My Pop Life #211 : Three Lions – The Lightning Seeds


Three Lions   –   The Lightning Seeds

Jules Rimet’s still gleaming…

Brooklyn, July 3rd 2018.  The Russia World Cup : When Eric Dier stepped up and sank the penalty winner in the last-16 game against Colombia it was the first time England had won a penalty shoot-out in an international football competition, ever.  My wife wept for ten minutes.  I was on the internet booking a flight to Samara.  As a message, it really couldn’t have been any clearer, so, wanting to make the world a better place I took a look at myself and made that change.  The man in the mirror was booked on a flight to Samara, Russia via Istanbul on Turkish Air.    Then I realised that I needed a visa and it was 7pm and the next day was July 4th when everything was closed.  Fluff.

Further internet search revealed that visa regulations would be suspended for the duration of the tournament, and that all I’d need is a Fan ID.  Passport photos from Walmart, ticket number for the loophole and I was all set.

At midnight the next day I was on the plane.  9 hours later I was in Istanbul.  Got some rubles. Flew to Samara and landed at 1am.  The following day I hooked up with The Characters: Billy The Bee, Puns, Andy Dubai Bee, Phil, Obi and Martin in the Balkan Grill near the Fifa Fan Park, downtown Samara.


My Russian friends for the afternoon

Earlier I’d walked along the beautiful riverbank walk along the mighty Volga with a father & son who’d helped me navigate the all-Cyrillic alphabet subway system and then visited Stalin’s bunker where I learned that Samara had briefly become the capital of Russia when Hitler was only 20 kilometres from Moscow in 1942.


Marx, Engels & Lenin in Stalin’s bunker, Samara

The city was warm and friendly, colourful and mixed – the mosques and the Orthodox churches share the same kind of architecture, golden domes and spires.



People were happy to see foreign fans – Colombians, Mexicans, Swedes and English mingling with locals – they were happy and excited to be hosting the tournament, indeed when I met The Characters I was told that one of our number Obi had been asked for a photo by hundreds of Russians since he’d been here.  A far cry from the racism we’d been led to expect from the Marseilles 2016 incidents involving Russian hooligans attacking England fans, and Champions League games in Russia with racist chanting.  This was all swept underneath the FIFA carpet and normal human people replaced the Russian bogeymen  – helpful, curious hosts wielding their Google Translate Apps amidst plenty of sign language.


Back in the Balkan Grill we watched France take Uruguay down and advance to the semi finals, then walked up to the giant fanpark to see Belgium v Brazil.  It was set in a huge town square full of old-school statues and grand buildings – I later learned that Samara has the largest square in Europe.  We stood in it drinking beer watching the big screen and listening to Russian techno music and the enthusiasm of the DJs and dancers.  A few English fans scattered here and there, but the vast majority of Fans are Russian.  Belgium tear Brazil apart in the first half – a footballing masterclass with Hazard, De Bruyne and Lukaku all finding acres of space across the Brazilian defence.  Half-time : 0-2 to Belgium.  We reconvene and drink further pints.  Billy and I wander back out into the crowd.  In the second half young Russians came up to chat to us as they realised that we were English.  Russians watches the Premiership on TV & the fans favour us as their second favourites for the tournament – the following day we would play Sweden and Russia would face Croatia.  Meanwhile the Spurs defence Alderweireld & Vertonghen alongside the mighty Vincent Kompany kept Neymar & Coutinho quiet and gave away zero free kicks around the box.  Brazil scored a goal but couldn’t manage a second. Game over.  Brazil were out, along with Argentina & Germany, what a thrilling World Cup !!


We walked slowly out – like herding cats as ever – and found the Gareth Southgate lookalike outside Shannon’s the inevitable Irish bar.  Billy interviewed him.  Minutes later we were in the groovy nightclub Art & Fact with a few dozen Swedish fans and a bunch of happy locals.  The Swedes hadn’t been polishing their manners much : “England are shit.  We will beat you.”  It was possible – they’d had a decent tournament.  At 3am I developed a thumping headache and retired to Yandex the local Russian taxi App and my hotel.


On the day of the game we met on the river at a bar/restaurant called Beluga.  It was sparsely populated with England fans from Bristol Rovers, Sunderland, Notts Forest.  The crew gathered slowly.  Tickets distributed.  A kind of rhythm was established where Andy and I got antsy first and wanted to leave, with others more or less gathering at half-speed to follow.  Billy was usually last with his head buried in his phone, local simcard, media hack, blogger and face of the fans 2018 thanks to visibility and the BBC filming his reaction to the penalty shootout, and using it as part of their introduction to the game.  The shootout victory had put the feel-good back into England.  We could go all the way – couldn’t we?  Memes started to appear “I’ve got a secret….”  and it became clear that this song was back once again.  Over in Samara we didn’t like to say it, to voice it, but it had been in our secret heart for months : this was a decent team with a good manager.  No egos.  No wankers.  Only a couple of weak players, all in all a prospect who might not let us down, again.

My birthday 2010 we watched England 0 Algeria 0 in Greenpoint, Cape Town, one of the worst footballing experiences I have ever had.  We’d gone out in the group stages in Brazil and lost to Iceland in Euro 2016.  The only way was up.  But to move from that to the hubris of ‘it’s coming home‘ after one penalty shoot-out victory?  We boarded the tram clutching our bottles of water.  Billy, Obi, Andy, Puns and I.  Phil had gone early, Martin we didn’t know.  The tram slowly filled up as it passed through the pleasant city toward the highest point where the new stadium stood.  We walked with the thousands of others, face painted, Brazil tops, Russians mainly.  A local TV crew stopped us and asked for a song, so I filmed the lads singing  “Southgate you’re the one, you still turn me on” and “drinking all yer vodka”  the two most popular songs out here.  There were pockets of fans in England colours, we’d been told just under 3,000 in all in a crowd of 45,000.  Then inevitably Obi got asked for his 462nd photo of the World Cup by a Russian family.


Obi aka Photos

That long walk from the taxi/tram/train/bus to the stadium is a feature of World Cups – and this was my 7th in a sequence that stretched back to Los Angeles 1994, when we lived in that fair city and had scored tickets to every game at the Rose Bowl Pasadena, including the Final.  Hooked, we’d travelled to France in 1998 and witnessed Marseilles being trashed by England fans fighting local North Africans, then met Billy on a train to Toulouse.  I’d flown to Japan in 2002 for the quarter-final game v Brazil with Julian Benkel and we’d gone on to Seoul in Korea for the semi final game between South Korea and Germany.  In 2006 Jenny and I drove from Copenhagen to Sweden to visit our friend Amanda Ooms in Sköne before travelling through Germany for a beautiful tournament and another penalty shoot-out defeat against Portugal.  2010 was the magical South Africa World Cup with it’s highlight quarter-final game in Soweto between Ghana and Uruguay (Suarez handball) after England had capitulated to Germany in Bloemfontain.  Then Brazil 2014 and Rio, Manaus, another group-stage exit for England.  Jenny had sworn not to come to Russia (see My Pop Life #109) and I thought I’d missed it but now I felt full, emotional, in the place I was supposed to be, 700 miles north of Kazahkstan on the mighty Volga, watching a quarter-final game between England and Sweden.



My seat was in the gods high above the SW corner flag, strangely close to the two Sunderland fans from earlier.  Russians were supporting Sweden, Russians were supporting England but as we found out later, Russians were supporting Russia. I could make out the England players warming up far below me.  Then they left the field and the build-up started.  I was completely ambushed when they played Three Lions through the tannoy system, with a karaoke highlighted lyric line.

