Having had a great time at the Ghana v Uruguay game, the following day's match at Ellis Park between Spain and Paraguay would have a tough task matching the exhilaration.
Walking through Braamfontein on the way down to the stadium, we discovered a new bar in the area with small televisions on every table plus a big screen. Sitting down for the Argentina v Germany game that afternoon, it was obvious that the vast majority of the bar was supporting Argentina. When Argentina went close, the patrons would be on the edge of their bar stools; when Germany scored, they were visibly upset. Why would so many South Africans support a national team that a.) wasn't theirs and b.) wasn't an African team? There are a number of possible explanations:
- They are attracted by the global names: Messi, Tevez and of course Maradona
- They are attracted by the attacking brand of football that they play
- They want to keep the World Cup in the southern hemisphere
- It's an anti-European/ colonial reaction
Points one and two were pretty obvious. People would know generally know more about Messi & co than Schweinsteiger and Podolski. Point three was a bit of a surprise. On the train on the way back from the Ghana game, one woman was saying that now all the African teams had been knocked out, she wanted the cup at least to stay in the southern hemisphere. Desperate sounding but this view was repeated in the bar. Maybe I should want to Spain, Germany or the Netherlands to win to keep it in the north? I base the final point on a halftime conversation in the toilets.
"You don't want an all-European final do you?"
"Er, I don't mind, but I'm European."
"You don't know what it means to us. We don't want Europe to keep the World Cup. Europe is too strong. It needs teaching a lesson."
And as he left, he exclaimed, "F**k the Europeans!" Nice. Unfortunately for him, he didn't get his wish as the Germans thrashed the Argentinians 4-0.
Being lazy, we decided to get a private taxi from the bar to Ellis Park - I was a little uncomfortable about walking the streets of Hillbrow and Joubert Park in the dark. In a wonderful example of tourist exploitation, the taxi driver wanted to charge twice as much as normal. Eloquently, I replied "f**k off!" and took another taxi, this time for the 'normal' price. We still had to walk the streets of Doornfontein to get to the stadium as the roads had been closed off. This was a World Cup quarter final but you couldn't tell. No crowds of people making their way to the stadium, no build-up of anticipation. This is life in Johannesburg, where the streets empty in the darkness, people afraid of leaving the 'safety' of their homes. The park and ride buses take fans close to the stadium, bypassing the inner city. The park and walk locations even worse still. But then we entered another perimeter and suddenly it burst into life. Fans poured out of the buses. Vendors were selling vuvuzelas , flags and anything else that could be branded with a national flag. Stalls selling a variety of food lined the streets. This atmosphere was unlike the sterile experience outside Soccer City. I could could get my pap and steak/ chicken/ boerewors. Introducing Ben to the delights of South African football food, we sat down and stuffed our faces as we watched the world go by. The vendors were selling their goods through the perimeter fence but the police didn't seem to care.
Enjoying the atmosphere outside the game
Attempting to cook pap
We were a bit short-changed during the game. The most expensive knockout ticket that we had and Spain had the audacity to win it in 90 minutes (all my other knockout games at least went to extra time)! This could have been my third penalty shootout in a row but it wasn't to be. At least the three second half penalties in quick succession (should have been four) added some spice to the fixture. Spain fans dominated the crowd but unlike the Ghana - Uruguay game, the atmosphere seemed muted in comparison. With Ghana as the last African team, South African fans had a lot more emotionally invested in the game. This time, I thought that people were supporting Spain because of the big names such as Torres and Villa, who they had been watching for years on TV. Pockets of (actual) Spanish fans dotted around the stadium were singing, dancing and waving their scarves but few else knew any of the words so a return to the vuvuzela was in order.
As my mind wandered, my eyes met with one of the FIFA logos - KE NAKO. Celebrate Africa's Humanity™. I thought that it was a bit strange that FIFA were telling us to celebrate Africa's humanity as if it was something that had just been discovered. I can't imagine a World Cup in Europe with the slogan Celebrate Europe's Humanity. Why is Africa treated differently in an "actually-they're-just-like-us" way? Then Ben pointed out that why have FIFA trademarked Africa's humanity?! So if any African does something humane, they have to get permission from FIFA? Can FIFA have intellectual property rights on humanity? That's a scary proposition...
Two Englishmen wearing South African and Japanese football shirts at Spain v Paraguay...
Reminiscent of last years chaos at Ellis Park during the Confederations Cup, the park and ride queue was much less a queue, more of a mob. They had clearly learned some lessons from last year such as improved signing but it took a fair while to get back to the car. Sitting in the bus, I realised that my World Cup adventure was coming to an end. That was my last game and with the final on Sunday, it'll be business as usual next week. I'm already thinking about Brazil 2014!