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?
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...
Wednesday, June 9
With just two days to go until the World Cup begins Johannesburg is bathed in flags and bafana bafana shirts, the vuvuzelas are selling like hot cakes and rumours abound that the start of the tournament will coincide with the commencement of the apocalypse.
Ten Argentine football hooligans have been given their marching orders and deported. Apparently they were planning to kick off with fans from an unnamed rival country. The only clues to the name of said nation is that it begins with 'E', ends with 'D' and its fans think Maradona is a bit of a t***.
Portugal looked unconvincing until the second half in their 3_0 win over Mozambique played in front of thousands of fans from the local Portuguese community in Johannesburg. Meanwhile, star man Nani has withdrawn from their squad through injury.