…everyone seems to know the score, 
They’ve seen it all before
They just know, they’re so sure
That England’s gonna throw it away, gonna blow it away
But I know they can play,
‘Cause I remember…

And bugger me if I didn’t have a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye as the emotion swelled inside me, completely sidelining any defensive cynicism, any secret irritation for the constant repetition and squashing down of hope to protect the inevitable disappointment, the emotion flooding through me and drowning the irony, we just want to see these players turn up and believe in themselves like they do every week for their clubs.  Sometimes – Algeria, Iceland – it feels as if the very shirt is infected with doubt, a curse is on the land and all who wear it.  But I know we can play…


We started slowly but were in possession immediately and often and all the corners were right below me.  After 15 minutes Harry Maguire thumped home a magnificent header and we were 1-0 up and cruising.  Sterling could and should have scored a couple more before the whistle blew for half-time.  I made my way down, down, down and around to the far side of the beautiful stadium where the England fans were gathered.  No one asked me for a ticket at any point.  Little pockets of fans were smoking in corners beneath the stands with stewards ignoring the rules.  When I’d got behind the goal at the other end I walked in, and the 2nd half had already started.  It was easy to spot Billy, standing on his seat, so I squeezed over, joined Obi and Puns and Andy then met two youngers Cass and Stu and we sang, we sang, we sang for the entire second half.   To the tune of Earth Wind & Fire’s September :

Oh wee Oh, England Fans in Russia Oh wee Oh, drinking all yer vodka  Oh wee Oh, England’s going all the way……………

Then a corner.  It goes out to Lingard. He crosses to the far post, right in front of us and DELE ALLI BULLETS A HEADER INTO THE BACK OF THE NET !!!  The place erupts in noise, arms waving and beer spraying everywhere, screaming, jumping, celebrating, hugging, drenched in beer, happy, delirious.  What a moment.  I was soaked in beer and my glasses were spattered with lager but we were 2-0 up and heading for the giddy heights of a semi final.  The singing intensified now, glorified, the other song became the favourite :

                   …On our way, we’re on our way, to The Moscow we’re on our way                             how do we get there I don’t know, how do we get there I don’t care – all I know is England’s on the way….


Puns, me, Billy Grant, Andy 

Something so wonderfully right about singing The Moscow and literally being on our way there for a semi final that we sang it over and over and over again, long after the final whistle and the England players had walked over and at least three of them had danced to our chanting, hands waving – Lingard, Walker and Stones I believe – and Gareth – now inevitably Sir Gareth Southgate had come and punched the air with lion-esque passion at us.  And there it was again

It’s coming home it’s coming home it’s coming Football’s coming home…

We sang it.  The sacred phrase It’s Coming Home which encapsulates so much disappointment and hope.

Where has it been ?  Brazil mainly.  Germany.  Argentina.  Spain.  France.

The highly charged emotive word “home” referring to the modern game’s development in the British Isles in the late 19th Century before becoming the world’s favourite game.  The reason why footballers and football fans around the world HATE the song so much and hate to hear The England singing it.  The utter hubris.  The entitlement.  And they might be right.  Baddiel certainly went to Oxford.

It was written for Euro ’96 which was held in England, so perhaps we all read too much into it.  But it was been dusted down & polished up and sent out to bolster our hopes each time there is a tournament – every two years.  I had always treated it in an ironic way, like a piece of kitsch.  But hearing it in the context of a competitive England match it becomes something else entirely.  It becomes an expression of longing and hope.  A real one.

We left the ground in a daze, taking pictures of the moment, recounting the goals and saves, wondering who we would play in the semi final.  The tram was crowded and unreal.  Some 3000 England fans had been inside the ground and sang their hearts out and now we were trying to get back to the fanpark to see Russia play Croatia.  It took forever, we started a countdown to kickoff and eventually jumped off, then walked ten blocks and jumped back on – or at least four of us did, Billy, me Cass & Stu.  It became apparent that the rumours of overcrowding at the fanpark were true (in the largest square in Europe) as we saw thousands of fans gathered around the corner entrance being turned away.  We stayed on the tram and it swung north.  After a while we jumped off and found a pizza restaurant with a screen on the pavement, surrounded by scores of people.  We went inside.  It was heaving but there was a queue for the bar. Facing the screen.  Then Russia scored.

The noise was incredible.  Billy started filming but there was real alarm on his face as the chant Ross-i-ya arose from the faces around us, deep, gutteral, primal.  Or maybe I imagined it.  We edged nearer to the bar & beer.  The atmosphere was electric and intense.  Then Croatia scored.  Silence.


We got to the bar.  Sorry there’s no more beer.  Gin ?  Vodka ?  No No more alcohol.  Like a bad dream where you are stuck somewhere hostile but no one is admitting it.  Four cokes please I said.  We only have three : Sprite?  Fine.  Three cokes and a Sprite and back on the tram heading south again.  Andy had gone back to his hotel so we headed there back past the fanpark, still mobbed outside but now it was halftime. At the top of the Slavy Square stands the Glory Monument dedicated to the Kuybyshev aircraft manufacturers of WW2 who made over 30,000 planes.  We descended to the hotel amid the surreal excitement of a city in thrall to a football match happening hundreds of miles away.

In the Volga hotel we were rejoined by Andy, who had my cases in his room, Puns and Obi and we watched the second half with a large number of Russians, a few English, the odd Swede, some Kazahks, three Bolivians and a handful of Brazilians.  They also ran out of beer as we arrived at the bar.  Vodka and orange then.  Vodka and coke.  And finally these mythical imaginary drinks arrived.

Extra time.  Croatia scored again.  Modric was playing a blinder.  I turned to Billy at one point and said – there is a giant Croatian pin heading towards a big Russian balloon.  Surely it was all over.  But no – Russia equalised with minutes left and we were down to penalties.  I had a plane to catch at 3.45am going to Moscow – I’d got the last seat – but I couldn’t leave yet.  Russia had beaten the Spanish on penalties thanks to their goalkeeper Akinfeev but this time they couldn’t go the extra mile to the huge immediate palpable disappointment of a vast nation. Croatia were through to the semi final and a match with England.  I grabbed my cases and said my goodbyes – we’d all meet again in Moscow but character’s planes weren’t until Tuesday in the main. Outside it was drunken and mobbed, taxis everywhere but I had my Yandex App.  It didn’t work.  No wifi suddenly after three days.  I stood on the street corner and watched the Russians high on drink and disappointment crossing the road, singing, smoking, laughing in some cases.  They appeared to be taking it well.  I saw a cab across the road and dragging my cases, walked over.  “Airport?”  I wondered.  She nodded and off we went.

The airport was an hour away.  My driver had a translation App and switched it on immediately.  We started talking – had an entire conversation in fact.   She told me she had a man in Italy and she wanted to move there but that her friend had warned her about Italian men and now she wasn’t so sure.  She told me her daughter was her sole reason for living after she called in and they’d chatted.  She told me she wanted to leave Russia.  I became a counsellor for an hour.  Keep your goals in mind, focus and keep your self-esteem high. You can have whatever you want if you keep it front focus.  And so on and so forth.  Then she said – written on the App in front of me :

I am terrified of the loneliness

I became quite moved and we were silent for the last ten minutes.

There were a handful of drunk England fans in Samara airport among the vast majority of media workers and like loud people everywhere they changed the environment for everyone.  Even on the plane they continued to repeat the same few simple melodies and words I have already outlined above, like some broken clockwork toys before I fell asleep.  We all got about an hours sleep before we landed in Domodedovo Airport near Moscow at 4.30am.  We staggered onto buses and commenced a 15-minute drive to the terminal while I realised that I had left my phone on the plane.  Taken to Lost Property I sat there for half an excruciating hour before the stewardesses came in with it in their hand.  Exhausted relief.  Got a bus through the green field and forests south of Moscow to the Metro then a Metro to Tverskaya.  When I got up the escalator to the subway exit there was a monsoon outside.


