I woke up on Saturday morning to a text message from a friend of mine seemingly discussing England's team selection for the USA match. Imagine my surprise when I found out that he had a spare ticket and was giving it to me!!
My first England ticket
On the approach to Rustenburg, traffic ground to a virtual standstill still with many miles to go to the stadium. Contending with idiots who were driving up the emergency lane in a stupid attempt to get their car a couple of hundred metres further, progress was extremely slow. We had left hours before kickoff but as the clock ticked past the minutes and then the hours, the horrifying thought that we would miss some of the game dawned on us. Groups of traffic cops talking to each other in the middle of the road and then directing us in a different direction to what the signs said didn't help matters. So many people had parked on the roadside up to the stadium rather than find their car park in a desperate bid to get inside on time. We managed to find a car park (not ours though) and dashed inside, dodging already drunken fans. Sat in my seat with 10 minutes to spare!
The legend who gave me my ticket!!!
This was my first England football game and I was stunned to see the Royal Bafokeng Stadium covered in England flags. The media here has constantly told us that the US has the largest contingent of supporters that have come over for the World Cup but this really wasn't evident that night. As the national anthem struck up I was expecting a massive swell of song but it didn't materialise. I then realised that many of the England fans here must have been South Africans, who didn't know the words. Throughout the game, I could hear the section of hardcore England supporters singing and chanting. Amusing at first, hearing Come on England! on a loop for 5 minutes became more annoying than having a vuvuzela blown in your ear.
Spot the American fans...
The stadium/ I went crazy when Steven Gerrard scored the opener. England had the ascendancy for much of the first half, although the usual defensive frailties were exposed by the pace of the American attack. The Americans created some chances and Jozy Altidore really should have scored but thankfully he chose to head wide. And then came the howler. My seat was perfectly placed to witness this calamity in all its glory; on the goal line, front row of the second tier. It was as if it was in slow motion, Rob Green's arms scrambling to get hold of the ball. B@!!ocks! The silver lining was that a friend had bought 12 beers for four of us; I had five in quick succession. England had the best of the second half but failed to convert chances, Emile Heskey the major culprit.
My personal beer supply
In hindsight, the result was nothing more than a minor setback and by this point there were plenty of drunken England fans who just wanted to party. As we were leaving the stand, a talkSPORT journo came up to my very confused friend (he wore and USA jacket with an England scarf). I walked up and declared:
"You do know he's not American?"
"Of course I do" and he turned his big fluffy microphone to me.
"So are you just here for the World Cup?"
Instead of just answering yes, I rambled on about how I used to live in Johannesburg. He eventually got me to just say yes. I don't remember exactly what he asked me now; it all disappeared in a drunken haze. Something about how I felt about the result (it's not the end of the world) and the turning point in the game (Green's howler). I also muttered something about Emile Heskey playing like a donkey. Through all this, I was fascinated how this guy seemed to be engrossed in what I was saying, vigorously nodding his head like a dog wags his tail.
Drunk and delusional England fans on holiday
If the traffic was bad getting in, it was a disaster trying to get out. As a host venue in last year's Confederations Cup, the park and ride system ran fairly smoothly and was much better than Johannesburg. Maybe they rested on their laurels as chaos ensued. Limited/ conflicting signage, police telling us to head off in the wrong direction only for us to get stuck in traffic for ages. Crowds of people lined the streets as they searched for their buses. The tourists were completely clueless as to what was going on, getting in queues in the hope that they would eventually lead to their bus. They're going to have to realise soon that not everyone around the world has the same predilection towards queuing that the English have! The priceless moment was when one England fan said that he was "waiting for the white van" to take him back where he came from. He had no clue where that was and clearly did not grasp that all the minibus taxis looked the same. I guess that he was one of the fans that were still stuck at the stadium at 2am...
I ran down the stand to get a picture with Captain America!
Paul - you are a legend for giving me that ticket!! I know that you claimed you were neutral but I saw how you reacted when Heskey shot straight at Howard!