Earlier this week – I watched my first world cup match. I guess I should throw a disclaimer out there – I’ve never been a huge soccer fan. I almost never watch soccer although I did play it when I was in high school. Before I get started – there’s one other thing. People would always correct me as an American – calling football soccer. Except – here in South Africa – they call it soccer . So there! No more paying attention to the folk who keep telling me to call it football!
We did the fan walk to go to the first game. It’s basically a 30 – 45 minute walk from downtown to the Green Point stadium. Along the way there’s music, food, and tons of little stalls. I’m still planning to do it one more time so I can get a pimped out vuvuzela. It seems the best ones are sold there. I was shocked at the police presence in Cape Town. It’s not just a few extra police – there are thousands of them. They walk in groups ranging from 3 to 10. You see them on horses, on bikes, on foot, in cars, etc. Some walk around, some are stationed, and some are handling traffic. It’s actually quite amazing to see such a heavy police presence.
I went to watch the Portugal vs. North Korea match earlier this week. We had regular tickets in the stands. We ended up sitting amongst a group of Portuguese fans. Everyone wants to see goals when they watch a match. In this match, Portugal destroyed North Korea with a devastating 7-0 score in their favor. Everyone jumps to their feet when a goal is scored. There were so many scored in this game that it felt like doing a squats workout.
The game was well attended – approximately 63000 people in attendance. I was worried about the vuvuzelas and the potential noise. Everyone was talking about how horrible they are and how loud they are. I honestly think this is just bias. I had ear plugs but I really didn’t need them. As long as someone doesn’t blow one near your ear – the sound is fine. The ambience in the matches is pretty cool. The people with vuvuzelas have sort of sound offs. One group on the other side start a beat with theirs and the vuvuzelas on the other side start blowing with a counter beat. That goes on and off all through the matches. As a team begins to gain momentum – they start blowing to the beat for that team.
And then there are the waves. I’ve seen waves in a stadium – but somehow these seemed to have a life of their own. For starters – it’s awesome to see over 60000 people join in a wave. As the wave approaches, you start beating your feet on the ground to create a thunder sound. The feeling is amazing – it vibrates through your whole body. Once it’s upon you – you jump up wave, blow your vuvuzela if you want, then go back down. The waves circled the stadium over and over and over.
So I have only a few gripes about the experience. First is the lack of food in the stadiums. McDonalds is the official food for the stadium so there are a few lonely McDonald’s stands. The only other food available is ice cream. Now who wants ice cream at a soccer match in the winter? Budweiser is the official beer – but no one drinks Bud in South Africa. So there isn’t a lot of drinking going on. Half time is literally 15 minutes long, so the bathroom lines are insane at half time. In fact, all of the lines are insane at half time. They did have some folk walking through the stands selling beers – but they really needed a lot more.
When the match was over, we got up and headed out. I was expecting long lines and a miserable process getting out of the stadium – but it was actually painless. We basically had a nice leisurely walk out of the stadium. People were still blowing their vuvuzelas, recounting the awesome 7 goals we saw, and basically behaving like crazed fans. We did the fan walk back to the city and decided to go bar hopping for a while. The bar hopping is actually pretty nice. Cape Town is renowned for Long street and its bar life. Add thousands of tourists to it – and it’s a bar hopper’s dream. Everywhere we went – people were clad in their national colors and flags. Since no one was drinking at the stadium – people went straight from the stadium to the bars and started loading up. There was a nice celebratory mood across all of the bars and lounges. It was nice to see all of the excitement, national pride, and patriotism, without any of the angry violent behavior that can ensue. All in all it was good times.