A monsoon.  I waited.  The address of the hotel was 14 Tverskaya and I was steps from 18.  When I finally took those steps though some 25 minutes later I was nowhere near 14.  When I got there I was wet – and the number 14 just told you which chunk of the block we were on, then it was building 4.  No one could tell me where it was.  Round the corner.  Into the alley.  Ask at the flower shop.  He didn’t know. He asked his mate.  He didn’t know.  There was no internet on my phone and I was getting very wet now.   I also had sharp pain every time I put down my right foot and realised that I must have blisters from walking around Samara for hours the previous day.  I squeezed my foot to protect it and limped my way into an apartment building in Number four thinking there might be a secret hotel on the top floor but no go.  At least it wasn’t wet in there.  My England jacket was drenched so I changed into the Burberry raincoat.  I stood under an archway for about half an hour watching the torrential downpour before realising that I had to move, somewhere, anywhere.  I walked back around to the cafe which was opposite the grand old grocery which I later learned was the famous Eliseyev Food Hall:


A cleaner told us the cafe was closed until 10am – it was 8.30 by now – and the two chaps who had come inside looking for a cafe with me told me in broken Russki English that MacDonalds had wifi.  Back down the underpass, out the other end and into a vast Micky D with breakfast roll egg Macfuckface and fries with black coffee AND WIFI.   Connection.  Suddenly all the messages and email come rolling in.  Loads of WhatsApp messages from EnglandOnTourRussia2018 and plenty involving last night’s party in Samara which developed into dawn selfies with girls and loads of photos of people with fingers to their lips.  I later worked out that this referred to people resisting the urge to say

It’s Coming Home

under any circumstances and to keep radio silence as far as winning the world cup was concerned…Meanwhile back in England that’s all anyone could say and non-football fans were in secret righteous fury vowing to kill the next person who said it.  When drunk of course, people say it louder and more often.  Was it to become our secret undoing ?  I couldn’t get the stupid phrase out of my head.  Or the Three Lions On A Shirt bit.  It was taking over my brain.  Worst of all I was re-writing it to stop it being repetitive brain injury.  Sealions on a Skirt.  Felines on a Flirt.  Or that evergreen Scaffold cover in praise of laundry Three Shirts On A Line.

Of course I wanted England to win the World Cup and now and again in my secret heart I thought they could.  But my undrunk morning self knew that we were underdogs, that we didn’t have a midfielder like Luka Modric who could run a game.  Nevertheless the hope was planted by this carefully constructed and rather sweet song from 1996.  The music was written by a Liverpool musician Ian Broudie and the lyrics by a Birmingham comedian Frank Skinner with a London comedian David Baddiel and recorded by Broudie’s band The Lightning Seeds.   It contains famous pieces of commentary describing the England team as disappointing.  It is indeed a song about failure, about how the team never quite rise to the occasion, although sometimes, it feels as if they might. There are moments.  Lineker’s goal against Germany in Rome 1990.  Gazza.  And of course Bobby Moore and 1966 at Wembley.   The England squad of 1996 appear in the video and sing the chorus.  It has become the England supporters’ anthem and rises into the charts during most football tournaments, the torture of watching England playing football once again like a recurring nightmare that will never go away. It’s the hope that kills you.  Like itching powder I couldn’t soothe the damn tune out of my ears.  But Southgate has made all the difference hasn’t he ?? And here we are.

  A World Cup semi-final in Moscow for fuck’s sake.

At I went back to the cafe and it was finally open.  The Uzbeki waiter Jim spoke good English and was a budding film-maker.  He wanted to follow me on Instagram because I was an actor.  He now does.  He also realised that I’d been looking at 14 Tverskaya Street, rather than it’s cross street Tverskaya Bul Var, or Boulevard.  OMG.  I’d been walking through a monsoon for the last four hours and I was drenched.  I changed my shoes and my socks and headed in hopefully the correct direction.  The area was really nice.  After further fluffing in almost every direction I finally found the East-West Hotel hidden carefully behind a cool restaurant called Didi and checked in at 11am.  My room was small and perfect.  I examined my right foot.  Two blisters.  I broker them both and promptly fell asleep.

When I awoke some hours later I noticed that all the beer stains on the back of my England Jacket had been washed out by the monsoon rain.   It was time to walk out into the Russian capital and see what I could see.  In the small reception area of the hotel the TV was showing the defeated Russian players being paraded across the stage at the FanPark near Luzhniki, with their manager, thousands of Russians filming it on their phones.  The receptionist and I watched.  I turned to him and put my hand on my heart.   “Are you proud?”  I asked.  “No”  he said.  “Sad?” I asked.  “Yes” he said.  Fair enough I thought your team got knocked out on penalties.  “But do you feel patriotic?”  I asked again.  He rolled up his right trouser leg and showed me a thing white crescent scar around his kneecap.  “I was a footballer”  he said,  ” It could be me up there“.   I said I was sorry and walked out onto Tverskaya Bul Var.  As I walked in the bright sunshine I felt a lump in my throat and tears coming to my eyes.  The conversation had opened me right up.  Russia was making me feel emotions


Brazil – Copa das Copas 2014

Day One – Cantagalo, Copacabana, Ipanema

Jenny and I meet Sidney from the Museum of the Favela at the foot of the Miranda lift with Daniel and his wife Vela helping to translate.  We ascend the lift to a viewing room.  Now level with the hillside, overlooking Ipanema beach, the lift and walkway was completed 4 years ago to link the hillside favela of Cantagalo with the beach community of Ipanema. Previously, favela inhabitants had to walk up the steep steps. The lift and walkway are very blue, very modern, and very much in use as people are walk past us while Daniel does the translation and Sidney greets his friends. The artwork starts to appear – painted onto the sides of buildings by local artists and depicting in vivid colour the history of the favela – started by freed slaves over 100 years ago and usually the first port of call for those seeking work in Rio from other parts of Brasil, particularly Minas Gerais to the north.  Cantagalo cock The mood darkens as a possee of armed police walk past in combat mode, pointing their weapons like a SWAT team into people’s houses.  Sidney waits for them to pass then shows his contempt for this “pacification force”.  We walk up, we walk down, past tight little dwellings cramped onto the slopes, through dark alleyways where dogs are stretched out asleep, tiny hair salons, cafes, stores and kids playing. IMG_7734The views over Rio are breathtaking. Makes we wonder out loud whether the gentrifiers will be along shortly. Slightly farther south past Leblon this is already happening to a hillside favela which looks from a distance like Positano on the Amalfi coast. As the facilities improve here – sanitation, running water, electricity and now the modern, free access, these areas become more desirable to the middle class.  MUF HQWe reach the Museum HQ, buy a T-shirt and pose for photos on the roof.  Moving into Pavao-Parvinhno, a twin favela above Copacabana the mood changes again. Pavao-ParvinhnoA funicular railway here serves the steep hillside and marks the place where a water tower fell down one Christmas day ten years ago killing whole families.  We walk through the entertainment corridor where men unload crates of drink and other men scarcely conceal their weapons. Sidney advises me not to take pictures. But in the next breath he insists that we are safer up here in the slums than we are on the beach down below us, where pickpockets roam and armed muggers look for opportunities. Sidney and Pavao dancerHe poses next to a picture of a dancer from the favela and big on TV : Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, killed by the police two month ago. There were riots here when his body was found. Jenny recognises a graffiti from a US World Cup commercial. We walk down the steps and out, shaking hands.

Sidney CantagaloIt’s been an entertaining and enlightening 3 hours and a great way to start our Brazilian adventure.

Two minutes later we are strolling along the promenade of famous Copacabana beach being gently hassled by trinket sellers, spotting fans from Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, England, Spain and Mexico all deciding not to eat the various fried food offerings. A giant temporary structure at one end of the beach turns out to be the media centre where Gary Lineker, Adrian Chiles et al will broadcast from for the next month. At the far end of the great curved beach is the FIFA Fanpark, where we expect to watch England v Italy on Saturday night. fix the fucking picture

We walk around the headland to Ipanema beach where the tone softens, surfers fight the breaking waves and mini-vultures hop along the shoreline. Hat and scarf sellers have to pack up and vanish at a moment’s notice whenever a police car drives slowly and malevolently along the service road. We sip on vodka & tonic and watch the world walking by.  Later that night we eat with the beautiful people in Caffe Felice amidst a tropical downpour and a dumb waiter who brings me milk in a teapot. One mosquito bite and bed.


