Saturday, June 12
"Do we take the motorway to Pretoria or cut across to Rustenburg from here?"
We are in our fifth petrol station of the night trying to find the right way to Rustenburg. It is 1am. Robin and I keep nodding of to sleep in the camper van while poor old Nick drives on with no competent co-pilot through the darkness. They tell you not to drive at night in this part of South Africa to avoid possible car-jackings but we reckon none of the local gangsters will be expecting three England fans to drive up through the mountains in a 'Sooty' camper van.
Paranoid a couple of times that a couple of cars were considering trying to run us off the road we finally pull into Rustenburg at 2.30am. We have nowhere booked to sleep because...well, we are making it up as we go along.
At the first junction off the motorway we spot a hotel that seems to take its security very seriously. If we can sneak in here and park up, we are laughing.
...we are laughing. Parking up at the back of the car park nobody has come out to question what we are doing. After a quick toilet stop in the nearby bushes we set up a matrice in the back of the sooty van. Top to toe, Nick, Robin and Justin, like three sardines on a slice of toast, call it a night in a Rustenburg hotel car park. We are so well prepared that we haven't even brought any blankets, sleeping bags or pillows with us. Looks like we are all sleeping in our clothes, with jumpers pulled over our heads.
6am. It is bloody freezing. I swear there's a frost on some of the car windows. Robin is snoring like a drunken buffalo and Nick is curled up like a hedgehog avoiding the unwanted attention of a dog's paw.
"The England players are waking up this morning wrapped in cotton wool. They don't have a clue what we go through to come and follow them abroad, do they?"
It's egg McMuffins and coffee over the road as we try to warm up and get ourselves together for the day ahead. It was neither comfy or warm last night but it was safe and free. And best of all, we are already in Rustenburg as many England fans are getting up in Joburg and thinking of setting off for here.
"Are you lads in Rustenurg yet? Fancy a beer?"
It's Blackburn. He's a couple of kilometres up the road from us and wants to have an 8 o'clock beer breakfast. You've got to love the man.
Robin and I pick up our World Cup tickets from the FIFA Ticketing Centre next to the Waterfall Mall. This definitely beats five hours of queueing at Sandton in Joburg. We are actually the first ones here, so we get all our tickets issued for the world cup in the space of five minutes. There are one or two England lads around without tickets for today's game, but they all manage to pick up spare tickets for face-value off England lads whose mates haven't managed to make it out to South Africa. You think of all the England fans who want to come to the World Cup but never gamble on picking up tickets and accommodation when you get here.
We join Blackburn and his mates who are staying up the road at a guesthouse. Our second breakfast of the day consists of beer and cider. Rustenburg isn't very special, and there aren't many obvious places to meet, so many England fans are actually drinking at the big mall or at their guesthouses.
It's an entertaining day of banter and booze ahead of the England match. Fortunately for us, Nick is happy to drive us to the stadium. You would think setting off in a van at 6pm from Rustenburg for an 8.30 kick off in the same town would give you plenty of time. But it is chaos on the road to the stadium, which is actually 15 kilometres outside of town. There is only one main road in and 30,000 people are all trying to get there at the same time. One lane becomes three as cars use the hard shoulder and the oncoming lane to try and make up some time.
With the stadium lights only just in view, the police and stewards have closed off the road leading to the park & ride and the route in to the stadium. We are all forced to abandon our vehicles on the central reservation and to begin running, if we want to make it inside before kick off. This is ridiculous. It is nearly thirty minutes of running, jogging and panting to the Royal Bafokeng.
"God Save Our Gracious Queen..." we reach our seats as the national anthems are being played. It has taken us two and a half hours to get here.
The Royal Bafokeng is a sizeable bowl of a stadium - a cross between a US baseball arena and Dinamo Kiev's mighty stadium. England fill the stands. Every spare inch of space is covered in England flags.
The atmosphere is in your face; it immediately gets under your skin. I have been to countless games like this but the buzz never fails to amaze you.
English fans have, yet again, travelled over to the world Cup in their tens of thousands.
There is only one problem. The England team. Aside from your Beckhams of this world, you get the feeling that most of the players don't really appreciate 'us' too much. We are England, not them. I wish they remembered that they are not more important than us. I wish they played with their hearts on their sleeves like the Italia '90 side did for this country.
England do, though, get off to a flier. Heskey releases Gerrard, who simply passes the ball into the US net. England are up and running inside 5 minutes.
I am not going to relive the minute by minute highlights of the game here, but what the hell was going through Robert Green's mind when he groped for the ball and let it spill through him into his net for the US goal?
I cannot remember seeing a kid down the park let in such a soft goal and yet here we are again with another England goalkeeper letting in an absolute howler. Robinson, James and Carson. They have all let in absolute clangers that have cost England dear. "The hand of clod" Yep.
For me Heskey is man of the match for England. That is Emile Heskey, the man the English media were most opposed to being named in the England squad. Tim Howard has a decent game for the US but it is no excuse really. England look mediocre.
