TSG has tethered some “reporters in the field” to some string and a tin can down in South Africa.
I will start at the check in line at NY JFK airport. I get in line and the two people who get in line right behind me turn out to be Hope Solo and someone else affiliated with the WNT.
The flight to Dubai took 13 hours and I was supposed to have a 9 hour layover in Dubai…Emirates was nice enough to give out hotel rooms for anyone that has more than an 8 hour layover and at the hotel, they were offering 2 hour tours of Dubai and it was definitely worth the $30 it cost me.
After that, 8 hour flight to Dubai which left at 4:40am local time. The flight was almost entirely filled with soccer fans heading to J-burg for the World Cup. I saw lots of US and English fans, a large group of Slovenia fans, a few groups of Algeria fans…Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Holland, Italy, Mexico, Honduras, Nigeria, Chile, and Australia were all represented. You could sense everyone’s excitement on the flight and when the flight touched down, more than a few “Ole!(s)” could be heard. The flight landed at 11am local time in J-burg…about 9 and a half hours before the US v England kick off.
I have attached an image from the airport (the one with the soccer ball in the sky) the lines for rental car and picking up game tickets were both pretty long. We finally got through them and tested out driving on the left side of the road for the first time. It was pretty intense with the traffic but we managed to finally find the place we are staying after getting lost and missing a few turns. We spent a few minutes dropping off our stuff and then it was time to drive to Rustenburg.
We had two options to get there…the short route on country roads or the long route on main highways….we elected the short route since it theoretically should have taken less time…it did not work out that way.
We got lost on city streets on the way out of J-burg suburbs a few times but when we finally made it to the main road to Rustenburg, we thought we were set. 15 minutes later, we found a pothole that could have qualified as a crater…the thing was at least 8 inches deep and about 3 feet in diameter and wholly unavoidable…it blew out a tire.
We were in the middle of nowhere with nothing in site but got it changed in 20-30 minutes…once we got back on our way, we got to the southern side of Rustenburg with 2 hours til kickoff and we thought we were fine…then we hit the traffic. By the time we got parked and shuttled to the stadium, we sprinted to the ticketing gates and the sprinted to our section…we made it there in the mere seconds after the national anthems but before kickoff.
The drive was supposed to take 2 hours, people told us it would take 4…it ended up taking 6 hours. If it would have taken 6 hours and 1 minute, we would have missed the kickoff. The whole time we were sprinting to our seats, we could hear the cheers and vuvuzelas, but had no idea what we were in for because we couldn’t see inside…once we came out of the tunnel, we were awestruck.
Both sets of fans…USA and England had turned up in great numbers. I had fans dressed up as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln right behind me in the stands, there was a fan with a Gaetjens jersey on in front of me, and cheers of “19-50″ could be heard….on the other end there were England flags hanging of the edges of the 2nd level for the entire perimeter of the stadium and all the traditional English songs could be heard as well.
When Gerrard scored in the 4th minute, the English fans quickly drowned out the US fans. Slowly the US got back into the game and so did the US fans. At least from my point of view, the US fans were in stronger voice from the Dempsey goal until the final whistle. Every save by Howard and every clearance or strong play by “Gooch!” provoked cheers from the US fans. It was a strange feeling in the stands because the clock, scoreboard, and replay screen were not working…so you had to pay close attention the whole time.
I think the story that told it all was after the final whistle…the US fans stayed in their seat and cheered on the US players and the players hung around and thanked the fans…while the English fans headed for the buses and the English team promptly headed for the locker room.
As much as I would have loved a win, a draw still made me happy but seemed more irritating to the English fans rather than upsetting them.
Most of them were courteous at the end but quick to attribute it to Green’s blunder rather than the US performance….and quite a blunder it was…I havent seen a replay of it, but there was a moment of “did that really just happen” just before the celebrations started.
After the match, the night wasn’t nearly complete. The madness involved in getting everyone from the stadium to the parking lot which was 2 miles north of the stadium was absolutely ridiculous. The final whistle was at about 10:30 local time and we didn’t get back to our car until midnight. After that, what should have been a 2 hour drive back to J-burg (on main highways this time) took 4 hours and we arrived back at the place we’re staying at 4 am.
There was a huge sense of relief once we got back. We have been anticipating going on this trip for the better part of a year and we knew we had a lot to do today in order to make it to the game and back safely.
Win lose or draw for the states couldn’t have changed that feeling…but the fact that they got something out of it just sweetened the deal a bit. By the time we got to bed…i had gotten about 6 hours of sleep in a 60 hour span which started on a thursday morning and ended on a sunday morning.
We met some of the other people staying in the same house as us. They are Canadians with Danish descent. They are going to the Netherlands vs Denmark match tomorrow and so are we. We had plenty to talk about with them and plenty to talk about with the locals…who have all been very happy, friendly, and helpful since the minute we arrived.
(Colin Chapman is a member of the TSG community.)