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