Friday, June 11
The Johannesburg fan park is awash with colour; fans of every persuation flocking in their tens of thouands to watch the opening match of the 2010 World Cup finals.
I haven't managed to track down a ticket for the opening ceremony but, after meeting my mate Robin, who has just flown in from London, the Johannesburg fanfest is arguably the second best place on the planet to watch South Africa begin their campaign.
The noise levels are off the scale. The World Cup has arrived and South Africans are reacting like it is the most exciting day of their collective lives.
South African Air Force helicopters buzz the fanfest. Below them 100,000 men, women and children scream, cheer, frown, laugh, gasp and blow into their vuvuzelas as Mexico and South Africa go toe to toe.
Truthfully, most locals do not believe their team will be good enough. But, sometimes in football, it is not that straightforward. South Africa appear to have a twelfth man.
When Siphiwe Tshabalala is released down the left channel and powers the ball into the top right hand corner of the net it is not just Soccer City that erupts. The Johannesburg fanfest goes wild. Fans climb into trees; onto the roofs of buildings. And there they sway, dance and celebrate in unison South Africa's 1-0 lead.
But the South African defence looks suspect. This is not a team that will kep clean sheets. As the sun dips below the Johanessburg skyscrapers to the west of us, Mexico get the equaliser they deserve.
For the first moment in weeks the vuvuzelas are silenced throughout South Africa. It is accompanied by a huge collective gasp of disapointment.
But as we all trudge back into central Joburg the South Africans know their dream is still very much alive. A point means the group is wide open. It is good news not only for them but also for the tournament.
There's a party in Nelson Mandela Square. Nelson is stood there, 20 feet tall, laughing. Fans from Paraguay, Japan, Argentina and South Africa dance around his statue singing, downing pints and waving their various flags.
Robin has only been in the country for about 7 hours so he still hasn't lost enough of his hearing to become assimilated to the vuvuzelas and needs to escape to the sancutary of a vuvuzela-free-zone. Montego Bay Pub is also an ideal spot to meet another English friend, Nick, who Bjorn and I met on the Botswana border several weeks ago. Nick flew into Joburg from Cape Town this morning where he picked up his camper van, which will serve as his house and home for the coming weeks.
90 per cent of those present, the majority of whom are English and American, are cheeing on Uruguay to beat France. This is not because any of us have any affinity towards Uruguay but because France should not be at the World Cup after cheating their way past Ireland in the Play Offs.
Nick finally manages to track us down as goalkeeping legend Bruce Grobbelaar (who must rate as the world's second most eccentric goalkeeper of all time after Columbia's Rene Higuita) makes a brief appearance in the pub. Bruce takes one look, sees all the English lads present, and probably realises if he stays it will all end in half of us taking the Michael out of him.
It might sound foolhardy but we have decided that it's a good idea to drive overnight from Joburg to Rustenburg.
Setting off at around 11pm after the Uruguay-France match ends in a stalemate we reckon Rustenburg is about two hours away. Given that we are struggling to find our way out of central Joburg and don't even own a map, our chances of making it to Rustenburg without incident seem slim...