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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

World Cup Diaries #2: 11 June


So, at precisely 10.00am we land at Joburg’s International airport. Immigration was a breeze..........a little bit too easy! No questions asked. Just my passport stamped. I wondered if it was because of my British passport. Had I produced my Nigerian passport, I’m sure there would have been a reaction.....as usually, there is. I have an idea of what South Africans in general think of foreigners.....particularly Nigerians!!!

Picked up my baggage really quickly....I love it when things run smoothly.....and proceeded to be met by an absolute racket in the airport concourse. There were loads of people, welcoming parties, officials, lost looking tourists and the air was penetrated by loud horn blasts of varying degrees of sharpness and clarity. I had finally been introduced to what is known as the “vuvuzela”! A plastic horn, typically about 50cm long, and coloured in a variety of fashions...mostly with the South African flag or other various countries’ national colours. People would randomly just blow the horn, sometimes to no-one in particular, other times in response to others. Impromptu songs and dance-offs would break out. The atmosphere was absolutely hectic fun.....I was loving it!

The opening ceremony was to start at 2pm. Joburg, notorious for traffic jams (I wondered how badly, compared to good old Lagos), was going to be a nightmare on any Friday afternoon, talk less of today. I opted not to take a taxi to the guesthouse, but to board the new Gautrain to town, cutting my journey to approximately 15mins from the estimated 60mins. Unfortunately, it took me a further 2 hours to get in from Sandton station to the guesthouse due to traffic jams. Hmm....maybe Joburg was worse than Lagos after all. People heading to the stadium, fan parks, people just driving around blowing their vuvuzelas, dignitaries and VIPs cutting through traffic. We saw the motorcade of Escalades and other American looking vehicles, taking US Veep Joe Biden to the opening ceremony. I understood that there would be about 20 Heads of State attending, including apparently our own President Jonathan....coming to impart on the Eagles some of that fortune which his first name so prophetically carries. Even Mugabe was coming. Why? His country didn’t even qualify? The guy just loves to remain relevant (see, I’m talking about him, when I need not! Proving my point exactly). Also, apparently Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter had died the previous night in a car crash on the motorway, so a large section of that was closed, forcing traffic onto other routes. She was apparently returning from the concert the previous night. What a tragedy for the family. Needless to say, the grand old man would no longer be making an appearance after so much speculation.
The best way to soak up the atmosphere, if not at the stadium itself, was to hit one of the fan parks scattered around town. We headed for Newtown....after having the quickest shower and change of clothes in history. Hit more traffic, but made it with a few minutes to spare. There must have been close to 10,000 people packed into this park with a stage for concerts, and a massive screen there. Queues for food and drink were legendary. The beer hut was right at the back, but had been closed off due to a surge of people, so we opted to move from there before angry alcoholics decided to take matters in to their hands. It was going to be soft drinks for us. We headed to a giant red man in the middle of the park. Standing at about 30mtrs tall, and made of crates of Coke, this Giant Coke Man was curiously sticking what looked like two middle fingers up in the air........it seemed only right that we procured ourselves some Cokes. Armed with that and a big fat greasy burger, we proceeded to mark a spot where we could see as best as possible without being blocked by tall people with weird headgear and protruding vuvuzelas. I had already procured one of the latter myself.....coloured green, no less! Frankly, I was in the country only 4-5 hours, but had already started to really dislike the damn things!

Anyway, seeing as we’d missed the whole opening ceremony, someone’s gonna have to fill me in on that. I’m sure it was colourful, loads of dancing and foot-stamping, and I’m sure the odd bits that no-one quite understood. So kick-off and the hosts were taking on Mexico. Being surrounded by close to 10,000 madly inebriated, happily expectant Saffas, we definitely chose the best place to be.....particularly when the first goal went in. The place erupted. Vuvuzelas a-blasting, as though somehow their volume switch had been hit from loud to.....louder to.....are you nuts!?!? The usual, throwing of drinks ensured we were showered with beer, coke and God knows what else. We didn’t care......we were going mental too!!! What a goal, by the way! The only shame was that they could not hold on to it, and the match, to be fair, ended in a deserved draw. Nevertheless, the atmosphere still bubbled and the spirit was good. No sign of any trouble or bad vibes. I wonder what it would have been like had they lost. Hmmm....anyway, good start. They have every opportunity to make it through. The host country needs their team to stay in for as long as possible, so getting into the knock out stages is a must.

So, the first day had come and gone.....I will ignore commentary on the drab France/Uruguay affair, save to say that I do not expect France to make it out of their group.....sadly. Time to get ready for what we really came for.........seeing the Eagles give the Argies a good seeing to! Revenge for so many years of close scorelines going the other way. Some predicting a mauling. I maintained we would do it.....keeping Messi et al at bay.
Anyway, enough salivating at the prospects. I still had a Friday night in Joburg to take care of!


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