Thursday, July 8
Durban - Joburg
So Spain managed to get past the brilliant young German side. It must be their trophy now...
It wasn't the greatest semi final you'll ever watch, but it was certainly intriguing. The young Italian bloke in a wheelchair, who miraculously rose to his feet and ran onto the pitch in the middle of the match blowing his vuvuzela, was another highlight of the evening for many football purists.
I don't know how much publicity it got abroad but there is a big stink here today about the 1,000 plus football supporters whose aircraft were unable to land at Durban Airport for last night's match. The story goes that a good half dozen scheduled flights were unable to land because of private jets belonging to celebrities and FIFA officials blocking the landing berths. It's an absolute disgrace. The media though hasn't mentioned the significant number of police and military aircraft that were patrolling the skies last night. I suspect that also had something to do with the mess.
Blackburn and I check out of our Durban beachfront flat (more like an upmarket prison cell) and make for the coach station.
"Can you believe it?" Blackburn tells me, "I even got told off by one of the street beggars for being too rowdy a couple of nights ago. 'Blackburn', he said. 'You shouldn't get so drunk'. It comes to something when the local beggars are telling you off."
Prior to coming out to South Africa there were not only horror stories in the press about crime - we were also told that the price of domestic travel would be unaffordable. More nonsense from the world's media. Down at Durban coach station a 7-hour journey on a luxury double-decker from Durban to Joburg will set you back the grand total of 180 rand (16 pounds).
We are heading back to Joburg so I can fly home and Blackburn can try and get into Sunday's final at Soccer City. Four coaches leave Durban at the same time, the morning after the world cup semi. We spot a grand total of two German fans and zero Spaniards making the journey north.
South Africa has been brilliant but Joburg isn't exactly my favourite place. We arrive at Joburg Park Station late afternoon. It's more than 10km from here to Randburg where Blackburn has booked us in to his old guesthouse.
The problem with Joburg is that everywhere is so difficult to get to if you are relying on public transport. And then there's the threat of voilent crime...
A policeman at the station advises us against walking the couple of blocks it is to the minivan taxi rank.
"To be honest, it isn't safe at all. You are much better off taking a taxi to Randburg."
The taxi ends up costing as much as the 7-hour coach journey but at least the last long road trip of this adventure is over.
I grab an early night. I feel exhausted and ready to go home. It seems more like years rather than months since I left England. I can't imagine how Bjorn must feel after nearly 13 months away.
Friday, June 11
I am not a fan of celebrity culture. When people ask me who I most admire I think of real people who, against the odds, battle through life. The kind of people that I was fortunate enough to meet on the road in Africa.
Yes, it is 'cool' when you meet somebody like George Best as I was lucky enough to some years ago, but truthfully those who should really serve as an inspiration to us are the individuals all around us: those that have overcome horrific ordeals, those that dedicate their lives to helping others.
There is though, one famous person in this world who does deserve special mention. His name is Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
'Madiba', as he is affectionately known, is a living legend who should serve as an inspiration to all of us. When he was released from jail after 27 years inside a cell, Mandela chose a path of peace and reconciliation for his nation. Others would have chosen revenge and retribution.
The World Cup is in South Africa because of Mandela. South Africa stands united today as a nation state because of Mandela.
Nelson Mandela has made it clear that, despite advice to the contrary because of his ill health, he will be there at Soccer City today for the opening ceremony of the 2010 World Cup.
Speaking personally, I believe that this man is probably the greatest man on earth.
I do not have a ticket for the opening ceremony but, if I could, I would pay a lot of money to be there today. Yes, I would love to be there for the first game of the World Cup with the majority of the 94,000 crowd cheering on Bafana Bafana. But, most of all, it would be incredible to attend the opening ceremony just to see Nelson Mandela, the world's greatest living person, open the 2010 World Cup with billions watching around the planet.
Friday, May 28
It is football friday in South Africa. Each and every friday South Africans are encouraged to 'dress down' for work by wearing the Bafana Bafana's colours into the office as a show of national unity.
Seems like every second South African now owns a national team shirt.
The locals are extra happy today after South Africa continued its impressive World Cup build up with another victory last night; this time a 2-1 win over Columbia in front of 90,000 at an (as ever) noisy Soccer City. Bafana Bafana are growing in confidence despite the best efforts of the nation's media to knock them down.
Brazil became the second team to arrive in South Africa on thursday. I think the Samba boys are going to find Joburg a bit chilly with temperatures dropping close to zero some evenings.
Bjorn is giving a presentation to the PSL today as way of thanks for their help since we arrived in South Africa. The biking Viking is about to give an hour long interactive show chronicling his 11-month journey from Norway to South Africa.
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