World Cup 2010 in South Africa part one – Cape Town

Cape Town June 17th

– we land in South Africa to the news that the local team Bafana Bafana representing the host nation have lost 3-0 to Uruguay while we were flying.  Uruguay are destined to be the party poopers at this World Cup, and everyone’s least favourite team. A kind of gloom is on the land as a result –  it’s winter but more like an English summer’s day on Table Mountain. The q for the cable car is so long we don’t bother. Robben Island is booked up all weekend. The English have arrived – all 20,000 of us, the best-supported team at this World Cup, though whether the boys deserve it is open to question. We watch Argentina take South Korea apart in a restaurant in Camps Bay as surfers catch a wave a few feet away. Very white this part of SA. Later that day France capitulate against Mexico giving Bafana Bafana a sliver of hope.

June 18th

– my birthday. We drive to Cape Point, the southernmost tip of Africa, pausing for baboons crossing the road, and searching in vain for penguins. Germany lose to Serbia and we drive back through Chapman’s Peak a stunning rocky cliff road that rivals the best of Amalfi or California. Then the ritual preparation for The England. Draped in flaggery and clutching our tickets we take a local minibus to the stadium just a couple miles up from our B&B in Seapoint.

greenpoint stadium june 18

The vuvuzela massive makes it’s presence felt, the stadium is a masterpiece and quite a thrilling structure, the weather is warm, and then, oh dear, the game. How such successful practitioners of the art of football produce quite such a turgid display of misplaced passes shin bounces, pathetic headers and off-target excuses for shots is beyond my analysis, but the regular torture of watching England play football is comfortably exceeded by this woeful and inept display. Two chaps behind us cannot believe their eyes and they voice all of our thoughts over the 90 minutes. “Sort yerselves out for christsakes”. “What’s going on?”. “I can’t believe what I’m watching – fuckin sort it out!”. The English footballers were clearly unable to sort it out. Add to the disappointment a rather large contingent of the England around Jenny and I singing “You can stick your vuvuzela up your arse” and the evening was complete. Quite the worst evening I have ever had on my birthday. We did go along to Norman Cook’s party after the game, picking up some S African musicians onto our guest list, and it did cheer us up somewhat thank god. But clearly England were not going to challenge for the World Cup. We felt bemused, stunned, angry, confused. Not good.

June 19th

Long Street cafe has the games, the internet and a decent menu, and a mixed clientele leading us to believe that perhaps people are starting to get it together over here.  Holland eventually beat Japan but Ghana and Cameroon struggle to make an impact and Africa is not being represented well at this tournament. We drink in Camps Bay later and meet some of the characters – Billy The Bee has gathered a large crowd of English many of whom have done World Cups before – including of course myself and Jenn. This is her fourth World Cup and my fifth – and various tournament veterans swap stories from Japan/Korea 02, France98, Germany06 and USA94.   After convincing the locals that Valentine is a member of the Ivory Coast squad we drive off in search of the next bar but it never appears and after 90 minutes, rather like England, we give up.

June 20th

New Zealand celebrate an early goal v world champions Italy

To the FIFA Fan Park in Independence Square where Mandela made his first speech after being released from 28 years in prison – the square and District 6 in general reeks of history but the fanpark is terribly disappointing – over-policed, very corporate and empty save for a few hundred locals and their face-painted kids, a smattering of soon-to-be-gutted Italians and four chaps from New Zealand in tights. We watch the second half in an Italian restaurant in Seapoint where our waiter (who looks Sri Lankan but sounds Cape) tells us that Cape Town types haven’t started sharing their wealth with the nation yet. The sun sets. Back to Long Street and a search for the perfect African vibe finally settling on Bob’s Bar where the almost entirely black clientele mingle with european footie fans from England Portugal and elsewhere to watch the big one : Brazil v Ivory Coast.  This is the African World Cup Final. The pool table is covered, the lights go down, Jen sits next to a very busty Nigerian lady named Candy who is waiting for her Swedish boyfriend to come and marry her, at which point she will ‘clean her pumpum’.  Sandy and her two friends are working girls and supporting Brazil, to the point where whenever Brazil score (3 times) Sandy attempts to do the same by waving her two giant Brazilian-flag-painted breasts at the middle-aged England fans in the bar, shouting “I’m a winner!”   But when Drogba scores for the Ivory Coast the roar is huge and african and electric. It is amazing how the africans all support the other teams from the continent – unheard of elsewhere on planet football. But the first black World Cup needs an African Success. I’ll never forget the intensity which came over the chaps playing pool when one by one they found a chair and lined up along the green baize, intent on the game, the World Cup meant everything to them. I imagined the scene being played out in bars and homes and clubs around the whole continent, around the whole world.

Fan Park, Cape Town

June 21st

Lunchtime kick-off at Green Point stadium and we’re back there in the rain with tickets for Portugal v North Korea, who are a bit of a collector’s item,unseen in a World Cup since their ’66 heroics. We see their “fans” – apparently Chinese actors pretending to be Korean – and are seated with the thousands of Portugese.

Portugal singing the anthem v North Korea

They sing and shout and eventually cheer as Portugal demolish North Korea 7-0.  Ronaldo finally scores rather like a trained seal after two barren years for the national team. It’s a big scoreline but North Korea collapsed in the 2nd half.  Later we eat wild boar and ostrich watching Chile and then take pictures from Signal Hill before going back to Lavender Lodge for the Spanish game watching in bed as we need to get up at five the following morning for a long drive down the garden route to Port Elizabeth.

World Cup in South Africa 2010 – part two : Bafana Bafana

5am Lavender Lodge, Seapoint. We rise and shower, breakfast and hit the road while it’s still night. Driving east through the city and out past Khayelitsha towards the winelands. It’s too early in the morning to drop in on my HIV orphans project  which I visited last time I was here – but we’ll be back. As we climb the impressive mountain road the lights of False Bay twinkle below us and disappear. The faint glimmer of dawn is on the horizon. Layers of mist swirl across the road, a tree-top here, the distant mountains poking through the blanket of soft cloud, the car eating up the kilometres.  Gas stops are clean, peopled by africans of varied hues, and you never fill your own tank – someone does it, wipes the windscreen, asks if you want the oil and water checked, gets tipped and on you go. We spot ostrich in a field, then in the back of a lorry. As the sun rises the mist starts to break up and melt and the full glory of the countryside is revealed, just one long unbroken road stretching out before us.

dawn on the garden route

Our deadline is 4pm – when Bafana Bafana kick off against France in the make-or-break final group game – or to be more accurate our deadline is 3.50 because we both want to hear our hearts beating when they play the national anthem of South Africa, N’kosi Sikelele Afrika, and wherever we are on the road we have to be part of it. So I drive like a demon until lunch, which, appropriately for the fabled Garden Route, we take in a Garden Centre. Surreal but there we are at outside tables with fry-ups, coffee and tea, delicious. Back on the road. All the land we drive through is farmland here, so the chances of seeing wild animals is slight. Nysna is a stunning break in the road, a great bay, a cliff-break to the sea, a small busy community. We move on through Humansdorp and reach Port Elizabeth where the road sweeps down to the beach and the Indian Ocean. I’ve been driving for eight hours and it’s 3pm. We push on driving north towards Addo on a small one lane road. Suddenly : zebra, wildebeest. It’s another farm. Then : monkeys, on the side of the road, in the bushes, a whole family with babies. That’s not a farm ! Thrilled we push on to Addo National Park and drive in at 3.45, park up, buy two beers and sit down in a great thatched dwelling with no walls, open to the bush, but crucially with a TV screen suspended from the roof and a few hundred South Africans gathered to wish, and hope, and pray. They need to win 5-0.  The anthem is immense, and touching when a six-year old girl behind us joins in.

