad I was able to be here in South Africa to experience this first hand. I owe a big thank you to my incredible wife for volunteering to stay at home and look after our two young kids. I think a not inconsiderably sized present or two is probably in order. Maybe a diamond…
The Italy game in Nelspruit was just surreal. The early Shane Smeltz goal was so unexpected that I spent the next twenty minutes in a heightened state of disbelief. Did we really score against the World champs? Hell yes!
The Italian reply was predictable, given the way they played at this tournament – cheating, diving, er, buggers. Their goal, the refereeing and our desperate, yet increasingly world class defending, meant the emotions were all over the place for the final hour of the match. I’m sure the details have been well reported back home so I won’t go in to that. For me the best part of the day was the aftermath. There were thousands of kiwis in the crowd and we were all wandering around afterwards barely able to believe what had happened.
Hugging and high-fiving strangers, our small group made its way to the far side of the stadium with all the other fans just to soak it all up. We didn’t get back to our bus, which was parked nearby, until two hours after the final whistle. And apparently I made it on to the TV a couple of times too. I got emails from India, the USA and Australia, as well as home saying me and my piano tie had our fifteen seconds of fame.
A few days later we were in Polokwane for the Paraguay game with a chance of qualifying for the next round. Who would ever have thought that would be the case? There will be another time to discuss the game and the way we played. For me this game was, once again, all about the fans. I don’t think I’ve ever been photographed as much in my life. It’s amazing what can happen when you put on a white wig and carry an All Whites scarf.
Now all I want to do is get home, but here are some other thoughts before I do. Most of the stadiums here are amazing. Soccer City has to be one of the top ten football venues in the world. Truly awesome. The grounds at Nelspruit and Polokwane are both supreme mid-sized football venues. Auckland would do worse that getting the blue-prints from either of these venues and building a copy on the water front. The only let-down was Loftus Versfeld here in Pretoria. What a crumbling, decrepit, old hulk that is.
I also have to make mention of the diving from some of the teams. It’s the biggest blight on the game and FIFA needs to sort this out once and for all because the players and coaches won’t. I think I commented on this after the 2006 World Cup as well. One of the best things I’ve seen is a video montage of a sniper in full camo gear getting ready for and then taking a shot. The movie cuts to an Italian footballer going down as if he’s been drilled through the heart, with not a defender in sight. Sums it up really.
I’m glad I left my stab vest and body armour at home because, despite all the warnings, they weren’t needed. The atmosphere on the streets and around the stadiums was as friendly and inviting as anywhere I’ve been in the world. I don’t know if that was natural or put on for the World Cup but it doesn’t matter. Sure, there was a security presence just about everywhere you went, but it was low key and generally unobtrusive. South Africa was a comfortable place to be.
Being based in one place for fourteen nights did become a bit of a chore. It would have been nice to move around a little and I regret not making the effort to head down to Cape Town or Durban for at least a couple of nights. To my mind the Pretoria/Johannesburg area would be a tough part of the world in which to live. Despite being winter, with some very cold nights, the whole landscape was dry, dusty and desolate. Not quite the same as home. It left me with the impression that I’d need to be harder than I am to survive there.
One morning we spent some time touring around Soweto. Despite its poor reputation, only a fraction of its residents actually live in corrugated iron shacks. We were taken through some suburbs loaded with attractive middle class houses and millionaires mansions. Just goes to show that things aren’t always what they seem. The highlight was a stop at the Hector Peiterson museum, which is dedicated to the memory of the school boy whose death became symbolic of the struggle against apartheid.
As far as the World Cup is concerned, the games have been pretty much what you’d expect to see from modern tournament football. During the group stage teams more often than not limited their creativity and accentuated their pragmatism in an effort to get through. There were a few shocks, with teams like France and Italy heading home early, then the real excitement and drama began in the knock-out stages. Some of the round of 16 and quarterfinal matches have been superb. Let’s hope we see more of the same in the final few matches.
By the way, I hope you didn’t bet the house on the Argies following my clearly not-so-learned tip in an earlier article. They were dismantled by the Germans in the quarter-finals. I’m not going to have another go at predicting a winner, even with only four teams left. This is football, you know, and anything can happen. And those vuvuzelas are less annoying live than on TV. The atmosphere wouldn’t have been the same without them.
So the countdown is now on for Brazil 2014. That seems such a long way off right now but I guarantee the time will fly by, so you won’t have to wait too long for your next edition of DB’s World Cup Diary.