Saturday, June 12
"Do we take the motorway to Pretoria or cut across to Rustenburg from here?"
We are in our fifth petrol station of the night trying to find the right way to Rustenburg. It is 1am. Robin and I keep nodding of to sleep in the camper van while poor old Nick drives on with no competent co-pilot through the darkness. They tell you not to drive at night in this part of South Africa to avoid possible car-jackings but we reckon none of the local gangsters will be expecting three England fans to drive up through the mountains in a 'Sooty' camper van.
Paranoid a couple of times that a couple of cars were considering trying to run us off the road we finally pull into Rustenburg at 2.30am. We have nowhere booked to sleep because...well, we are making it up as we go along.
At the first junction off the motorway we spot a hotel that seems to take its security very seriously. If we can sneak in here and park up, we are laughing.
...we are laughing. Parking up at the back of the car park nobody has come out to question what we are doing. After a quick toilet stop in the nearby bushes we set up a matrice in the back of the sooty van. Top to toe, Nick, Robin and Justin, like three sardines on a slice of toast, call it a night in a Rustenburg hotel car park. We are so well prepared that we haven't even brought any blankets, sleeping bags or pillows with us. Looks like we are all sleeping in our clothes, with jumpers pulled over our heads.
6am. It is bloody freezing. I swear there's a frost on some of the car windows. Robin is snoring like a drunken buffalo and Nick is curled up like a hedgehog avoiding the unwanted attention of a dog's paw.
"The England players are waking up this morning wrapped in cotton wool. They don't have a clue what we go through to come and follow them abroad, do they?"
It's egg McMuffins and coffee over the road as we try to warm up and get ourselves together for the day ahead. It was neither comfy or warm last night but it was safe and free. And best of all, we are already in Rustenburg as many England fans are getting up in Joburg and thinking of setting off for here.
"Are you lads in Rustenurg yet? Fancy a beer?"
It's Blackburn. He's a couple of kilometres up the road from us and wants to have an 8 o'clock beer breakfast. You've got to love the man.
Robin and I pick up our World Cup tickets from the FIFA Ticketing Centre next to the Waterfall Mall. This definitely beats five hours of queueing at Sandton in Joburg. We are actually the first ones here, so we get all our tickets issued for the world cup in the space of five minutes. There are one or two England lads around without tickets for today's game, but they all manage to pick up spare tickets for face-value off England lads whose mates haven't managed to make it out to South Africa. You think of all the England fans who want to come to the World Cup but never gamble on picking up tickets and accommodation when you get here.
We join Blackburn and his mates who are staying up the road at a guesthouse. Our second breakfast of the day consists of beer and cider. Rustenburg isn't very special, and there aren't many obvious places to meet, so many England fans are actually drinking at the big mall or at their guesthouses.
It's an entertaining day of banter and booze ahead of the England match. Fortunately for us, Nick is happy to drive us to the stadium. You would think setting off in a van at 6pm from Rustenburg for an 8.30 kick off in the same town would give you plenty of time. But it is chaos on the road to the stadium, which is actually 15 kilometres outside of town. There is only one main road in and 30,000 people are all trying to get there at the same time. One lane becomes three as cars use the hard shoulder and the oncoming lane to try and make up some time.
With the stadium lights only just in view, the police and stewards have closed off the road leading to the park & ride and the route in to the stadium. We are all forced to abandon our vehicles on the central reservation and to begin running, if we want to make it inside before kick off. This is ridiculous. It is nearly thirty minutes of running, jogging and panting to the Royal Bafokeng.
"God Save Our Gracious Queen..." we reach our seats as the national anthems are being played. It has taken us two and a half hours to get here.
The Royal Bafokeng is a sizeable bowl of a stadium - a cross between a US baseball arena and Dinamo Kiev's mighty stadium. England fill the stands. Every spare inch of space is covered in England flags.
The atmosphere is in your face; it immediately gets under your skin. I have been to countless games like this but the buzz never fails to amaze you.
English fans have, yet again, travelled over to the world Cup in their tens of thousands.
There is only one problem. The England team. Aside from your Beckhams of this world, you get the feeling that most of the players don't really appreciate 'us' too much. We are England, not them. I wish they remembered that they are not more important than us. I wish they played with their hearts on their sleeves like the Italia '90 side did for this country.
England do, though, get off to a flier. Heskey releases Gerrard, who simply passes the ball into the US net. England are up and running inside 5 minutes.
I am not going to relive the minute by minute highlights of the game here, but what the hell was going through Robert Green's mind when he groped for the ball and let it spill through him into his net for the US goal?
I cannot remember seeing a kid down the park let in such a soft goal and yet here we are again with another England goalkeeper letting in an absolute howler. Robinson, James and Carson. They have all let in absolute clangers that have cost England dear. "The hand of clod" Yep.
For me Heskey is man of the match for England. That is Emile Heskey, the man the English media were most opposed to being named in the England squad. Tim Howard has a decent game for the US but it is no excuse really. England look mediocre.
At the end, the England players don't even bother to come over and applaud all the thousands who have spent their savings to be here. The England national team are not good enough on or off the pitch.
Earlier in the day we booked a coach ticket online back to Joburg from Rustenburg. The ticket reads: 'Pick up outside rustenburg stadium'. There are hundreds of coaches outside the stadium. Our ticket doesn't even give us a bus name or number to identify said bus. We basically have no chance of finding it.
Two hours of being sent from one end of the stadium to the other by various stewards, police and FIFA wannabees and all the coaches have gone. We look stuck.
Fortuitously, some English lads agree to let us cram into their chartered minibus back to Joburg. A lone American lad also blags a lift in the boot.
The English lads have paid an astounding 700 pounds for the seven of them to be picked up in the morning from Joburg and driven back afterwards and now they've got three clowns crushed in the back with them. A big shout of thanks goes out to them otherwise two England and one American might have had a very uncomfortable night stuck in the wilds of Rustenburg.