It was the best of days, it was the worst of days (emphasis on worst).
The waiting was over, the stadium was swollen with the singing of national anthems, the kick-off whistle blew, we almost scrambled an early opener then we were handed a football lesson; how to tear apart a defence 101. Having one’s strides removed before being roundly spanked is rarely an enjoyable experience and yesterday proved no exception. The post mortems have been undertaken, over bitter beer debriefs here in South Africa and equally bitter Monday morning coffees in Oz, what was Pimm thinking with that formation, with the selections, with those tactics? Here in Durban no faces have looked as forlorn as those hurt souls who yesterday brought out their In Guus We Trust tee shirts. Anyone out there with a store of ‘In Mr Andlemonade We Trust’ tees? The hounds are baying for blood. The worst of days.
The dramatic arc of the day though was wonderful, it sucked us along with a momentum all of its own that steadily built up over the course of events. Excited conversations at breakfast were followed by a spot of shopping at Victoria Market before the Sportsnet mob assembled to head to the ground. (Special mention to Alan who bought a drum at Victoria Market to beat out time, extra-special mention to South African ingenuity which saw the drum made from an animal skin stretched across a suped up oil can, extra-extra-special mention to the oil can which had an MEL sticker on it and was probably direct from the Spotswood refinery.)
We walked to the stadium along the carnivalesque waterfront promenade, groups of German and Australian fans singing, shouting, giddy with delightful nerves. A mass of humanity all thinking the same thoughts and hoping the same hopes. Three Aussie lasses were taunting the Germans with a playful rendition of ‘Where’s Your Ballack’ to the tune of the Chemical Brothers ‘Where’s Your Head At’ – clearly they had more faith in the Bradbury than I.
Sometimes, and it is especially acute in developing countries, you can feel a little intrusive taking photos of people. It’s a balancing act to rationalise the competing desire to get that perfect photo memory of an amazing trip in an exotic land against respecting the fact people are trying to go about their daily lives with dignity. Yesterday it was hilarious to see the roles of artist and subject were reversed when the local Africans rushed, laughing and pointing, to snap close up photos of us as we marched to the stadium decked out in full Aussie regalia. It was refreshing to be the curio rather than the curious.
The Fan Fest Zone closest to the stadium was the venue for checking the form of the other members of Group D, who battled it out in the game before ours. Despite all our wishes being for a draw, Ghana managed to get one past Serbia and take the match one nil. Not the end of the world for us but not the ideal result.
With the preliminaries taken care of and the sun now sunk it was time to head to the ground. And what a ground. The final stretch takes you along a long gently sloping ramp that gives the impression of walking into the gaping open mouth of the stadium, the game taking part in the belly of the beast. Surely this is the prettiest ground in SA, an architectural wonder. And it was packed, a sea of gold and white, going bananas. Then we got smashed. The only positive thing about that 90 minutes was that we got to see a Germany that are amazing – not the greatest positive when your heartstrings were attached to fortunes of Australia. Ghana now are flying high after taking out the Serbs. We must beat them to be any chance of progressing. A cold snap has just descended on the entire country, the beach in Durban was deserted today and this is apparently the warmest part of SA. Maybe the cold will benefit us. Right? Hope springs eternal.
The vuvuzela is instant atmosphere (whether it is a force for good or evil is still up for debate) but one thing it does do is kill the chant. The ebb and flow of melodic not-quite-intelligible insults and exhortations has no chance in the face of rolling, reverberating horn blasts. This is the African world cup, we are told we have to deal with it being done in the African way, and I reckon after taking my own can’t-beat-em-join-em advice a couple of days ago I’ve made my peace with the omnipresent instrument. Still, I miss the English fans in full voice and the Japanese chanting Nippon Nippon Nippon non-stop for 90 minutes.
World Cup typography: Great to see the Dutchies are continuing with their policy of using a font on their shirts that is best described as what we thought the future was going to be like in the past. Every time I see a flash of van Persie’s back I feel like I’m looking at a screen shot of the score from the greatest computer game of all time, Pong circa 1976.
Disappointing to see every South African without exception going for Germany. I’m going to have to review my support for them – surely it is fine to have the of levels of reciprocal support influenced by petulance.
ps – go the kiwis! Value bet still looking valuable.
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