Seattle Times readers are headed to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup. Follow them as they send dispatches from the matches they attend as well as notes on their experiences traveling in the country. Get to know the World Cup community bloggers.
Beer showers from Mexico fans
Our group made the three-hour drive to Polokwane to watch the Mexico vs. France match. The Mexico team has a strong, loud and large following that made the pre-game festivities at the fan fest fun. We came across a couple that had properly handled their nationality issue with flair: the guy was from France, his girlfriend from Mexico. They purchased a national team jersey from both teams, cut them in half and sewed one side blue (France) and one side green (Mexico) to support both teams. Nicely done!
The game was fun with Mexico taking an easy 2-0 victory. The French team has become the most disappointing team in the tournament. One thing to note if you have not ever gone to a Mexico national team game. Many of their fans love to throw/spray beer when the score and/or win. The scene is hard to explain — we thought it was rice at first, before we realized it was barley and hops cascading down the stadium seats. It was all in good fun until a few plastic bottles hit the field. Still, it was okay to get a little wet with all the excitement of the game.
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A trip to Pilanesberg National Park
No game on the schedule today, so we packed in a car at 7:30 a.m. for a tour of Pilanesberg National Park.
We had an amazing time at the park. We passed on the guided tour and took our own car through the reserve. We only had to be told three times to get back into our vehicle by the passing guided tours. There were giraffes, wildebeest, baboons, zebras and groups of deer/bucks. We were losing hope of seeing an elephant or lion but our patience was rewarded when we spotted an elephant on the way out of the park. After 20 or so pictures from 20 to 30 yards away, we moved on feeling good about our first non-game ticket day.
We got home at 4 p.m. to watch the Switzerland vs. Spain game on T.V. before heading out to the local center to watch the host South African team take on Uruguay. Wow! Switzerland scored against the run of play and held on for a win. Our new Sounders FC boy Blaise Nkufo started and played well. Looking forward to when he puts on the rave green to help jump start our Sounders. We then moved to a local watering hole to watch the South Africa game against Uruguay. The national attention and importance of the South Africa team is very apparent so we were sad when Uruguay won 3-0.
The “World Cup of Ideas”
The first week has been all about different ways to enjoy the World Cup in South Africa without actually setting foot in a stadium (our first game is USA vs. Slovenia this Friday).
After the village fan park for kick off, it was back to work Saturday. My project used the excitement of the World cup to bring local youth leadership together for the very creatively named, “World Cup of Ideas.” The goal was to create an open forum for the community stakeholders to learn what is needed in education by collaborating with the youth themselves. It was an incredibly inspiring event that displayed the amazing hope that is alive in rural South Africa.
One of the key recipients of this hope was South Africa’s beloved Bafana Bafana. The 33 ninth grade students in attendance almost uniformly believed their team had what it takes not to just play well but to win the World Cup. Wouldn’t it be something if their youthful hope turned out to be right on this one? Either way, it was great to see how much pride the students took in Africa’s first World Cup. One gentleman attending the event phrased it nicely: “Maybe this generation of African kids won’t be left out of all the excitement of this world.”
PHOTO COURTESY COREY JOHNSON
A few of my favorite quotes from the kids:
“South Africa will beat Uruguay 4-0. I promise,” said a Bafana Bafana super fan, who was seconded by the rest of the group of boys. It should be noted this was the same outcome he predicted for England vs. USA (which ended in a 1-1 tie.)
“It is amazing that this event has connected all communities throughout the entire country. It is also cool we don’t have to go to school for a month,” said another student.
“I’m tired of it and all the noise. I wish it was over today,” said one of the more scholastically inclined female students.
Next, the great soccer road trip begins with a trip to check and see if Mozambique has any reported cases of World Cup fever. If you are interested in learning more about Koh Scholar or the Nkomazi region’s incredible youth, visit: kohscholar.org.
The atrocity that is the vuvuzela
It is the iconic image — or should I say sound — of the 2010 World Cup: the damn vuvuzela. The horn has been the consternation of players, fans, and referees alike but that seems to only galvanize the thousands of makeshift musicians who play them. And it’s not just the natives. Tourists too have been duped into the cultural charm of these plastic instruments.
