This is part 2 of my two-part collection of random thoughts from South Africa. Part 1 is here. Click on Read more for part 2.
I got to see games at five different stadiums and I was impressed for the most part. Especially with Soccer City in Johannesburg, a truly top of the line stadium. The only one that didn’t feel like a proper venue for an event of this magnitude was was Royal Bafokeng in Rustenburg. It’s new and beautiful, but too small and the restrooms inadequate. It has no space for vending stands inside so they were set up outside of the stadium. There was no parking, so everyone had to use “Park and Drive” facilities, about 10 minutes away. After the game, it took us over an hour to finally get on a bus.
Beer at games
The dreaded all-American Budweiser. Perhaps it is not as insulting to South Africans as it was to Germans in 2006, but this was the only beer sold at games. Disgusting. While less astute observers think that the reason Budweiser is the official beer of the FIFA World Cup is purely financial, I am pretty sure that it is a clever way for the organizers to ensure that game-goers do not get drunk: no one can get drunk from that piss-tasting shit. I could not drink more than two beers per game.
Food at games
In stark contrast to the food everywhere else, the lack of decent food at the games was a huge problem for me, given that the games were either at lunch time or at dinner time, and to be fair, you want to get to the games about an hour before they start, and getting there takes time, and you cannot realistically be sitting at a restaurant for at least one hour after a game ends. Yes, going to a match is a time consuming affair and not having food there is a problem.
There were no tiny overpriced pizzas, no hamburgers, no tacos, no tortas. They did have some very dry, very odd looking hot dogs, but they were made of pork and I don’t do the other white meat. For snacks: Cadbury non-flake bar, potato chips – but they were always out, and biltong, South Africa’s version of beef jerky. Compared to beef jerky it is softer and not nearly as condimented. I tried it and I’ve decided to stick to the stuff you get at gas stations around here.
They also had pies (as in pies stuffed with turkey and whatnot) but I never tried them. And they had these chicken salad sandwiches. I know it sounds disgusting, and I know they looked disgusting, bet they were oddly good and satisfying, and I had me a few of those mixed with potato chips and Budweiser piss. Healthy!
The process FIFA put us soccer fans through in order buy tickets is inhumane. We submitted applications including passport information over a year in advance just so we can maybe be randomly selected for the privilege of buying overpriced tickets. Get tickets for Mexico, wash, rinse, repeat for the rest of the matches. The website did not work well and purchase confirmations took days to arrive; very stressful when seats are disappearing right as you hit refresh on the browser window. Months later we received snail-mailed packets with purchase confirmations, which you had to take with you to South Africa. Once there, you had to find a ticketing center and use ATM-like machines to retrieve the game tickets. The machines would sometimes work, sometimes reject you. If rejected, you’d bring all your papers to a live human being and work it out with him/her. Is all this really necessary?
Sadly and surprisingly for a World Cup, the games were not completely sold out. Getting to South Africa isn’t easy, and the prices were too high for the locals. Even sadder is that the actual attendance to many games was below the ticket sales!
I had extra tickets for some games. For the Mexico vs Uruguay match in Rustenburg I had two, which I tried to sell at the stadium. It proved very hard to do even at a fraction of the original price. No demand. No one would haul their asses to the middle of nowhere to see this game (which in retrospect included a semifinalist).
Right as I was about to give up, a very aggressive police woman started yelling at me and threatened to take me to jail. She escorted me to the stadium, two unused tickets in hand. She did not even let me give the tickets away to a couple of kids. A stadium with empty seats is bullshit.
Mexico got to open the tournament against the host nation. I had already acquired my tickets for all of Mexico’s games, but because they were drawn to open the tournament, FIFA charged us considerably more money for this game. It was the biggest rip off ever, the opening ceremony was a total waste of time. I really think it would have been better just to say some speeches and play the game, or at least not charge people double for it. Another abuse by the soccer governing body.
The most annoying thing of the tournament. I understand people blowing on these things during the match, to celebrate a goal or something. But people were using them before and after the game, in the streets, in restaurants, everywhere, with no concern of others. They would point it at your face and just blow them. Thankfully, the vuvuzelas faded as the tournament progressed, more markedly after South Africa lost 3-0 to Uruguay, and things became more tolerable. I wrote about vuvuzelas before, in case you missed it. I am also surprised at how popular the whole topic is outside of South Africa, even in the U.S.
I was selected official designated driver of our group in virtue of being the only one who possesses that arcane knowledge commonly referred to as “driving stick”. In South Africa the driving is done on the left side of the street, like in England. This was extremely confusing and probably a little bit dangerous at first but you eventually get the hang of it. The roads were excellent, especially in Johannesburg. Wide and clean highways, very good signs everywhere. I hear that a lot of the road fixing happened in the last three years in preparation for the World Cup. Styile wise, people drive a lot more aggressively than in Austin, but a lot milder than in Monterrey, Mexico. With the exception of part of the road to Pilansberg, where I blew a tire by hitting a giant pothole, driving was ok, even fun.
One of the most impressive things about this country is how clean the public restrooms are, where I was on my way to South Africa. Even in the stadium. Here’s a personal and very rare confession: I had to go do number 2 in Polokwane. Sometimes a man’s gotta donwhat a man’s gotta do. Of course, I went before the game even stadium: if you must, you must do it before others. But it was not too bad. Had I ever tried to pull that off in the Estadio Tecnologico, I would have died of dysentery a long time ago. Compare this to Cairo, where I spent a day on the way to South Africa. I didn’t spot a single public restroom there in which you didn’t have to burn your shoes after stepping into it.
The Mexican tourists
I saw more Mexican fans than from any other country. They were everywhere, it’s crazy. Someone mentioned that around 20,000 visas were granted to Mexicans at the South African embassy in Mexico, which is a lot, but you need to add the many thousands more that came from the U.S. but were following Mexico.
In both games against France and Uruguay there were far more Mexicans. At every hotel, mall, restaurant, you would find lots and lots of Mexicans. And exactly as Harry predicted, the only place in which I could not spot any Mexican tourists was at the museums. Sad, but true.