Sunday, June 27
There are South Africans selling tickets outside the FIFA ticketing office. In previous tournaments you would probably have been hung, drawn and quartered for such behaviour but South Africa is such a laid back country that all present, including the police, simply accept it as normal and let them get on with it.
My England tickets were allocated - provisionally - several months ago. England members had to pay up front for tickets all the way to the 2010 final. This meant cashing out around 800 pounds in January. If England get knocked out today the ticket money for the quarters, semi and final will eventually be returned to our bank accounts in August or September. It's a big scam - not only do FIFA get to hold on to all our cash for several months, earning a fortune in interest from all the tens of thousands of fans, but they also charge us all ten dollars per ticket for each ticket that they return. If England crash out today it will therefore cost me 30$ just to get my own money back (also no doubt returned at a less favourable exchange rate), which FIFA has had sitting in its Swiss bank account for 7 months. Just from 20,000 England fans alone FIFA would earn 600,000$ for nothing. It is daylight robbery.
The only positive thing I can say about FIFA is that their ticketing machines are very efficient at this World Cup. Fearing a 2-hour queue to pick up my second round tickets for the three of us, I am actually in and out of their office in three minutes.
Football fans have taken over Bloemfontein shopping centre. I reckon there are several thousand genuine England supporters, several hundred Germans, while the majority are rent-a-fans. Most locals seem to be supporting Germany.
England v Germany black market tickets have dropped from 200 quid last night to 20 quid two hours prior to kick off. During the crush to the stadium many of those with spares can't even find anyone to give them away to. Free England v Germany World Cup tickets anybody?
Robin and I are on row z of the top tier. I guess the one advantage of being this high up is that you can stand up for the whole game without annoying anyone.
It's a fantastic atmosphere, with the chants and singing in England's favour 90-10. Despite all this, I expect us to lose. Schweinsteiger and Ozil are better than anyone we have; Klose and Podolski are more likely to score goals; England have the worst two players on the pitch in Johnson and Upson.
England hold some good possession until crap defending from Terry and even slacker covering by Upson gifts Germany the opener.
They score the second down our end and pints of beer go flying into the Bloemfontein sky. England are sliced apart. They are undone by a combination of poor defensive awareness and slick german passing and movement. England look dead and buried but within 10 minutes Upson has redeemed himself with a header from Gerrard's best cross of the tournament. Robin and I punch the roof of the stadium in celebration and I manage to injure my wrist in the process.
Within a couple of minutes we are in ecstacy as Lampard makes it 2-2. The England end turns into an old school terrace celebration. The Germans are all over the place.
But as we all turn from our various jumps of joy and hugs of happiness we notice that play is continuing. The 'goal' has not been given.
Why not? Even from row z we could see that that was clearly a goal. what happened? Mobile phones ring, text message alerts beep - the news almost immediately filters into the England end from those watching back home that the ball was a couple of feet over the line. Boos instantly ring out and chants of "The referee's a wan###"
How could this have happened again? We are crap but is the England team forever cursed? 2004 Portugal - perfectly good goal disallowed; 1998 France - perfectly good goal disallowed; 1986 Mexico - Maradona handball.
Of course, there are to be no action replays inside the stadium. Any even slightly contenious decision is never replayed. Even at half time, when they show the first half highligts, the Lampard 'goal' is conveniently forgotten. It's groundhog FIFA: they make hundreds of millions profit, put virtually nothing back into the host country, refuse to move with the times by bringing in goal line technology and appoint clueless refs for the big knockout matches.
But, at 1-2, we still fancy it...Lampard hits the bar again, Gerrard wastes a couple of great half chances...then England begin to gamble and James only manages to parry a Mueller shot into his own net. All the rent-a-fans are on their feet cheering and vuvuzelaring. Many have swapped allegiances and are now cheering for Germany. It is all a bit naff, to be honest. Give me the snowy wild terraces of Dinamo Kiev v Shakhtar Donetsk any day if this is FIFA's vision for football in the twenty first century.
The fourth German goal is an embarrassement. You wouldn't get away with defending like that on the hungover sunday league pitches of Bristol and Derby. It is bad enough being knocked out by the Germans but they have ended up humiliating us.
England's early world cup exit is all so predictable. It is all so Groundhog England.
Post-match, Robin and I are, aside from around 200 celebrating German fans, amongst the last to leave the stadium. It is no surprise to find Blackburn and one of the Spain '82 lads amongst our number. Souvenirs of our humbling, found on the empty terraces, include a silly wig (kept as a prop), a box of kids' facepaint crayons (given to a six year old German kid) and a discarded England flag (to be used for photo opportunities in the coming days).
The riot police are out in force for the first time at this tournament. Even that is damaging - they obviously expected Germany to beat England and for us to turn into bad, drunken losers. Don't they realise that England 2010 are a bunch of football backpackers, fifty-something old schoolers and rich middle class Premier League fans?
Those of us who've been here many times before can't be doing with the knockout post-mortem down the pub - you get to hear a million silly points of view as to why England are out of the tournament and rather than wanting to fight with opposition fans, many England are taken by the sudden desire to lamp their own fellow supporters.
Are we getting older? Wiser? Or are we just worn out by all the years of disappointment?
Sunday, June 27
Aliwal North - Bloemfontein
We are awoken at 2am by the sound of drunken red necks fighting outside the pub and drag racing across the bridge over the Orange River.
We are awoken at 7am by the sound of Dutch reform church bells and Swiss Cheese Fabio's 17-piece orchestra alarm clock.
One fantastic buffet breakfast later and photos by the adjacent Hertzog statue and Orange bridge and we are on our way to Bloemfontein, Oasis tunes blaring out of the van's speakers as we pass endless frost-covered fields of sheep. You have to pinch yourself to really believe we are on our way to watch England v Germany in the world Cup, instead of on some bizare road trip with John Candy.
Somebody has had to have a word with Swiss Cheese Fabio because he's decided to dress in a Scotland tracksuit top for today's match. He's supporting England but naively thinks that many of the England lads, who will have been boozing since 7am this morning, will like his top. As we reach the outskirts of Bloemfontein truck fulls of lads from the local township give us the thumbs up as we go in search of the FIFA ticketing centre.
This is either the start of something beautiful or more World Cup heartache at the hands of the Germans...
Friday, June 25
Port Elizabeth - Grahamstown
One good option for getting to Bloemfontein for sunday's match is today's 3pm train. It only costs 130 Rand and includes a night's accommodation on board. Camper Van Nick, however, has come up with a cunning plan to take us to a festival in nearby Grahamstown en route.
Rich won't be coming. Although he is guaranteed a ticket for the Germany match he needs to be back at work on monday. He had been hoping for England to play in Rustenburg on saturday, but now there is no way he can get back from Bloemfontein to London in time.
Grahamstown is one of the most attractive towns in all of South Africa. Actually, the drive in puts one in mind of Derbyshire both in terms of the local nature and the architecture of this former frontier town. This is a little piece of nineteenth century protestant England plonked near the southern tip of the African continent.
It is also the festival capital of South Africa. There is another part to Nick's ingenious plan: he will sleep in his van with a female friend he met in Cape Town, while the rest of us kip down on the floor of her bungalow situated on the aptly named Africa Road.
While most England fans are singing 'ten German bombers' in Bloemfontein square, we instead find ourselves hanging out in temperatures of minus five with a bunch of hippies and young university students in the back of beyond. Italy and France are crap. The World Cup has never been this strange before.