Watching Bafana Bafana's last game in Addo

The game is lively. A Frenchman is sent off for the elbow. High drama. Bafana Bafana score after 20 minutes, then another, then another which is disallowed. We can scarcely believe it. 2-0 at half-time. In the other game, Uruguay are beating Mexico 1-0. Come on bafana !! Three more goals against ten men !  But it isn’t to be, they huff and they puff, the French score a goal but are still beaten 2-1 by our hosts South Africa, the greatest result in their history. France are bottom of the group and out, and so are Bafana Bafana sadly, on goal difference to Mexico, who proceed with Uruguay.  The locals are sad but not gutted I sense, and indeed they recover quickly, after all they are still hosting this tournament, and mindful of their role they brush themselves down, become philosophers (like us all) and whole-heartedly throw their support behind all the remaining African teams in the competition, and most notably Ghana. What is striking to us untravelled Europeans is the enthusiasm that white people have for Ghana, considering both themselves and Ghana to be Africans. And thus we learn an early lesson in south african culture. It’s not just black and white. They’re a rainbow nation, and they are moving forward. Together.

Next day we safari in our own vehicle through the park. There’s a map outside the office where they flag sightings from the dawn patrol, and since this park is the size of Buckinghamshire we need to target our morning.  Kudu are immediately in evidence, large graceful beasts, and it isn’t long before we see our elephants. A large family slowly crossing the road in front of us, eating, travelling, not bothered with us or the few other cars here. Magnificent spectacle it is to see them getting on with their day and we take endless photos.


We are not allowed to leave our vehicles here as it is deemed to be their space, and besides, it’s not safe !  Further down the road we spot a warthog with his wiggly tail, then a bird squawk beside the car alerts us to movement and a mongoose flashes by pouncing on a mouse. A kill right beside us. Then the leaves shake and it’s gone. Further up the hill are a group of eland with their elegant long horns, more ostrich and loads more, literally tons more elephants. We carry on driving into Port Elizabeth (PE) where England are due to play Slovenia at 4pm. We’ve had a wonderful wildlife day and decide not to try for tickets (later learn that people are giving them away and the ground isn’t full) but to try the Fifa Fanpark instead and get a different vibe. We make the first of many mistakes by asking a taxi driver fixing his engine where the fanpark is. “Summerstrand” he says with authority and waves us in the direction so off we go. Fifteen minutes later we are asking at the gas station where the fan park is – “next to the Casino, you can’t miss it”.  Turns out to be a funfair so now we ask a policewoman (with ten minutes to kick off and both of us getting frazzled with endless circling moves around PE). It’s in the cricket ground !!!  We finally park up, walk in through the frisk security, and indeed here we are at the Oval Port Elizabeth. Hundreds here, all locals from what we can tell, generally supporting England – we can tell from the painted faces and scarves.

south africans supporting england in PE cricket ground

This is rather moving, since the night before their beloved Bafana Bafana had been knocked out of the tournament thus ending the hosts’ interest in the World Cup, yet the very next day they’re actually painting their faces with the red on white cross of St George and cheering on the uninspired millionaires Gerrard Lampard Rooney and Defoe – oh what a goal !! Come on England !!!  Half time we mingle with the locals, eat local food (kudu burgers ? “proper african food” says the white lady serving from a caravan) and wait forever for a cup of tea. Defoes’s goal is replayed on the big screen. C’mon we can do this. Hope springs eternal. But it wasn’t to last – a brief moment of inspiration, a flickering match in the dark which cannot light the way to the poetry of football, to touch, to control, to pass, to cross, to shoot, to score. We grind out a 1-0 win and actually laugh as John (poison) Terry throws himself horizontally at the ball in a surreal attempt to deflect a Slovenian shot. USA score against Algeria in the 92nd minute and we finish second in the group, but without deserving anything from a weak group of teams, we are through to the knockout stages with a chance to turn it round. So who will it be ?  Serbia ? Ghana ? Germany ???

mummy warthog protects her two warthoglets, Addo

World Cup 2010 in South Africa – part 3 : please not penalties

24 June

Addo – We wake before dawn because we’ve signed up for the 7am guided safari, on the understanding that more animals will be visible and moving around at that time of day. Breakfast is delayed until we return. It’s cold and we huddle in an open sided vehicle as our guide explains that we may not see any animals. Oh. But once inside the ‘wildlife area’ – so-called because amidst all this farmland, the citrus groves, sheep grazing and steers, the only place you’ll find wild animals – ie ‘the big five’ : elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo, leopard or the smaller (?) six : hippo, giraffe, jackal, hyena, warthog, eland – is inside an electric fence patrolled by wardens. This comes as a shock to me – my imagined Africa has already disappeared, certainly here, probably in Kenya, Zambia and elsewhere too. We shiver and wait for a sighting, cameras ready. A jackal, almost as soon as we’re inside, skulking through the scrub. Kudu. Elephants more elephants, bless ’em. Then a long wait, a long drive and – nothing. A driver tells us a lion ‘just crossed the road’ but since there are only six lion in this giant park we don’t seriously expect to see it. Nonethless we stare at the bushes for ten minutes. Then as we turn around for the drive back to camp, a crashing noise to the right and a huge lone Cape Buffalo runs acorss the road directly in front of us and into the bush on the left. Cameras click madly and I get one great shot of him, an aging male, not with the family any more, wandering around solo.

3 subs no goalie

At breakfast we discuss last night’s results : Germany beat Ghana 1-0 with a beautiful goal by young star Özil, but the Aussies went out with a bang beating Serbia 2-1 thus Ghana have qualified for the 2nd round – the only African team left in the competition.  Had we topped our group we’d have played them in Rustenburg, but that pleasure now falls to the USA, while we just need to drive a few hours north to Bloemfontein and a meeting with the young German team. Thrilling prospect though it is, our plans and all of the 20,000 England fans out here are now in disarray : we have rooms booked in Joburg, booked on the assumption that we would win the group. German and Dutch fans have made similar arrangements, but their teams had the dignity to deliver. Ah well. We hit the road for a short (3-hour) drive to our next B&B in Graaf Reinet and wave goodbye to Addo.

Oranges oranges everywhere, oranges and lemons by the acre. Or hectare probably. Cape fruit. Outspan. All the dreaded symbols of apartheid that we boycotted all those years ago, leaving them to rot in the fruitbowl if mother made the short-sighted error of actually buying the stuff. All so different now – black majority rule, a country looking forward not back, we need to get with the programme. Monkeys sit on fence posts by the roadside but if you slow down to take a picture they jump off and lollop away in gangs like teenage boys.

vervet monkey

The road here goes on forever, rather like those desert roads in New Mexico and Arizona, the endless horizon, the deep blue sky, the odd vehicle. It’s exhilerating stuff and we stop in random Boer towns for gas and drinks, the accent is strong and the skin weathered. There is cactus, more monkey gangs and a field of blue cranes. As we reach Graaf Reinet and fill up, the chap at the till thinks that “3 teams can win the World Cup. Brazil, Argentina….and Ghana!”  It’s the first indication we get since last night’s game of how the african imagination has embraced the Ghanaian campaign and will follow them all the way – to the final ? Who knows ??  The B&B is delicious – cats and dogs lazing in the sunlit garden, tea made for us on arrival, a spacious cosy room, and moreover, directions to the Valley Of Desolation.

Karoo landscape near Graaf Reinet

Graaf Reinet is surrounded on three sides by the Karoo National Park, and the geography here, nevermind the wildlife is quite stunning. We take a short drive past the lake and wind our way up the mountainside, the views at the top are breathtaking on Monument Valley scale. Not quite Bryce Canyon at the top, but a similar rock formation towers over the Karoo desert. On the way back down the sun is dipping and animals are making their way to the lake, crossing the road where they fancy – we see ostrich, springbok – my wife’s favourite animal which means I can’t eat any at dinner – and the smaller duiker and very large-eared Cape Grysbok which is basically bambi. Upon our return to the hotel two German guests are hunched in front of the TV in the lounge watching Italy get beaten 3-2 by Slovakia and dumped out of the tournament – the holders of the trophy are going home! It’s a thrilling moment – even my brother Paul texts me from Shanghai “best match yet!!”,  Missed it, I answer, “on safari”.  He doesn’t send any more texts after that – until the game with Germany that is…

In the evening we eat some ostrich and have a glass of wine in a very arty little restaurant called Die Kliphuis just round the corner. Graaf Reinet is a quite superb little gem of a town with over 200 listed buildings, and a quite unique feel to it. We see a Japanese couple in the blue shirts walking around, but mainly locals. Our black waiter is definitely gay, like the white proprietor, so that was another collecter’s item. Back at the B&B we watch Japan see the Danish off with a wonderful display of football, winning 3-1 to book their place in the last 16 then go to bed happy and exhausted and reasonably drunk.

