Saturday, July 10
I meet Bjorn who is looking even more knackered than me.
"You must be more than ready to go home?" I ask him
"You can't imagine. I don't even want to think about these last five days here. I want to see my kids now."
Bjorn (as well as Blackburn) is hoping to get into tomorrow's final here in Joburg.
I will be more than satisfied to watch it on the TV if I get back to the UK in time.
I say my temporary goodbyes to Blackburn, who has been a brilliant laugh over these past few weeks at the world cup.
I say my temporary goodbyes to Bjorn, who was an absolutely amazing companion to travel 6500 kilometres with from Kenya to South Africa.
I will miss both of them, but now it's time for me to catch the brand new 'Gautrain' from Sandton to Joburg International and my plane home...
Well, at least that's what I had hoped: When I get to the airport I discover that there is no record of my flight booking on Emirates' computer system.
It's a bit stressful for a few minutes but, luckily, I somehow manage to get rebooked on to my original flight by paying for a new ticket at the airport ticket office. It's fortunate that I arrived at the airport 4 hours before the flight.
Germany are playing Uruguay in the third-place play off. The idea of this match is a bit pointless in football but I am more than happy to watch messrs Forlan and Ozil take to the pitch one last time in South Africa.
One of the things I have loved about this country is how laid back the people are. Point in case is two dozen of us sitting on the hallway floor in the departures terminal watching the match. At least half of those present are airport staff. In another country they'd probably lose their jobs and I'd get a telling off for lounging about like this. But here, nobody cares. I think it's brilliant.
Forlan hits the crossbar with the final kick of the match. Simultaneously passengers begin filing on to the aircraft for our flight to Dubai. My last image of South Africa is a black airport worker holding his head in his hands and remarking "Forlan is brilliant. I wish he could have scored that goal and got the golden boot."
I'm really going to miss this beautiful country and its lovely people.
Saturday, July 3
Flagstaff - Port St.Johns
More goodbyes - this time it is me parting company with Camper Van nick and Fabio when we reach Port st.Johns.
I need to lie low somewhere for a few days to get myself together and to plan my last few days in South Africa. Port St.Johns is perfect because the town has an eastern African vibe, stunning beaches and vistas, and is home to a colony of hippies.
Again, it is sad to be saying more goodbyes. Nick has been an absolute star driving us all around during these past few weeks. He's also been a bloody good laugh as has Swiss Fabio. We have had an hilarious and very memorable time here. I am sad it is all coming to an end...
...but slightly relieved because I feel exhausted.
Luckily, 'Jungle Monkey' has brilliant 360-degree views of the sea, cliffs, mountains and lush green valleys from its vantage point above the town. It also has hammocks, a pool, World Cup footy on a big screen and local bands playing live music to a hippie vibe.
I expected Argentina to walk this World Cup so seeing them eliminated 4-0 at the hands of Germany shows just how brilliant this young German side can be. Schweinsteiger is the best player at South Africa 2010, and Ozil is the 'find' of this tournament alongside players like Mueller. I'm not sure why Maradona didn't bother to use the likes of Veron and Milito. Regardless, they simply weren't anywhere good enough to compete against this brilliant young German team.
They will meet Spain, who were fortunate to get past Paraguay. I will travel up to Durban next week hoping to get into the semi.
Meanwhile, I need to chill and get some sleep...
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 13
It is 3.30am as our minibus finally reaches the Joburg Golf Club and a 30 pound taxi for Robin and I to get back to Bjorn's flat in Randburg.
The joy of following England - it is a quick two hour kip in Randburg and then back out of bed at 6am so we can get down to Joburg City Park coach terminal for our transport to Durban.
We are on the 8.30am coach to the sunny coast. It is an eight-hour ride but the double-decker Greyhound is suitably comfy and the views spectacular.
Aussie Tim, who Bjorn and I met at Victoria Falls, Zambia is waiting for us at the fanpark in Durban. Where Rustenburg and Joburg were cold, grey and often uninspiring, Durban is sunny, warm, exciting and buzzing. Gary and Keith from Smith's Cottages have very kindly invited us to stay at their place in Durban for free for a couple of nights. They really like 'the shirt' project and want to help us by putting us up while we are in Durban. Keith even picks us up from the coach station, drops us at the casino close to the fanpark and then takes our rucksacks back to the cottages.
England hung round a shopping mall before their opening match; Australia are warming up for theirs in a casino. This is not your normal world cup.
The Durban fanpark is at the back of the casino and is stocked with enough beer for tens of thousands of German and Aussie beer monsters. Tim seems like he has personally drunk half of it already.
A good few Aussies don't have tickets but are able to pick spares up for face value or less. One Scottish lad who's with us gets a CAT 1 (face 1500 Rand) for 400.
The Durban Stadium is a beauty. With the beaches and sea on one side, rolling hills behind it and the Miami style apartment blocks its location would be spectacular enough in itself, but this is only added to by one of the aesthetic wonders of the football world. If footall has become the world religion, then the Durban Stadium is one of its global cathedrals.
One year ago I would have fancied the Aussies to push the Germans in this match but the northern Europeans are on the up.
Despite having most of the support in the stadium, Australia are outclassed from start to finish. Germany are simply brilliant. Ozel looks like he might be 'the find' of the tournament; Schweinsteiger could end up being the player of the tournament.
My seat is about 15 rows back from the pitch. My 560 rands gets me one of the most complete performances I have ever seen from an international side. An Englishman doesn't really want to admit this but it was a pleasure paying 50 pounds to watch Germany play this well.
Afterwards the Aussies are in surprisingly good spirits. They are agrieved about the Cahill sending off but all admit they have been totally outclassed. Predictably enough they drown their sorrows drinking vast quantities of Castle in the casino. It must be 3 or 4 by the time we get Tim home.