The world was first introduced to the atrocity that is the vuvuzela during the 2009 Confederations Cup when broadcasts from South Africa were polluted with the noise that sounds like an incessant swarm of buzzing bees. I assure you it is even worse in person.
The objections and outcry has been as widespread as jt has been predictable. T.V. audiences complain, ticket holders question its impact on match atmosphere, and players and referees say they can’t communicate on the field because of them. Then yesterday, South Africa’s head of the World Cup organizing committee threatened to ban them less than a week into the tournament, because people were using them during the national anthems.
Sir, people haven’t stopped using them since we arrived. Our tour guide on the way to the USA-England game felt the need to blow his throughout the bus trip. I’ve even read reports in the paper that people have suffered swollen lips and sore throats from overuse, which perhaps explains why I’ve now seen hand-operated vuvuzelas that require less effort but produce the same awful roar. Our travel agency went so far as to recommend ear plugs for visitors because of the risk of hearing loss that has been linked to the literally painful sound.
And yet the band of vuvuzelanists play on, happy as can be. Then again, this is a historic moment in South Africa. I suppose the least we can do is let them toot their own horns. Heck, I may just have to figure out how to fit one of these into my luggage. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re certainly unique to South Africa and the 2010 World Cup.
See a vuvuzela photo gallery.
For Brazil, it’s like playing at home
I just flew into Johannesburg from Seattle yesterday, through Amsterdam. There were a terrific number of fans on the plane into Joburg, and not just from the countries you expect, like Brazil or Spain. I had a very interesting conversation with six fans from Honduras who were seeing their first World Cup. In addition, I noticed Swiss, Kiwis, Paraguayans, and even two Serbians. The representation is just amazing, and you can see it all over town.
I am here with some customers from Turkey (who were wearing Turkey jerseys despite the fact that they didn’t qualify) and we toured the city today, had a fantastic African lunch, and then fought the traffic into Ellis Park (site of the 1995 Rugby World Cup final featured in Invictus) for Brazil vs. North Korea. I have heard that the transport, security, etc. were extremely disorganized in the first few days but that was not the case today.
This was basically a home game for Brazil; everywhere they go, they have tons of Brazilians following them, and most other people like their style so much that they simply adopt them for a game or more when their preferred team is not on the field. So, in this case, the South Africans were heavy Brazil supporters. Yellow shirts, flags, drums, etc. Only the bitter cold (and it was bitter cold and windy) kept the Brazilians from some of their more flamboyant outfits. When North Korea did score there were no flags to speak of; just one lonely Chinese flag which I guess was a political statement.
You can read all the facts of the game elsewhere but my feeling was that Brazil realized they were in a dogfight in about the 35th minute. North Korea played a terrific defensive game, packing the center of the field with two layers of defenders and forcing Brazil wide — which is not their game. This didn’t make for end-to-end action but it was North Korea’s best chance for a result. They typically had ten players behind the ball, and had clearly been coached to take long range shots given all the weird bounces and goalkeeping mistakes in this tournament.
Brazil barely created a real scoring chance in the first half. The pro-Brazil crowd was extremely restless, cursing at the referee, shouting frustration at the players, etc. Although, it seemed like they were gaining momentum as the first half ended and opened with even more momentum in the second half. They finally broke through with an absolute classic of a goal; some will argue it was meant to be a cross, but I was sitting right in line with Maicon as he struck the ball and I think he was watching the goalkeeper cheat out to intercept a cross and then intentionally hit it behind him. At any rate, the replays will show where his eyes were looking. The second goal was even better, a sweet diagonal through a flat back four and a one touch shot to the far post. Then, Brazil’s marking got sloppy. They conceded one nice goal and a few other good chances but nothing on net. It could have ended badly for them.
