My weekend of football continued yesterday with the eagerly anticipated England v Germany clash followed by my trip to Soccer City for Argentina v Mexico. While at times I've been self-analytical over my wavering support for England, it only took Three Lions pumping from my car radio yesterday morning to get worked up; that and the wearing of my lucky England shirt. Clearly it's not lucky anymore...
Together with my friend Chris, we drove down to Soccer City extremely early in the hope of watching the first game on the big screen. You would have hoped that the organisers would have had a little foresight and erected big screens showing the first game and attracting a captive audience to sell their overpriced junk. But no. I jumped out of the car at the gate (we went straight through security without being questioned) and asked if they were letting people in. Other fans had the same idea but had to wait outside for thirty minutes until the gates opened. I jumped back in the car and we zoomed back into the city to a bar in the city. The national anthem came on and I stood up and sang. A few odd looks but not as many as when I was surrounded by Australians earlier in the week! Unfortunately, Chris was supporting Germany and as the goals flooded in, my heart sank. Staring into my beer, I conceded defeat (graciously I thought). Luckily Chris was a good winner.
Zooming back to Soccer City, we bought some food in the car park. Not the suspect hotdog that I've come to loathe but pap and steak, food synonymous with the local game. It was great to sink my teeth into that once more but having to pay R40 was a little too much (it usually costs R25-30 on a regular match day). It turned out that the FIFA police have told all the informal traders what they must charge, although why, nobody knew. As with other traders that I've spoken to, business has not been what they expected with some struggling to break even. The positioning of stalls has not helped as some are hidden around corners in the dark. Asking the women who served me whether she had many foreign customers, she shook her head. Chris kept asking if they had any beer but no-one did. They have been forbidden to sell beer, probably because it wouldn't be that watery American beer that is served in the ground. The local flavour of a football match can be experienced on match day but you have to search for it. The traders have to register with the city council and have had to go on training courses on food hygiene. Almost as bad as homeowners having to learn how to make cappuccinos if they want to accommodate foreign tourists... Even one Mexican trader selling Mexican wrestling masks had to have accreditation. Yet the ticket touts still operated unhindered.
Reaching my seat (three rows from the front, middle tier, behind the goal), the atmosphere felt incredible. Arguably one of the best that I've experienced as I was sitting just above the mass of Argentinian fans singing and dancing in such an impressive stadium. It was such an exhilarating rush. The vuvuzelas were still there but there were being incorporated into the songs. I may not have much love for the Argentinian team but the fans were brilliant. If Argentina lose to Germany in the quarter finals, the tournament will be poorer for it.
Argentina fans celebrating in front of the camera
Curiously, I happened to look down in the stand below during the first half to see the police escort the "number 1 fan" of the SA club side Bloemfontein Celtic out of the stand. He'd clearly not been in the correct seat but did not take kindly to being told that he was in the wrong place. I think that this encapsulates a key problem that faces the Premier Soccer League and the Football Association here should they wish to capitalise on the current popularity of the sport in SA. All the PSL games have unreserved seating, which puts off many people from going but when reserved seating is introduced, many local fans often ignore it while the stewards seem unable to do anything about it. There's a balance that needs to be achieved to attract new fans while keeping the current ones.
Soccer City before kickoff
I'm over England's defeat now. It might help that I have three more games to go to!