Saturday, May 22
Even the UNHCR are not immune to the perils of A.T. Godfrey and Tina turn up three quarters of an hour late meaning we have a mad dash out to the other side of Soweto for the Township Challenge.
The event is being sponsored by the UNHCR and Oxfam. Guests of honour are players and officials from Liverpool Football Club.
Due to our South African Cup Final commitments we only have enough time to spend an hour at the event. To be honest, I do not know any of the players present but they are all very positive about our project, especially the Liverpool Club Chaplain. I wish I could say the same about the female producer/presenter of Liverpool TV. I tell her Bjorn appeared on their channel last year and that it would be a great exclusive for them to film an interview with him ahead of the World Cup. She seems rather under whelmed. She doesn’t bother to interview us.
Leaving the township in plenty of time, we stop off to buy some trousers, while I borrow a pair of smart shoes from one of the UNHCR drivers. Our cycling wardrobe doesn’t really suffice for the VIP areas of Soccer City.
As we pass Soweto and come into sight of the Soccer City Stadium a sort of nervous excitement courses through my body. It’s as if all this talk of the World Cup was all imaginary until this moment in time.
From the VIP suite I step out into the stadium. It is quite simply a magnificent venue to be hosting games of football in. Today, 76,000 will be present but when the 2010 World Cup finally gets underway 94,000 football fans will sit here in awe.
Bjorn and I are being treated to the all-you-can-eat-and-drink corporate package; except this does not feel corporate like the usual prawn sandwich brigade events. The South Africans present are neither pretentious nor bling. After a couple of whiskeys Eskil and Ninna, two of Kjetil’s friends, encourage me to return outside for the official opening ceremony of the stadium. They are both acting like something is going to happen that I shouldn’t miss. Bjorn, meanwhile, is in the Presidential Suite.
As South African President Jacob Zuma, FIFA Organising Committee President Doctor Khoza and, of course, Kjetil take to the pitch a couple of dozen young PSL workers run across the grass carrying a large ’parcel’.
As they begin to unfold it my mouth suddenly gapes open like a fish served on a dinner plate. They are unveiling a huge shirt-made-of-shirts...it is our shirt!!
Ninna and Eskil take photos of me reacting to the realization that there, down on the pitch at the opening ceremony of Soccer City, the stadium that will host the 2010 World Cup Final, in front of 76,000 spectators and the President of South Africa; there are all the shirts we have been collecting sewn together as we had been envisaging for many months.
I feel dizzy. Tears well up in my eyes. I am pretty sure this is a dream but I don’t seem to be able to awaken from it.
The South African President is down on his knees signing the shirt; TV crews and the world’s media are running excitedly around the perimeters of ‘the shirt’ happy snapping. And then Bjorn appears on the pitch and signs the shirt himself. Pictures are going out live on TV in around 40 countries. Images of ‘the shirt’ will appear all over the world in the next days via Internet and newspapers.
I wish my girlfriend was here to see this. I wish my mum could be with me to see that our efforts have been worthwhile. I feel so emotional. So proud of all this.
The crowd is roaring. The Bidvest Wits and AmaZulu fans are all blowing into their vuvuzelas. Then there is a flyby over the stadium by five South African jets. This is amazing…and totally unexpected.
I grab another whiskey inside and wander around muttering to myself. I just can’t believe it. Whatever happens from here on in, we have already achieved far more than most people believed possible with this project.
For me the cup final itself rather takes second place after all this.
For the record, the atmosphere is superb and convinces me that this is going to be an excellent world cup. The pitch is excellent if not a little too fast. The facilities, the stadium, are as good as anywhere in the world. Brazilian Fabrixo Rodrigues scores the first goal ever at Soccer City. Sifiso Vilakazi scores two late goals as the unfancied Vits go on to win 3-0.
We all cram into Kjetil’s People Carrier for the journey home, Bjorn and I shoehorned into the boot, our faces pressed against the rear glass of the vehicle as the floodlights of the Soccer City Stadium disappear into the distance.
Back at the house alone, and almost nodding off to sleep, I watch the Champions League Final while Kjetil and Irene attend the sponsor’s after party event and Bjorn picks up his girlfriend, Marianne, from the airport.
What a day it has been. With both pairs of lovebirds having returned I am happy to crash down on a mattress in the snooker room. I fall asleep immediately.
You can catch an image of the shirt on the pitch at the cup final here
Tuesday, April 27
Before leaving Dar es Salaam, we manage to meet representatives of Simba Football Club (champions of Tanzania) and the Tanzanian Football Federation. We have now been promised shirts from Africa Lyon, Simba FC and the Tanzanian National Team. The TFF Information Officer, Florian Kaijage, is also going to try and get us shirts from many more Tanzanian Premier League teams in time for the 2010 World Cup.
A lovely lady and excellent journalist from the Citizen Newspaper interviews us for thirty minutes just before we get on the road again but there was still time for Africa Time (hence known as AT) to claim 2 more victims with both the Guardian Newspaper and the ITV television people failing to show up at all.
Battling flash floods, Mr Oswald Kasaizi and his brilliant team at REDESO help us to get on our way. REDESO are doing some excellent work in Tanzania and Mr Kasaizi will undoubtedly remain one of the real ‘stars’ of our African adventure. I would like to personally thank Oswald for his great hospitality and help.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
The girls from Star Sports Television might not follow the most orthodox style of journalism but, none the less, they really came up with the goods after the interview they made with Bjorn and I featured on their pan-African sports channel. Viewers in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo now know about ‘The Shirt 2010’ project and our efforts to spread awareness about the world’s millions of refugees. It goes without saying that when you walk down a Tanzanian street and a random passer by tells you “I saw you on the television,” you feel the project is going in the right direction.
One thing I have quickly learned in Kenya and Tanzania is the concept of ‘Africa time’. If somebody tells you they will meet you at 1pm, chances are they will actually turn up at 7pm…or not at all. The prize, however, for the best Africa Time example to date must go to the African Confederations Cup match we attended on Sunday between Simba (Dar es Salaam) and Haras El Hadoud (Egypt). The high profile match was held at the Tanzanian New National Stadium (capacity 65,000) in front of more than 20,000 spectators. OK, so the Kick Off time was supposed to be 4pm; millions awaited live TV coverage in Egypt and Tanzania. But following the rules of Africa Time none of us should have been surprised that the match kicked off 33 minutes late. The reason? There wasn’t one!
The strangest feature of this entertaining match was the decision by more than two thousand rival Tanzanian football fans to turn up and support the Egyptian team, rather than Tanzanian champions Simba. Apparently, rivalries cut so deep in Tanzania that rival fans actually pay good money to turn up and support foreign opponents. It’s the equivalent of 2,000 Everton fans turning up at Anfield to support Benfica if they were playing against Liverpool!
For the record, Simba won Sunday’s match 2-1.