June 25th

Breakfast is completely awesome, as it has been every morning on this trip. B&B is simply the only way to travel. On the drive out of town we are randomly stopped and asked for our driving licence opposite the local township – always on the edge of town, always crowded with always black people. It’s stopped feeling weird. As we drive across more stunning scenery we spot a large group of springbok leaping around in some kind of courtship display and flexing and stop for pictures. A group of eland stand by watching impassively.


Then we hit the trail again, more monkeys, the odd meerkat and ground squirrel aside, it’s non-stop to Bloemfontein.  Actually we did a quick sandwich stop at an interesting desert museum type place which had hosted forty Swiss the night before. They’re playing in Bloem tonight against Honduras – but it’s not a game we’ve planned to attend. Spain v Chile is on the TV !!

Bloemfontein is entered the wrong way completely and we find oursleves in the market area totally surrounded by people, taxis, people with huge loads balanced on their heads, men in suits on mobiles, kids in rags. A few right turns, and there is the stadium, the Waterfront (small lake) and the FIFA ticketing office. No it’s sold out (England v Germany in 2 days time) but come back tomorrow and englandfans will have a desk. If you have a fan number (we do !!)  The place is crawling with Swiss dressed as cows, with horns and cowbells, and there are a few Hondurans too.

Swiss gather at the waterfront, Bloemfontein

The B&B is possibly the best yet, Cape Dutch architecture, a siamese cat called Izzy whom I fall in love with (we do miss our two on the road) and – wonders will never cease – a hairdryer !! Spain deliver and so does David Villa scoring another terrific goal. He establishes himself as my wife’s favourite player in the tournament. Hard to argue, though Özil is pretty special I think.

Breakfast is glorious as ever, with Izzy becoming literally attached to my knee, then off we go to search for accomodation at the University of the Free State, since we only planned to be in Bloem for one night. We were supposed to drive to Joburg today, but Billy the Bee has sublet our room successfully and we’re gonna stay here. The University room is only 600 rand a night but it’s a prison cell. We console ourselves with the thought that if you are actually at this University and staying in this Hall Of Residence, you’re one of the lucky ones. Back at FIFA and englandfans we get so incredibly lucky it’s not true – someone hasn’t needed their pair of Cat 2 tickets to tomorrow’s showdown and for one hundred quid each (face value) we are IN.  One of the more sublime feelings on this earth is to score a pair of tickets to a World Cup game, usually outside the stadium with 15 minutes til kick-off, this is almost two whole days away. We relax for the rest of the day and watch the gathering England fans as we witness Uruguay beat South Korea with a superb goal by Suarez. More about him later. In the evening we look for another fanpark and find one in the other University – a large hall inside (nice – it’s cold) with a large screen, beer, and food. Not great food, but we stay in a pretty african atmosphere for the big one – USA v Ghana. It’s tight and goes to extra time at 1-1. When Gyan rips the US net with the winning goal the place erupts, I leap off my seat and the man behind me gives me the biggest squeeze. It’s the most euphoric moment we will experience at the tournament. Ghana are in the quarter final, and will play Uruguay.

Next day after a night in the cell, thus woken by English accents outside our door (shared bathrooms) from all corners of this green and pleasant land (“what’s breakfast like ? Mince. Shit.”) it’s England day. We’re England all flipping day. T-shirt, flags, jackets, tickets, the lot. The waterfront mall is awash with St George and it’s very very difficult to get a drink anywhere. It’s heaving with English and Germans. Locals have joined in on one side or the other.  Drink ? We’ve pretty much drunk the place dry and it’s not even 3pm. We finally manage to find some beer and talk briefly about the perils of pitching your tent on a hippo path with two chaps from Dewsbury who have been camping in Kruger. And the delicious slow walk to the stadium surreptitiously supping beer from the bottle and spurning offers of spare tickets, meeting Steve from Brighton and moving inside the arena to confront our destiny, full of hope and love and joy.

chav millionaires look like this

their anthem is also better than ours

the human condition : the hope of glory...

And thus the game. Lovely seats, between sets of British asian fans, front row second tier – thus when people stand up, there’s no-one in front of you. A perfect view then, of the demolition job the young talented German team performed on our aging fat superstars. Never at the races frankly. They turned us, outran us, outpassed us, outscored us by four to one. Yes yes, all the talk at halftime was of the text received from Ibiza that the ball was two feet over the line, three feet over the line, a goal, that Lampard had scored, should be two-two, but deep down we knew, as one fan said to me in despair : “what is it with England and tournaments?”  This isn’t the forum for that debate, but we were spanked that afternoon by a side willing to run for each other all day. We barely moved above a trot. Out. And stay out.

As the afternoon faded to evening and Germany progressed impressively to the quarter finals and a probable match with Argentina, we were left to cry into our beer and into the arms of happy Germans, and look for food. The bars were awash with hugging entente ; grown men weeping into fat German shoulders. Music pounded into the african night. Drink was drunk. Not a glass was broken in anger. We wished them luck, and went home to bed. Fucking England. What a bunch of inept overpaid woeful wankers. They let us all down, and it hurt.  Time to move on. One more night in the cell then away. If you’re out of luck or out of work we can send you to Johannesburg.

lesson one : learn how to pass the ball

World Cup 2010 in South Africa – part 4 : Soweto

June 28

The morning after. Woken by English voices again in the corridor : “going to Durban”, “flying home”, “going back to Joburg”. The students running the prison-sleep facility are sweet natured and sympathetic, but they know their football, and Germany are their new favourite team. Oh yes we’re going home we’re going home we’re going, football’s going home.  But we’re not.  No.  Last night some wag re-invented the “England Til I Die” song (I know I am, I’m sure I am) as “Ghana Til July”.  Class. Along with the rest of Africa we adopt Ghana as our team. So yes we reconvene in Steers for the largest breakfast ever seen – strangely midwestern atmosphere here in Bloemfontein, proper giant on-the-road breakfast where we nurse our wounds and plan the next few days activity.  It’s a four-hour drive north to Johannesburg. For reasons unknown, five of them squeeze into one car, and only Jenny and I sit in ours, but – we’re following The Bee.  This is a theme we will return to throughout our time in Johannesburg, not always with a happy ending.

The road is uneventful – apart from meeting old mate Shekar in a gas station, awaiting the Capello press conference. He works for the Standard and weirdly (or perhaps not) knows Billy. We decide to head for Soweto FanPark to watch the Dutch play Slovakia, slayers of Italy. And so in we go. This being the legendary SOuth WEst TOwnship we are taking pictures of the most ordinary sights – people at bus-stops, painted adverts on walls, views of traffic jams. The cooling towers are spectacular and graffittied all over, and Orlando Stadium, home to the Orlando Pirates, is impressive. The team I used to play for in London on Sunday mornings was called The Hoxton Pirates as a tribute to the Soweto team. Many circles being joined here. The name has echoed through my life since I can remember, but I guess mainly since the student uprising in 1976 when I was 18.  It all feels very peaceful and clean and organised here though – all streets are paved, lamp-posts, electricity, real houses not shacks, hard to see any corrugated iron or clap-board dwellings that you’d get in Khayelitsha. I realise that they’ve had 15 years of investment here. Mandela has since moved away (he used to live on Vilakazi Street just up from Desmond Tutu) but Tutu still lives here among his people.

