FIFA may have concocted various ways to spoil everyone’s fun, but this South Africa trip has truly been one to remember
I’m penning this as Cape Town comes to terms with the fact that, for them at any rate, the World Cup is over – no more games at Green Point Stadium after the finale here between Holland and Uruguay on Tuesday. I’d luckily managed to get tickets for all the other Cape Town games before leaving home, but the semi-final had thus far eluded me, although I was still hopeful of somehow getting a ticket. But, as a law abiding citizen and mindful of FIFA’s dire warnings about the consequences of not obtaining tickets through official FIFA channels, I wanted to comply and get a ticket in the ‘proper’ fashion.
Unfortunately it didn’t do me any good. I trawled the FIFA website daily to see if disappointed fans had returned their unused tickets so that I could snap one up, but to no avail. In the meantime, everyone else was glibly ignoring the FIFA edict and merrily trading tickets with gay abandon. (South African’s have a healthy disrespect for unnecessary rules and red tape, ignoring much of it if it doesn’t suit them!) I should have joined them. At the 11th hour – literally four hours before kick off – I learned that FIFA at long last had a ‘few’ tickets available. A quick visit to the website, and yes there were some! Great, I could go to the game after all – except that unfortunately the website wasn’t working properly, and frustratingly I couldn’t actually avail myself of one of the oh-so rare tickets. Undeterred, I asked my friend Lawrence to buy one for me over the phone (you can only do that if you’re a South African resident) but he couldn’t get through, and in the meantime the FIFA office closed for the day so I wouldn’t have been able to collect the ticket even if I’d managed to buy one! I pity those poor souls who gave their tickets back to FIFA to sell for them instead of bypassing the system, and probably making a small profit to boot!
I therefore returned to the trusty Fireman’s Arms (along with half of Cape Town it seemed) to watch Holland win by the odd goal in five. And at least I got to watch replays of all the events! If you watch a game live at the ground, FIFA have decided that it’s not appropriate for the fans actually in the ground to see replays of any refereeing decision. So, if it’s an offside, or a foul, a booking or a disputed goal line clearance (for example), those poor fans who’ve paid all that money to be there ($150 for the cheapest quarter-final ticket for example) don’t get a second look. Apparently, it’s in case we all ‘riot’ if a decision’s clearly wrong. That’s not the only annoyance for fans attending the games in person. It galls me that I’m forced to buy all my refreshments from American suppliers, but when you buy drinks in half-litre plastic bottles, they insist on removing and retaining the cap in case you decide to use it as a missile. The fact that the empty container is much heavier and more aerodynamic is neither here or there – you must run the risk of spilling your drink (I did with all of mine) to preserve the safely of others. Shame about all those fireworks they missed …
So, whilst I missed out on the semi, I had been to the Germany Argentina quarter-final – the best game I’ve attended, so a fitting finale for me. The Fan Walk from the city centre to the ground was a terrific experience, and in daylight for a change due to the 4 p.m. kick off. There was lots of noise and colour, with almost everyone dressed up in the colours of one of the two teams. South Africans seem to be quite happy to ‘adopt’ different teams as the competition progresses, moving their allegiance easily from one to another as their previous choice gets knocked out. Contrast that with us Brits, who seem to lose all interest in the competition once England have been knocked out (just look at the lack of coverage in UK papers for the evidence). The South Africans have it right in my view, and they get a lot more from the competition as a result.
You will recall that I was sharing my experience at the ground with three South African Germans. One of them, Barry, had never been to a football match before in his life, and was completely awestruck by the whole affair, vowing to take in more ‘soccer’ matches as soon as possible. He’d been the host of an England v Germany party the week before, an invitation which I’d thankfully declined as the humiliation would have been difficult to bear.
But back to the match. My German supporting ‘guests’ were well chuffed with the result, as were their distant cousins sitting close by, and again, not a hint of trouble with rival sets of fans happy to be photographed together at the end of the game rather than resorting to anything more confrontational.
And I think that’s my enduring memory of this World Cup – the friendliness and the absence of any display of aggression whatsoever. I think the South African people can take all the credit for this - it may be a mix of first world and third world, but South African’s certainly put us to shame when it comes to a friendly welcome, which has been infectious. I’m happy to have been infected!
Enjoy the last couple of games – I know I will, but I think this is a fitting point for me to sign off for good. I’ll be back in the UK all too soon. I hope the sunny weather back home helps me maintain my sunny disposition!
Grant Ellis is chairman of The Broker Network.