My first world cup match

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.

My First Taste of the World Cup – The Geriatric Hooligan

Being South African and American – I couldn’t possibly turn down the opportunity to come to the world Cup. So we got ourselves together and headed down to Cape Town to enjoy the first World Cup in Africa. This time we flew through Europe – as opposed to our usual direct Atlanta – Johannesburg route. The flight out of the US was nothing to really shake a stick at – but the flight into South Africa was quite something else!

We were situated in our seats when 6 senior-citizen European men came onto the plane. They were clearly tipsy and jovial (to say the least). They were giggling, laughing obnoxiously and staggering as they made their way to their seats. Once they figured out where they were sitting – they started telling jokes, laughing out loud and telling stories so loud – we could all hear it. Several other passengers muttered, “11 more hours….. this is going to be horrible”. I should start by saying – I’ve never quite understood hooligan culture. I have sometimes contemplated what motivates the passionate European fans that wreak havoc with their sports-inspired revelry. These men were clearly itching to get up to some mischief – and it hit me – these probably aren’t hooligans – but they are either retired hooligans or perhaps the parents of some hooligans. The remainder of the flight was a flurry of requests for cocktails, wine, and beers.  The flight attendants came back countless times asking them to be quiet. Not only were they chanting and singing, but they kept congregating together. At any given time 2 – 3 of them were standing in the aisles with a glass of wine or beer, laughing out loud about something.

At some point, one of the men actually pulled out a light-weight European version of a Vuvuzela and started blowing it on the flight. I could only think that if this flight was bound into the US – an air marshal would have detained them and probably diverted our flight out of the US!  At one point, after about 20 minutes of constant horn blowing, the flight attendant walked by calmly and snatched the horn. She was met with cheers and clapping once she finally did it.

Then there was the singing. I heard a few national anthems and then lots of “Oooooolaaaaaaay-Olay-o-Laaaaaaaaaaay! Oooo-Laaaaay-Oooooo-Laaaaaay!” I couldn’t help but think that – these men were old enough to be someone’s parent. Imagine if your parents were this passionate about their teams, I can only imagine what their children were like. I felt sorry for anyone who was trying to sleep on the flight because there was no chance with all of the singing. Ultimately the flight ended without incident, but it made me realize how serious this soccer business is.