Soweto graff cooling towers

And it’s become a vast suburb, rather like Milton Keynes, all bungalows, an orangey glow from the red earth and pastel orange walls of the houses, and buses, cars, traffic, a brand new shopping centre, tourists. That’s us !  We find the Fanpark and enter through security. So thrilled are we to be there that we’re taking pictures of anything with the word Soweto on. After some nice cups of tea from a man from Ivory Coast (commiserations) we walk in to the big screen and join about thirty people dotted about watching the Holland game. Really empty. The sun is setting and it’s a beautiful evening but there’s no ‘vibe’ as such. Some lads playing football, some kids playing vuvuzelas and bouncy castles, a few Europeans like us.

We drive up to our new home in Bryanston at half-time, one of Johannesburg’s wealthy suburbs, our street gated and manned by Checkpoint Charlie as we call him, our large house owned by ‘Black Diamonds’ Sotwa and Muriel, part of the emerging black middle class, with two young girls, . They have installed a chap called Willard  (the sweetest-natured man you’ve ever met) who tidies up and cooks us breakfast every morning. He is here for the World Cup from Malawi, happy to have found work. The house has a huge back garden peopled by woodpeckers, prehistoric ibis pigeons and siamese cats who don’t like black people. We worked out that the ‘staff”  in this area will probably beat pets who scavenge. We have a large room with bathroom, shower and tea-making facilities. It’s a joy. That night Brazil beat Chile and will play Holland in the quarter final. We watch the game in Fashion TV Cafe – suggested by Ade, one of the characters. Ade is an Australian Nigerian Englishman. Other characters in this bar tonight are Laney (England Til I Die editor and Brentford), Billy (Brentford and Kick Racism Out) and Aisling, her sister Rosie, Craig and his sister Alli (Bristol Rovers and Bristol City) and John or Wally (Chelsea).  And me (Brighton). The bar is red and peopled by French students getting off with each other. They are about twelve. Jenny (Spurs) makes friends in the ladies toilet with another working girl with a spectacular set of breasts from Nigeria. We realise that girls dancing to disco on their own is a kind of semaphore. Ade spends the entire game online. Our waitress actually has the nerve to tell us that our fifteen percent tip an a reasonably hefty bar bill (with burgers n chips) “isn’t big enough”.  Nice.  Back in the house characters recall previous World Cups, the general election and what we’re going to do about it. A different kind of blog altogether.

The following morning the assembled characters get into the three cars and head back to Soweto and the Hector Pieterson Museum, which is just round the corner from Mandela’s House, and thrumming with tourists. It’s a new construction and movingly takes us through the events leading up to June 16th 1976 when the students of Soweto marched and refused to be taught in Afrikaans. Thousands mobilised that day and scores were shot dead by the police. Hector Pieterson was the first to die and a large photo of his lifeless body being carried by another student with his sister running alongside dominates the area.

Hector Pieterson Museum, Soweto

It’s one of those iconic images of grief and despair that changed the world – after the deaths and the ensuing fires with government buildings set alight, the world sat up and took notice, the UN passed a resolution, China and others condemned the SA Govt and Anti-Apartheid movements the world over boycotted South African goods (at the request of the people of south africa it has to be said). The Unions joined forces with the students and the system was at war with it’s own people from that moment. Fifteen years later Mandela was released after a campaign of terror, largely managed from Botswana, strikes, boycotts and international pressure. It’s an amazing exhibit, built on the spot where it all started.

We drive from Soweto due north to Pretoria, another name which echoes down through the years. Jen wonders if we can visit John Vorster Square, where the notorious police station stands and where so many activists perished “jumping from the window” including Steve Biko and Chris Hani. My guess is that it would have changed it’s name – we see Nelson Mandela Drive, Freedom Square and Transvaal has become Gauteng, so complete has the revolution here been.  We find the stadium and a couple of tickets for £40 each and bamboozle our way past very lax security so that we’re sitting right behind the goal. Paraguay v Japan. Last 16.  Frankly a dull football match, but we always find plenty to entertain ourselves.  Billy Laney and Ash enter the world of the Japanese Ultra where drums are banged and Samurai attitudes struck. John Jen and I decide to go upstairs for the second half and I meet a drunken afrikaaner enthusing to two black chaps whom he doesn’t know about sport, south africa and the world cup.  I congratulate them all on hosting a brilliant tournament, it’s been a spectacular welcome and very moving (people in gas stations commiserating with the Lampard over-the-line effort) and the white fella expounds “And look at the last fifteen years!” (you’ll have to imagine the accent) ” the country has changed so much ! I can talk to you (the black fella) without my father giving me a clup round the ear”.  Extraordinary.  The black fella clasps the white chap’s hand and gives him the bloodbrother handshake. Another great World Cup moment.  Meanwhile the Japan push the Paraguay all the way through extra time to penalties then miss the fourth spot-kick, cue tears and wild celebrations.

Paraguay beat Japan on penalties in Pretoria

Paraguay have never been in a quarter final before. The game finishes and the locals (for the stadium is filled with locals black white and indian) melt away into the night, we pay our car-park attendant the usual 10 Rand and drive south to a restaurant in Melville called The Catz Pyjamas. Or at least that’s the intention.  After following The Bee for an hour and a half, with stops, torchlit map consultation, petrol station direction requests, U-turns and other dithers, all while listening to the first half of a classic Spain v Portugal clash On The Car Radio with Alli John and Craig in the back, we peel off and head back to an Italian we saw ten minutes earlier and Ignored (God Knows Why). Later we discover that The Bee was actually meetng someone in the Pyjamas so had to find it. But we didn’t and we ordered beer and settled down for the second half. Villa scored again, and Spain progressed. Alli and Craig are off to Cape Town tomorrow so I hook them up with the Guest House in Khayelitsha there, built in a squatter camp and completely sustainable. We finally manage to change our flight to the following Monday from Johannesburg, which means we don’t have to drive a couple of thousand kilometers and 14 hours south back to the Cape.

We bed down in Johannesburg and decide to explore.

World Cup in South Africa 2010 – part 5 : Jozi

June 30th/July 1st

How very weird. Two rest days. Two days without football. We go to Sandton with The Bee, Aisling and Rosie for a little lunch and shop. It’s the financial heart of Johannesburg, full of black diamonds and middle classes of every hue. Nelson Mandela Square is spoiled by a large inflatable Sony exhibition tent – the inflatable corporate theme of this World Cup are these red and white blobs of shit everywhere.

characters : Aisling, Jen, Rosie, Billy The Bee, Ade

Billy goes to take Ais and Rosie to the airport and Jen and I decide to investigate the legendary Market Theatre of Johannesburg which is downtown in Newtown. This is the true heart of Jozi, there’s a real african feel to these streets, stalls, taxis, people selling animal parts (yuk) and general street business. We circle the area and the brand new Mandela bridge a few times before we find the venue, an impressive adaptation of a fruit market into one of the most famous theatres in the world. Regularly putting on anti-apartheid plays during the dark days, run by Barney Simon, this theatre helped shape many people’s politics, and when they toured the UK and elsewhere, spread the word about what was happening inside South Africa during the 70s and 80s.  We feel almost on a pilgrimage to buy tickets and see a show here.

Market Theatre, Johannesburg

But tonight there’s no theatre – it’s the south african music festival and a band called Jozi are playing. We buy tickets and join a gang of teenagers mainly, black kids largely in the legendary auditorium. Jen quietly sheds a tear. Then a DJ starts scratching and Jozi turn out to be a local hip-hop act , a DJ with a great singer and a very cool rapper, quite poppy but extremely good. The teenage girls are screaming and as they bring on various guest artists some of whom rap in local languages sesotho, xhosa and sestwana we are thoroughly entertained. Jozi’s main rapper reappears on a skateboard and raps while circling the stage. Impressive. Over the road in the Laboratory is another show included in the ticket price so we wander in. It’s called The House Of The Holy Afro and is essentially a drag act with House music. We get bored and leave. But a quick word about House, or Afro-House which dominatess the airwaves here – we didn’t bring any CDs or ipods and thus listen to the local radio stations all day long, and I tell you what – afro-house is IT mate !!!  Very 80s mixes but with the unmistakable rumble which places it on this continent. Loads of covers too of famous soul songs by local artists. A very musically rich culture here. My favourite Jozi songs were those that sampled mbaquanga – people like Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens, pumping township jive from the 70s and 80s, but all the music here : the gospel, the pop, the house, the hiphop, the jazz is so vivid, so full of energy. You can’t beat a township jive bassline though! Ask Malcolm McClaren…

Next day we drive up to De Wildt’s Cheetah Reserve in the afternoon which is north of Pretoria and spend a few hours in the company of these beautiful beasts. They’re bred here and placed back into the wild (why it’s called “the wild” I don’t know since this inevitably means a National Park or ‘game reserve’. And while we’re at it the word ‘game’ tells you all you need to know about it’s disappearance in the last 300 years and why it all now needs protecting. Game bollocks.That and the local superstitions about animal parts.) The centre also uses the more naturalized cheetahs as ‘ambassadors’ and they are taken to townships and shown to children who get to stroke them, thus allaying some of the fear africans have of these large cats.


