Thursday, July 1
Quthing - Qacha's Nek (Lesotho) - Umzumbe (South Africa)
The four of us emerge from our two double beds and go off in search of dinosaur footprints...just another silly day at the 2010 World Cup.
Lesothosaurus dates from the late Triassic and early Jurassic period 200-208 million years ago. You can see his footprints and get your fingers on his bones on the edge of Quthing. I guess this is definitely the first and the last time that I will get the chance to hold dinosaur bones in my own hands.
I have run out of superlatives to describe the road trip through Leostho. So let's just say the three-hour drive along the Senqu River (to the sounds of Delphic), and up through the ice-covered mountain passes, past the ever-friendly shephard communities from Quthing to Qacha's Nek is more of the same inspirational stuff experienced throughout our time in this very special place. Fabio is of course sleeping through all of this.
Camper Van Nick, who's been to the Grand Canyon, reckons the similar topography in southern Leostho is actually more impressive in its entirity than the world famous US equivelent. A word also about those who inhabit Lesotho: they seem like lovely, genuine and often-passive people. The rarely matched landscapes and skyscapes of Lesotho are perfectly complemented by this nation's genuine people.
The customs and immigration officials at the Qacha's Nek border crossing are, of course, the last people we meet in the country.
"What did you think of Lesotho?"
"Brilliant. We loved it."
"Can you please tell everybody you meet about our beautiful country? You have only seen some of its beauty...and please make sure you come back and enjoy more of it yourselves."
We will - don't you worry about that!
Four hours hard driving from the border we reach the Indian Ocean and call it a night at Umzumbe.
Mantis and Moon Backpackers has got a jungle-themed garden, which looks like the film set for 'I'm a celebrity, get me out of here.' Inside the garden there's a tee pee, several tree houses, a bubbling jacuzzi and a very well stocked bar. Geordie Robin parts company with us tomorrow so there's nothing for it but to drink copious amounts of beer and wine by the open-air bonfire into the early hours.
Monday, June 28
Bloemfontein - Mesaru - Roma, Lesotho
Last night's accommodation was probably the silliest to date - seven of us sleeping in horse blankets in a tent erected next to a swimming pool in a guesthouse garden. Pride of place inside the tent was a roaring fire to help us survive the bitterly cold Bloemfontein night.
Everybody is on the internet trying to rebook flights home. A couple of the Spain '82 lads, we are with, manage to get on the computer early doors, while most England in Bloemfontein are sleeping off their hangovers, and save themselves a couple of hundred quid in the process. One ways home, leaving in the next two days, soon increase in price from 4-500 pounds to 700 or more.
It is the first of the goodbyes as many of the lads set off for Joburg and Cape Town and the their flights home.
For those of us staying here the main emphasis is now tourism, not football: Blackburn is off to Harrismith; Camper Van Nick, Geordie Robin, Fabio and I are running to the hills...literally. We are off to the mountain kingdom of Lesotho where we can mentally recover from England's early exit and physically recover from the weeks of drinking excess in South Africa.
Leaving the scene of the crime - the Battle of Bloemfontein - behind us we head out east on to the N8, past the poor towns of Botshabelo and Thaba 'NNchu and on to the South Africa-Lesotho border.
It costs us 50 pence each to get the van into the country, while the visa is free. Immediately there is a strong sense of being in a completely different kind of country. The capital, Mesaru, is only a couple of kilometres inside the border. This is because the Kingdom of Lesotho once stretched well beyond its current borders before the Boers took much of its western territory. The huge tourist information office at the edge of the city centre is a brilliant point of reference for anybody travelling independently in Lesotho. They will put you right on the many amazing sights in this pocket-sized country as well as the numerous decent places there are to stay.
Home for the night for us is the Trading Post in Roma, 35 Kilometres south-east of the capital. First though we have to negotiate the world's silliest trafiic jam. A journey that should take us no longer than 30 minutes ends up taking two hours as the local powers that be have decided to send JCB diggers and two dozen workmen to dig up and tar the road at the height of the capital's rush hour. One lane in each direction becomes three lanes in one direction leaving the capital, then four lanes versus one oncoming. The eventual (rather predictable) result is total gridlock, with all present getting out of their cars to investigate, remonstrate, giggle and, in some instances, to have a fist fight with the workmen on the recently tarred road.
when we eventually reach the Trading Post a man with a shotgun in his right hand, dressed in a horse blanket and wearing an SAS-style ski mask opens the front gate and shows us to our two ensuite chalets. It is a very reasonable 150 Meloti a night each to stay here (13 quid) and there's coffee, live world cup football and a roaring fire awaiting us in the lounge of the main house. Bruno is soon asleep, while the three Englishmen still continue to debate the whys and why nots of England's early departure from the 2010 World Cup.
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?