Some observations from this environment:
1. This did not feel like a Brazil game. I have seen them play in England at Wembley Stadium and in the United States; the fans use drums, chants, songs, etc., basically making a constant din of semi-organized noise which is usually very entertaining. But, they were held back by:
2. The vuvuzela craze. Yes, they are loud, but it seems like the real problem is that no one can make any other noise. No song or drum can be louder than the din of the horns. I don’t mind this because it’s at least unique to this World Cup, but it is a bit sad that nothing else can come out.
3. Given the cold (it was at or near zero Celsius tonight), I wish they weren’t playing these games at night. It doesn’t feel like a World Cup in freezing temperatures, frankly. I understand the allure of T.V. times back home but the cold is really limiting to the fans. Can’t wait for that New Jersey Super Bowl…
On to South Africa — Uruguay tomorrow in Pretoria.
MLS supporters spotted in South Africa
Next on the slate is the Brazil vs. North Korea game at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. This is the late game of the day and is wicked wicked cold. Our journey had us wrapping through the downtown J-burg area until we got tired of the traffic, parked and went to a bar to watch the end of the Ivory Coast vs. Portugal game. This bar was behind a metal garage door and felt veryââââââ‚¬Å¡ÂÂ¬Ãƒâ€¦ÂÂ¡ÂÂÂÂ¬ÂÂÂÂÂ¦ sketchy. We walked in to a pleasant surprise of a good mix of Brazil, South Africa and USA fans, a projection screen showing the game and extremely cordial bartenders. Once we purchased our first 7 beers for 100 rand (about $13), we were off to the tables to meet people. A few of us wore Seattle Sounders gear, which got a lot of notice and was the conversation starter when approached first by a Chicago native who is a Fire fan, followed by a couple from Toronto who support TFC. All are amazed by the crowd support in Seattle for the Sounders.
We headed to the game an hour or so before game time, which got us to our seats just before the national anthems from both teams. Our tickets were on the 40-yard line, in the highest/last row of the stadium! Our group’s expectation was for a dominant Brazil win, but North Korea stayed true to their defensive structure and kept the game close. It was 2-0 late in the game when North Korea scored, which received a cheer from the crowd, most of whom were Brazilian — and were not too worried that the score made it a one-goal game.
Germans put on a show
Our first match was last night. Germany was in great form and put on a great show for the crowd though it was about 70% Australian supporters or at least yellow kits. It was nice for a few of the friends who had never seen a World Cup match to experience the beautiful game.
Today we will be visiting the Durban marine park and a nice dinner in downtown Durban.
Chance meeting turns into local tour
We packed into the van and began our travel to the largest stadium of the 2010 World Cup, located in Johannesburg, for the Denmark vs. Netherlands game. This was a scheduled hour plus trip that was a bit more entertaining as we turned left instead of right in the beginning of our journey, leading to a scenic trip to the main city.
We stopped at a mall for a bathroom break and to confirm our revised directions. Eight people coming out of a van and wandering around the parking lot was an easy indicator that we were not from these parts. We were approached by a gentleman named Tshiwo Yenana who was having his car washed at the adjoining carwash and he asked if we were going to the game. We said yes, which led to a brief sizing up discussion as he was going to the game too. Soon Tshiwo had joined our group and was in the front seat offering directions to the stadium — a move that goes against every travel guide every written. Thank the Lord that Tshiwo was with us as the traffic to the game was horrible and without someone navigating us through, we would have been very late for this game.
After a mile or so walk, we arrived at the stadium just in time for the kick-off. The stands were a sea of orange with a smattering of red as the Holland faithful came in numbers, heavily outnumbering the Denmark fans. Our seats were 13 rows back from the field on the 18-yard line, and in the sun. Perfect!
Sitting down, I looked back and saw two of the Mexico fans that I sat next to on the flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg sitting right behind me. We gave each other a high-five to the randomness of that happening (there were 86,000 people at the game) and then turned our attention to the game. It was fun, but not the score fest we were hoping for. The fans started The Wave in the first half, which typically means the game has hit a lull. Denmark is a good team, but Holland was just a bit better in all areas and took the victory.
