In his third instalment from South Africa, the Broker Network chairman gets his taste of fame – and a victory at last
How did it happen? How come we didn’t beat the Algerians? The omens were so good: the atmosphere in Cape Town on the day was fantastic, with England supporters everywhere, mingling happily with the heavily outnumbered but nevertheless vocal Algerians. We spent the day at the V&A Waterfront, where most of the England fans had gathered. The weather was warm and sunny, and complete strangers were happily chatting with one another, joined by the common bond of having made the effort to be out here and of looking forward to celebrating a convincing win over weak opposition later in the day. And to cap it off, our nemesis of so many World and European adventures, the Germans, were beaten by the Serbians! Our cup runneth over!
We arrived at our seats in the stadium around 90 minutes before kick-off to soak up the atmosphere. It was packed, with 90% or so of the crowd supporting England. There wasn’t a balcony anywhere that wasn’t festooned with an England flag from somewhere – Sheffield, Bedford, Hackney Marshes, they were all represented. Vuvuzelas were in good voice, as you'd expect. And then we were all let down by the bloody football! It was, as I’m sure you all know, simply dreadful. We even coined a new name for one move, for if Ronaldo has his ‘step-over’, then Heskey now has his ‘trip-over’. Woeful! The icing on the cake was the moment when my friend Pete was hit by a firework, and had to have his smouldering shirt extinguished by an observant spectator!
I know you’re dying to ask: did I boo? Let’s be clear – we all did, every one of us. The effort we expended in getting here, not to mention the amount we’d all spent, and then to see an England team simply not appearing to try that hard left us all feeling betrayed. Damn right we boo’d!
My daughter had the right idea: get drunk! Her recollection of our interview after the match with the reporter from Radio 5 Live is much less clear than mine. Yes, we were waiting in line for the bus when a chap with a BBC badge introduced himself, thrust a mike under my nose, and asked what I thought of the game. My moment of fame at last! Collecting my thoughts, I gave what I felt was a very considered response: "A lack of pace, passion and commitment." "And what do we think Capello should do about it?" he asked. At this point, my daughter thrust her face right into the microphone and screeched out her predictable response: "Bring on Joe Cole!", followed by a loud rendition of "We’re going home, we’re going home, England’s going home" to the tune of that well-known Baddiel and Skinner ditty. This rendition continued, with occasional breaks to enthusiastically blow the vuvuzela, until she thankfully passed out into a deep slumber as the bus moved off. All were relived at the welcome silence.
English pride was somewhat restored when my friends and I played a local football team on Sunday morning. Camps Bay FC fielded seven of their best, to play against four English over 50s supplemented by three under 25s (offspring of the aforementioned). We were 5–0 up at half time, despite losing one of our number to a pulled hamstring after 10 minutes, and then in the second half we lost a couple more (one went off to be sick, and I could only hop on my right leg for the last 10 minutes) but we held on for a creditable 5 – 2 victory. We then retired to the bar to foster international relations still further! And what a view: the Atlantic ocean on one side, and Table Mountain as a backdrop. Not bad eh?
Yesterday, we were lucky to be at the best game of the tournament to date: Portugal’s 7–0 thrashing of the North Koreans. There were plenty of seats available for this game – after all the North Koreans didn’t let many people travel, so a good number of South Africans decided to take advantage to attend their first game, many supporting the underdogs. Four wags in front of us (no, not those sort of WAGS!) had decided to attend dressed in Korean army fatigues complete with Red Army style caps, much to the delight of those around us. The 100 or so ‘real’ North Korean supporters were choreographed in their celebrations by a severe looking gentleman – when he waved his flags, so did they, but when he was still, so too were they. They were easy to spot, as they were all dressed in identical outfits and had two flags apiece! So much communist unity!
Despite their sometimes naive approach to defending, I think the North Korean team are great to watch – a real breath of fresh air. No histrionics, no arguing with the referee, no play-acting or time-wasting, and so disciplined with it, while at the same time playing some really surprisingly good football. I wonder if we should send our England ‘stars’ to North Korea for a couple of months to train? A communist boot camp might not do their play any good, but it may make some of us let-down supporters feel a little bit better!
Grant Ellis is chairman of The Broker Network