At the end, the England players don't even bother to come over and applaud all the thousands who have spent their savings to be here. The England national team are not good enough on or off the pitch.
Earlier in the day we booked a coach ticket online back to Joburg from Rustenburg. The ticket reads: 'Pick up outside rustenburg stadium'. There are hundreds of coaches outside the stadium. Our ticket doesn't even give us a bus name or number to identify said bus. We basically have no chance of finding it.
Two hours of being sent from one end of the stadium to the other by various stewards, police and FIFA wannabees and all the coaches have gone. We look stuck.
Fortuitously, some English lads agree to let us cram into their chartered minibus back to Joburg. A lone American lad also blags a lift in the boot.
The English lads have paid an astounding 700 pounds for the seven of them to be picked up in the morning from Joburg and driven back afterwards and now they've got three clowns crushed in the back with them. A big shout of thanks goes out to them otherwise two England and one American might have had a very uncomfortable night stuck in the wilds of Rustenburg.
Friday, June 11
The Johannesburg fan park is awash with colour; fans of every persuation flocking in their tens of thouands to watch the opening match of the 2010 World Cup finals.
I haven't managed to track down a ticket for the opening ceremony but, after meeting my mate Robin, who has just flown in from London, the Johannesburg fanfest is arguably the second best place on the planet to watch South Africa begin their campaign.
The noise levels are off the scale. The World Cup has arrived and South Africans are reacting like it is the most exciting day of their collective lives.
South African Air Force helicopters buzz the fanfest. Below them 100,000 men, women and children scream, cheer, frown, laugh, gasp and blow into their vuvuzelas as Mexico and South Africa go toe to toe.
Truthfully, most locals do not believe their team will be good enough. But, sometimes in football, it is not that straightforward. South Africa appear to have a twelfth man.
When Siphiwe Tshabalala is released down the left channel and powers the ball into the top right hand corner of the net it is not just Soccer City that erupts. The Johannesburg fanfest goes wild. Fans climb into trees; onto the roofs of buildings. And there they sway, dance and celebrate in unison South Africa's 1-0 lead.
But the South African defence looks suspect. This is not a team that will kep clean sheets. As the sun dips below the Johanessburg skyscrapers to the west of us, Mexico get the equaliser they deserve.
For the first moment in weeks the vuvuzelas are silenced throughout South Africa. It is accompanied by a huge collective gasp of disapointment.
But as we all trudge back into central Joburg the South Africans know their dream is still very much alive. A point means the group is wide open. It is good news not only for them but also for the tournament.
There's a party in Nelson Mandela Square. Nelson is stood there, 20 feet tall, laughing. Fans from Paraguay, Japan, Argentina and South Africa dance around his statue singing, downing pints and waving their various flags.
Robin has only been in the country for about 7 hours so he still hasn't lost enough of his hearing to become assimilated to the vuvuzelas and needs to escape to the sancutary of a vuvuzela-free-zone. Montego Bay Pub is also an ideal spot to meet another English friend, Nick, who Bjorn and I met on the Botswana border several weeks ago. Nick flew into Joburg from Cape Town this morning where he picked up his camper van, which will serve as his house and home for the coming weeks.
90 per cent of those present, the majority of whom are English and American, are cheeing on Uruguay to beat France. This is not because any of us have any affinity towards Uruguay but because France should not be at the World Cup after cheating their way past Ireland in the Play Offs.
Nick finally manages to track us down as goalkeeping legend Bruce Grobbelaar (who must rate as the world's second most eccentric goalkeeper of all time after Columbia's Rene Higuita) makes a brief appearance in the pub. Bruce takes one look, sees all the English lads present, and probably realises if he stays it will all end in half of us taking the Michael out of him.
It might sound foolhardy but we have decided that it's a good idea to drive overnight from Joburg to Rustenburg.
Setting off at around 11pm after the Uruguay-France match ends in a stalemate we reckon Rustenburg is about two hours away. Given that we are struggling to find our way out of central Joburg and don't even own a map, our chances of making it to Rustenburg without incident seem slim...
Friday, June 11
So, here it is. After four years of waiting the world's greatest show is about to begin again. I can't believe it.
There is an amazing buzz in Johannesburg. I woke up at 7am and, already, you could hear the 'swarm of bees' sound of the vuvuzelas being blown around the neighbourhood.
FIFA Mondial are interviewing Bjorn in the garden as I write this, and I will soon set off for the centre of the city to find a place to watch the opening match between South Africa and Mexico.
One of my mates, Geordie Robin, is due to land at Johannesburg Airport in the next hour and, some time today, we will set off for Rustenburg where England play the United States tomorrow.
Please continue to follow this blog as I will be writing updates throughout the World Cup from all around the country.
I am extremely fortunate to have tickets to all the England matches, so please think of me inside the stadiums and will on the England team werever you are watching the games!
(Even if you are Scottish or Irish)