This park also breeds some other endangered species notably vultures and African Hunting Dogs – not to be confused with hyenas. These are amazing pack animals – no-one goes hungry even the lame and old – and the young pups are given first gobbles at any food that appears. They are fed in front of us and we watch the heirarchy of eating. If there is none left for the males, they get regurgitated food which gets passed around. Disgusting, but other species simply don’t look after each other in this way. Their eyes are red, and when we drive into their area they run around our vehicle as if we are a group of impala. The African Hunting Dog is extremely rare in the so-called “wild” and cannot be domesticated – even if you bring one up as a puppy, it will challenge you one day. They stay wild essentially. I loved ’em.

african hunting dog puppies

That night we drive into Melville with Billy, the funkiest part of Jozi where blacks and whites mingle all night long in the various bars restaurants and clubs. It feels a little like Brighton, and many of the folk here are the “Born Free” generation, in their 20s. There is a relaxed confident lively vibe in Melville which is very warm.

July 2nd

watching Holland defeat Brazil in Soweto

Quarter Finals start today – we drive back to Soweto to watch Brazil v Holland in a restaurant there called Sakhumzis on Vilakazi Street. It’s packed but we manage to get a table. Present : me, Jen, Billy, Ade, Hinsh and Damian and many dutch, brazilian and locals who engage in face painting while watching Brazil tumble out of the tournament to all of our delight. Not because we love Holland, but Brazil and their fans always seem to have this air of entitlement when it comes to World Cups – they’re the best, bow down and worship, and move on. It’s a pleasure to see them beaten frankly.

And so on to Soccer City, where all the painted faces have only one flag on them – that of Ghana. Soccer City is the calabash-shaped arena where the opening ceremony was held, and where the final will be played. It’s near Soweto, not in it, so once again we are following The Bee. A few circling movements around the township and we’re in traffic with the usual young chaps offering parking. But we’re miles from the stadium, so Billy spins round, I follow, and we’re off down the motorway to a different exit, through a security roadblock with a nod and spying three cars parked behind some orange cones right next door to the hospitality, slide in behind them.  The stadium is breathtaking, Jen and I need to find two tickets which we promptly do for £100 each and we enter the arean to witness The Ghana take on Uruguay in the World Cup Quarter finals.

Soccer City - Ghana v Uruguay

The place is astonishing by any standards, and the game is good. Muntari scores for Ghana just before halftime, but Forlan equalizes with a stunning free-kick just after the restart, and it stays 1-1. Until that final minute of extra time when Suarez handballs on the line and is red-carded, but of course all the tension and pressure then falls onto Gyan to convert the resulting penalty kick.

Gyan's - and africa's - moment of destiny.

Seconds after the photo was taken Gyan stepped up and crashed his shot against the crossbar and up into the night sky. It was the last kick of the game and we went to penalties. We all knew Ghana were out. Respect to Gyan, he picked himself up and converted the first pen, but they were undone and Uruguay progressed to much booing while Gyan had to be carried off the pitch such was his personal despair. I felt for him – he’ll have to carry that moment forever, but over-riding that sorrow was a terrible sense that an injustice had been done. That a player had cheated – handball on the goal-line preventing a certain goal – and kept his team in the game, which they had then won. A very sour taste in the mouth for a whole continent, nay a whole watching world to swallow. A very poor lesson to teach the kids inside that stadium and watching in their homes across the globe. Cheating works.  Gutted, we walked back to the car, but it was no longer there, and neither was Billy’s.  We’d been towed. The other 3 cars parked there were police cars.

sorry - how do we get to the car pound ?

Jen sweeted up the policewoman with her charm and little-girl-lost eyes and in the twinkling of a star we were in a taxi bound for Jozi with strict instructions we were not to be charged more than 10Rand (90p) each.  The cars cost 700 Rand to recover. One of those nights.

Next day was Melville again for shopping and internet cafe coffee and a ringside seat for Germany v Argentina – the best game of the tournament for my money where the Germans once again impressed us all with their simple direct running approach and stuffed Tevez, Messi and Co 4-0. Billy rang to say we had two tickets for that night’s game, so as dusk descended we drove over to Ellis Park, home of the 1995 South African Rugby World Cup Final for the last quarter final – Spain v Paraguay. The locals appeared to have recovered from supporting Ghana and were bedecked to a man woman and child in the red and yellow of Spain. The game was tight, and ended 1-0 to the Spanish with another David Villa goal.

A pyramid of Spanish joy which occurred once every 90 minutes

Definitely the roughest part of Jozi we’d been in, especially Summit Hill which we drove through accidentally, but it was swarming with very heavy police some of whom were a little too heavy-handed with ticket sellers. After the match we bought vuvuzelas for the folks back home and drove back to Melville where we met with FA contingent ‘Gravy’ and Paul Elliott who are part of England’s bid for the 2018 World Cup. We all agreed that England had a great deal to learn from the South Africans in terms of hospitality, attitude to visitors and foreigners generally, infrastrucure and overall charm. We need to woo FIFA delegates with our attitude instead of parading that entitled flex that Brazil operate on – I don’t expect the next World Cup in Brazil to feel anything like this one, or for the South American continent to feel as welcoming or united as Africa has done for these past three weeks. They’ve been the perfect hosts : warm, committed, friendly, offering shelter, food, transport and guidance. Always happy to hear we were visiting from England, how would the average English person be when confronted with African football fans at the 2018 World Cup in Manchester, Leeds or Newcastle ?

July 4th/5th

Anyway on our last day in the Rainbow Nation we went to Alexandra township which is considerably poorer and has less facilities than Soweto, where FIFA were running a Football For Hope festival which involved six-a-side games between teenagers of both sexes from many different countries – we watched Lesotho v Nigeria for example and took loads of pictures. The warmth with which we were greeted once again was quite overwhelming.  What an amazing country.

Billy and some Alexandra township lads

Then back to Soweto once again – because Ziggy Marley is playing back at the FanPark we originally visited a week ago. As we walk in it sounds like Bob himself is singing Get Up Stand Up and it feels as if all the rastas in africa are here, the smell of ganja, the Ghana flags, the Ethiopia flags, the kids, the white people here too, and then the Jamming bassline pumps out and we bounce we stride we rock.

Ziggy Marley playing his dad's 'Africa Unite' in Soweto

It’s been said before, but Bob Marley’s kids really do sound like him. As Ziggy talks about unity and economic co-operation across africa our hearts swell with hope and longing, and the band launch into “Africa Unite” and the place simply takes off.  One of my moments of the World Cup without doubt.

Then it’s over and we’re done. We do come back to Soweto one more time to buy Bafana Bafana shirts and grab some lunch before our flight home. It’s been a magical three weeks in South Africa, and we feel that we will be ambassadors for this great country when we get home, tell everyone to come here and see for themselves – the forward-looking energy, the desire to make things work, the huge reserves of hope and willingness.  It’s been an inspiration.

Thank you Africa ! Whoever wins the Final, it’s been a triumph for this continent, and we feel lucky to have been a part of it.

Vilakazi St, Soweto, July 2010