Yes, dear readers, it is time yet again for me to break out some truths and solve some myths. Or something like that.
1. Africa is hot.
Oh no it f*cking isn't! Well, not all of it, all the time, anyway.
In my night in Gaborone it had reached -3. Gauteng, and Johannesburg were almost as bad, but with the added 'extra' that we were outside, in Ellis Park stadium, watching Brazil v North Korea. The stadium power died early on, replaced by generators which worked intermittently and repeatedly belched out thick black clouds of smoke. South African winters are cold, but short: barely 6weeks, normally, which means nowhere has any heating. And stadia like Ellis Park are just not designed to be used in this season. So it was, that we joined the frozen masses in the 3rd tier, towards one end next to the where the stadium is open sided, and thus the howling wind blows right through. And we all prayed that we still had the correct numbers of fingers and toes left at the end of it.
Yup, Ellis Park for Brazil v Korea DPR was an exercise in not freezing to death, as much as anything else
Put it this way, 60,000 fans and the queue to get a beer at halftime – normally mission impossible at a packed sports stadium – was 4 people, for 6 servers. The queues for coffee were maybe 600. It is the only game I have ever been to where beer was the quickest thing to get to.
The game itself was OK – North Korea (sorry: The Democratic People's Republic of Korea) looked fairly enterprising, the Brazilians slow in defence and Kaka was awful. Yes Brazil won, but for 5glorious minutes at the end after the Koreans scored, the stadium suddenly turned to be fully Korean supporting (official DPRK fans: 35) as we willed on an unlikely equaliser. Perhaps most interest came when I wandered up to a Scottish family – kilts, feathers, the works – whilst wearing my large Welsh flag, which seemed to cause much amusement amongst the passing South Africans, and utter confusion amongst the Brazilian contingent.
There are always a few lost souls looking for an oval shaped ball
2. This is an African World Cup
Technically, yes, this is an African world cup. It is, after-all, being played on African soil in South Africa. But that is basically it. South Africa is the least typical African country anyway. And the fact that it is then being played in South Africa in winter pretty much wipes any advantage that the African nations would have, at a stroke. Play the tournament in West Africa, with the vast humidity and unpredictable pitches, or in North Africa with the extreme heat and crazed local support, and yes, they may have had an advantage. South Africa 2010? Nope.
FIFA made a big show of it being African, and of putting out cheaper seats for locals. But locals mean South African residents only. For the rest of the continent, they get to pay normal prices. And that is the kicker. Probably in order to pay for the very cheap South African resident tickets, Ticket prices in South Africa for everybody else are much higher than before. In Germany 2006, the cheapest tickets were 30euros. In South Africa, they are 80usd. Factor in the fact that for most Africans it is both cheaper and easier (and, in some cases, quicker. And closer: The Ivorians previous game in a world cup was in Munich, which is marginally closer to Abidjan than their game in Port Elizabeth) to fly to Europe than South Africa, and it becomes clear that African fans are struggling. Only the very rich (or expat in South Africa) can afford to travel, and numbers visiting African fans are much lower than they were in 2006.
Far from this being a tournament with an African team in the final, I personally guess that maybe only a single African team will qualify from the group, and astounded if more than 1 does. And any qualifier will not go beyond the QF. Yes, feel free to laugh when it is an all African final...
3. Vuvuzela's help the African teams
No. They don't. So far, I would say that they actually sound worse and louder on TV than in the stadiums. But more than that, they are hugely impersonal. They make the same droning noise, and are blown at any occasion. Which means that there is no advantage for either side. What the singularly fail to do is get behind their team. South African commentators seemed surprised that Mexico were not phased by them in the opening game. But they should not have been. Anybody that has ever seen a Mexican game knows that they are noisy, passionate affairs. In the opening game, the vuvuzela's actively worked against South Africa. After they scored, there was vuvuzela blowing, but no singing or other noise to help them get behind their team, and the Mexicans got back in. South American drums and music, Korean chanting or British style singing is much effective: It is passionate, and obvious which team the noise is backing. Vuvuzela's lack that.
4. Americans don't like football
Possibly, to an extent, this is true. And there are obviously many Americans who have no idea at all about football. Sorry, soccer. However, American based fans bought more tickets than any country except the hosts, whilst in the few hostels I've stayed in and fanzones I have visited, there have been lots of Americans. Lots of English as well, and – especially around cities where they are playing – large groups of Dutch, and lots of smaller pockets of others, including lots like myself from non-qualified countries. But more Americans than anything else.
5. Africa is cheap
Whilst, yes, some places in Africa are cheaper than, say, Switzerland, Africa has never really been cheap. The average person knows that lots of African countries are poor, and assumes that travelling in such places is correspondingly cheap. This has long been a source of amusement to me. Yes, some things are cheap, and you can live on virtually nothing. But it is subsistance living: living off the land. For backpackers etc without land, Africa is nowhere near as cheap as South East Asia, for example: The type of accommodation that tourists look for/want/will accept foreigners, plus food and transport all add up.
And then there is the world cup.
South Africa was generally at the higher end of African costs normally. In the world cup, prices are insane. A Budweiser (I hesitate to use the official word 'beer') in the stadiums, the only alcoholic option available, costs 30Rand. That is over 4usd, which is expensive even for foreigners: for locals, the cost is insane and unheard of. A dorm bed which normally goes from 80-120 Rand is typically 200-300. The most expensive I have heard of is 800 Rand, and there might well be higher. That's allot of money for a dorm bed. Basically, the prices for everything has gone up, often dramatically. And even World Cup extras have not been free: In Germany 2006, a match ticket got you free citywide transport for whole of the day, and often long distance transport. At the 2008 Euro's, Sam and I travelled from Zurich to Basle (and back) for the Semi final, for free. And the next day, all the way to Vienna, based on a single match ticket. In South Africa, it costs 50Rand just to leave your car at the park and ride. Again, not a huge cost. But an extra one to normal such events. And they all add up. It is a world cup of exploitation of those fans who made the effort to go. But with Sepp Blatter and FIFA involved, that is unlikely to be news.
Not the tastiest 30Rand I have ever spent...
6. The locals have got fully involved
They have generally been enthusiastic and welcoming, yes. But fully involved? No. Even the locals only cheap tickets are 140Rand, which is substantially more than many people can afford: In places, that is a weekly wage. The local ticket distribution was also quite poor, requiring internet or credit cards to begin with, and ending in the farce which has seen empty seats at every game. Sometimes, lots of empty seats (the fact that genuine foreign supporters are often forbidden to get empty seats, even in Cats 1-3 is a different story, and basically all about FIFA's stubbornness). The fanzones are also expensive for food/drink, and many have been hard to get to. The brilliant situated Durban fanzone (it is on the beach, in the only host city with reliably decent weather) has officially been the highest attended in cumulative attendance. And whilst it was crammed for South Africa – France, of the other games I saw there, none were more than maybe 20% full, at most. Cape Town has generally been full, but has a much smaller capacity, and is easily accessible. And there are lots of foreigners around. The ones in the north have often done very badly: Rustenberg fanzone is in the middle of nowhere, in a city that is not easily accessible anyway. The ones in Johannesberg require driving to/from, but parking is really hard, so people have stayed away. At one game, one of the main Joburg fanzones had, it is reported only 47 entrees, who had all left at halftime. The capacity is almost 20,000. And even those hardy enough to want to attend often gave up on account of the weather: it was just too cold to be standing outside, especially for evening games.
7. England are a good football team
- insert maniacal laughter here*
It was excruciating for 3games. But the 4th was fantastic. Unless you are an England supporter, naturally.
Some of us just about survived Ellis Park!