Monday, May 24
I am fortunate enough to attend South Africa's pre-World Cup friendly with Bulgaria at the Orlando Stadium.
The stadium is in the infamous Soweto suburb of Johannesburg, within sight of many of the country's most notorious townships. After total refurbishment in 2008, this new state-of-the-art arena now seats 40,000 fans.
It is chaos on the roads leading to Soweto. Despite leaving another Johannesburg suburb at 7, we are only able to double-park on one of the roads adjacent as the match kicks off at 8.30.
Many of the streets leadng to the stadium are unlit and the noise is deafening. Once inside the arena the volume level goes up several more desibels. It is so raucous, in fact, that I cannot hear my friend Norris, stood next to me. It is very cold; maybe only 6 degrees Celsius. It is more like a chilly November evening than the summer paradise many foreign football fans are expecting.
The Orlando stadium actually shakes as tens of thousands of fans jump up and down in unison and dance rythmically from side to side. Truthfully, I have never heard noise anything like this from 40,000 fans. It is deafening.
When Bafana Bafana take a deserved 1-0 lead it is time to apply index fingers inside the ears.
Bulgaria have good support in the stadium. I can only assume the couple thousand present reside here in the Rainbow Nation. Cyrillic flags include: Slavia and Lokomotiv.
When the Bulgarians equalise it also feels more like a full international rather than a friendly.
At half time I realise, if I didn't realise before, strolling around, that the majority present here are straight out of the Soweto townships. There are a lot of, shall we say, quite 'rough and ready' lads present. In the toilets the local males think little of sharing urinals, rather than waiting their turns. Three blokes sharing one urinal is a first for me.
The stadium is located inside a giant natural bowl and, as it gets colder, mist begins to hug the floodlights giving the occasion the feel of a packed out November evening FA Cup replay.
Bafana Bafana look like a much more decent side than they are given credit for, look dangerous at set pieces, and are inspired at times thanks to Steven Pienaar. If this kind of support is behind them for their Group A matches with France, Mexico and Uruguay I believe they can and will qualify for the second round.
The match finishes 1-1. I break my 'never-leave-a-match-before-the-final-whistle' rule on 87 minutes, otherwise I will be spending the whole night in Soweto rather than one of Joburg's rather leafier suburbs.