Monday, July 12, 2010

Time to catch up on a month of lost sleep

It is over. Jo'burg life seems to be reverting to normal as the traffic chaos in the city centre resumes. Vuvuzelas are absent from the landscape while Bafana shirts get put back into the cupboard (perhaps never to see the light of day again?). The nationwide hangover is beginning. What can we talk about now? Conversations become awkward as people struggle to think of things to discuss. SABC told us to "Feel it. It is here!", but it no longer is. The PSL season is too far away and pre-season friendlies seem a hollow, empty replacement. Kaizer Chiefs v Eleven Arrows from Namibia just doesn't inspire me the way Ghana v Uruguay did. Manchester United v Philadelphia Union is not a patch on Germany v Argentina and I really cannot get excited about Tiverton Town v Royal Marines. Having waited years for this, I am left stumbling around trying to work out where the past month has gone.

South Africa should give itself the proverbial pat on the back for such an exciting tournament. Of course there have been a few blips but then no tournament is without problems. It has been a month-long party feeling, desperately trying to fit in work around the football. The hospitality has been so warm and friendly that it will be difficult to match in future World Cups. Jo'burg has been transformed, if only temporarily

Reading the papers yesterday morning, it was striking that so many companies had taken out full page adverts congratulating the country for hosting the tournament. It's a shameless attempt by these companies to capitalise on the success of the tournament but it's everywhere in the city; billboards, radio stations and TV. The self-congratulatory tone will continue for a while but even that will eventually disappear.

Adverts from yesterday's Sunday Times

The initial plan for yesterday was to head to Melrose Arch at lunchtime to make sure we got parking and to soak up the pre-match atmosphere. Melrose Arch is a fascinating place in Johannesburg. Set behind huge walls and numerous electric fences, it aims to create the feeling of a cosmopolitan town centre with numerous shops and restaurants lining the streets. It is in essence a city within a city. The marketing describes it as "Open spaces replace the cage and cocoon. Life pulsates on the streets once again". Yet the cage is still there, just not so readily apparent. Its fortifications prevents the surrounding city from encroaching; its street life accessible only to the socially mobile middle classes with plenty of disposable income. Gijsbert and I thought we'd try something different after being at the fan parks for other games, but after a couple of R30 beers (which is a lot in Jo'burg), our bank balances were screaming for us to leave, that and our friends were going elsewhere! In one sense it was a shame. Within the two hours that we spent there, crowds of Spanish and Dutch supporters were filling the bars and lining the streets, a mixture of tourists and locals. The exclusivity of the place created a vastly different ambiance than the experiences I've had elsewhere. Apparently, over 10,000 people were there to watch the final. But by that time, we weren't.

In the end, we ended up back at the fan park in the centre of Jo'burg, that tried and tested place. Beer was half the price of Melrose Arch and the food was cheap. It was just as packed for the final as it was for the Bafana v France match that we watched there. Regardless of it being the final, there were still stalls that were closed, an indication that the fan parks have not been as successful as it has been claimed. There must have been more Spanish fans than Dutch ones and when Andres Iniesta scored the winning goal deep into extra time, those in red began singing, dancing and blowing their vuvuzela while the Dutch fans just stood there motionless. Seeing as I was with a group of the latter (I even had a bright orange wig on), we left soon after the final whistle but I can imagine there was a big party afterwards.

The World Cup is gone for another four years but I might need most of that time to recover. I'm sitting at my desk a sleep-deprived man and finding it difficult to construct a coherent sentence together. I've had the time of my life.

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