After the game we caught up with Tshiwo, who gave us an inspirational tour of Soweto including the past homes of Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. This was truly the highlight of the day and probably will be one of the highlights of the entire trip. Tshiwo was extremely knowledgeable of the history and significance of events that have shaped this township and South Africa. I never truly understood or took the time to fully review both the history of Soweto and the current lifestyle. After viewing the past home of Mandela, we dined three blocks away at a local restaurant. Tshiwo introduced us to tripe, which might be the first time and last time I ever eat tripe. We finished by dropping Tshiwo off back at the mall and made our trek back. Honestly, I could write much more just on this part of this visit (about the people, places and conversations) but will keep it short for this blog.
We came back to the house where we’re staying to find that the area had no power. We went into town to find a watering hole to watch the Italy vs. Paraguay game. We wandered into a place called “The Office,” which was the closest bar with power and a T.V. Staying true to what we have found so far, the employees/locals were exceptionally cordial, making our last stop of the evening very enjoyable. Overall, it was a fantastic day!
Sounders cheers in South Africa
PHOTO COURTESY JENNIFER MARS
Just before kickoff at the USA vs. England match, I pulled out the Sounders scarf, and to my surprise I hear an echo of “go Sounders” cheers from the crowd. I love our Sounders fans.
I was home away from home.
Pumped up for the opening match
KAMHLUSHWA, South Africa — The excitement for the kick off of the World Cup had reach critical levels by Friday. If for some reason Bafana Bafana would not have stepped on the field I am almost certain the place would have exploded (like literally spontaneously burst into flames). One key way to tell the excitement levels in rural South Africa is by something I call the RUVB rate, or Random Unprompted Vuvuzela Blast rate. This is how many times per minute you hear this unmistakable discharge between 5 p.m. and 2 a.m. In my village the RUVB rate had slowly climbed from a festive 2 or 3 per minute on Monday to around 700,000 per minute on Friday. Needless to say people were pretty pumped for the game.
Another really interesting/scary thing had happened in the last few weeks: people started believing Bafana Bafana could actually win some games. When I first got here everyone was excited about the World Cup, the event, but reserved almost no hope for South Africa. Now as the event neared everyone started to fully jump on the band wagon and completely vest themselves and their subsequent joy in their home team. As a Seattle sports fan I know how dangerous this can be!
Finally after months of excitement the day was upon us! In an effort to fully take in the local enthusiasm we decided to head to the local version of a fan park. The Kamhlushwa Park consisted of a large viewing screen and for some reason a trailer where they were handing out free margarine samples. So after filling my pockets with margarine, I unsheathed my brand new vuvuzela and enjoyed one of the greatest displays of spectator passion I have ever witnessed. It was amazing to feel that kind of energy, we were standing in a dirt field hundreds of miles away, but you actually felt like you were in Soccer City. In the end I could not have been happier with the draw, simply for the fact it keeps hope and excitement alive that maybe Bafana Bafana can do something amazing.
PHOTO COURTESY COREY JOHNSON
Bafana Bafana — The name of the South African nation team. Literally translated it means “Boy Boy.” I still have no idea what that means.
Vuvuzela — A much beloved horn like instrument used to produce an ear-splitting loud monotone drone. It is also the reason why when watching the games on TV it sounds like they are being played in a bee hive. Check for them on FIFA’s 2011 list of things not allowed at soccer matches.
From Seattle to Atlanta to Johannesburg in seat 36F, I am finally in Johannesburg. Flight was filled with USA and Mexican fans and was loud and cheerful for the flight.
J’Burg airport is full of different colors and sounds for the World Cup. The horns are blaring away in the main terminal, only twenty or so making an oh so loud sound. I can only imagine how loud it will be with 90,000 at the opening game between Mexico & South Africa game today; the city will be at a standstill. It’ll be fun!
A break from the rain
I am in Durban, South Africa with seven good friends to watch Germany vs Austria, Spain vs Switzerland and Japan vs Netherlands today. We are going to Fanfest for the opening match.
Durban is a beautiful city; the sun-drenched Indian Ocean is warm and a welcome break from the Seattle spring.