Travelling tittle-tattle, tall tales and shameless name-dropping by Jon ‘Don’t Call Me’ Norman

About Me

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Return of the cack

Well that didn't quite turn out like I had hoped. Watching England getting battered by the Germans on a muted monitor in the soulless setting of a media centre with Adrian Durham and Romford Pele. Cheers from German hacks and anti-English broadcasters ringing around the hall and in my ears as our defence was breached easier than a Frenchman’s border. Then the friendly laughter from African commentators as I jumped about in impotent fury as the Germans finally got us back for the goal that never was in 1966. It was as bad as it was surreal. And I’ve never sworn quite so much and quite so rudely in front of so many strangers.

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By the time of the third and fourth goals I’d moved to the vast and empty Soccer City Stadium. It was a sorry way for England’s World Cup adventure to come to an end. And as the three of us set up our kit and got ourselves ready for Argentina v Mexico (and what I had optimistically hoped would be a chance to see a match up between England’s quarter-final opponents) I tried to work out what was the more disappointing display, England in the 2010 FIFA World Cup or England’s defence of the 06/07 Ashes? I didn’t bother asking Liam, as he was too busy booting a seat around the press box.

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In the build up to the game I’d been envious of my colleagues who’d been selected to attend and work on the game. England v Germany World Cup encounters don’t come along that often. Some might say, thankfully. But later that night as I watched them all troop back into the Lodge, knackered and scared after a hair raising six hour car journey back from Bloemfontain, I felt a burst of gratitude that I didn’t have their days experience in the memory banks.

It was a flat feeling all round for the next 24 hours. England’s exit meant the same for several members of our party. After three weeks of working, living and going out together and with two weeks left of the tournament it has been tough saying goodbye to those who’ve now left the Lodge and returned to England. Uncertain times all round.

It needed something special to raise spirits and it duly came the following night. I was sent out to produce live commentary of Brazil v Chile and it was more than enough to put a smile on my face and remind me that if I don’t make the most of the last ten days in South Africa I may as well head home and jack it all in.

For unlike England’s torturous approach to playing football this reminded me of watching kids play. Not that they played in parkas with packed lunches in their hands like I used to. Just in the way that actually looked like they were enjoying themselves. Robinho’s goal was a delight to watch and was enough to re-energise me. Maybe now England have gone out we can all sit back and enjoy the rest of the tournament.

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Friday, 25 June 2010

Soweto

Politically, socially and historically June 16th is the most symbolic day in the South African calendar. It is a public holiday is now known as National Youth Day and it is also the day in 1976 when a 12-year old boy by the name of Hector Pieterson was murdered in the street in front of his sister by South African police. An event now seen as the catalyst which led to international pressure finally finding its voice to demand an end to apartheid.

The Tuesday morning after I arrived I set off from our lodge shamefully ignorant about all of this and completely unprepared for what was to follow. I sat in a smart 7-seater with some very wealthy radio broadcasters and a former Premier League footballer and dreamily stared out the window as we travelled into the most famous township in the world. A place synonymous for its part in forcing an end to apartheid, for being the home place of Nelson Mandela and being the location of the deaths of thousands like Hector Pieterson. I was travelling into Soweto and I'm going to tell its story for the rest of my life.

As part of a regular tour we were led by 24-year, Jo and our driver Andrew who grew up in a township near Pretoria. She, I found slightly annoying in the way she kept relating stories of apartheid back to her own almost non-existent personal experiences, but Andrew was fascinating.

As we slowly made our way through the city rush hour traffic he described getting tear gassed on the way back from picking up tomatoes for his mother. Of running away from armoured police vans that locals call hippos. And how he and his friends grew up having to learn nine languages such is the varied ethnic mix in and around Johannesburg. I would be reminded of this tale later in the day.

As we continued on our way the significance of our destination started to become clearer. We were told about how Soweto originated from inauspicious beginnings as the Afrikaan government sought to force black and coloured people away from Johannesburg’s city centre, about how part of the township was built on swampland and sewage, and how after years of sporadic violence and protests on June 16th, 1976 the people finally started to gather a voice.

Our first stop however was Orlando Stadium, home to the Kaiser Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. We were all by now keen to see and learn more. But our driver was a keen football fan and knowing we were in town for the World Cup wanted to show us the stadium. The shacks that had started to build up on wasteland near this proud football ground were typical of the area.

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We were then driven through a typical Soweto market, which reminded me of Bridgetown in Barbados or St John's in Antigua. I wanted to take a photo of the shopkeepers, the stallholders, those selling fruit on cardboard boxes by the road or the brightly clothes hanging on rusty rails. But it just didn't feel right.

Then we were finally allowed out of the minibus as we stopped off at the Regina Mundi church, another icon of the township. Here we were told why thousands of students decided to take to the streets in protest on June 16th. It came after the government had imposed a law that every kid be forced to learn Afrikaan in school.

Considering the restrictions on black people at the time this may not seem so bad. But for many it was the final straw. It was bad enough that they had to learn one language (English) that they never had any use for at home, while with friends or at work, now they had to learn another. Thousands took to the streets and the South African police clamped down on them quickly, decisively and brutally.

Later that day, in the aftermath, Regina Mundi Church, where we now stood, was where hundreds of frightened children, women and students would later flee after the police opened fire. They must have thought that by hiding in a church they would be safe. They were wrong. We were shown the bullet holes inside the building where South African police gunned several of them down.

I'm embarrassed to say that even after hearing and seeing this the enormity of what took place that day still hadn't properly registered. And as we drove off my attention was taken by children playing football on a field and of families eating picnics on the grass near to the church. Although we hadn't been taken into the shantytowns or squatter camps where the poorest of the poor reside the areas we'd been through almost carried an air of tranquillity and familiarity.

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But this was to change as first we stopped outside an unremarkable house where Winnie Mandela still lives. Despite the negative press she has received outside of South Africa she is still held in high esteem in Soweto as she has remained loyal to her roots and still lives in the township. And then we were then taken to the Hector Pieterson Museum. A museum dedicated to the events of July 16th.

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As we entered there were scores of young schoolchildren being taken around. They huddled together, arms slung over each other’s shoulders with one eye on where their teachers were. They peered up at giant photographs taken on the day of the protests featuring kids not much older than they were. In the photos the students held handmade signs saying 'No more Afrikaans' and one of the actual banners remained, locked in a glass case. Suddenly reality jarred.

Maybe it was the fact that for the first time that day I was on my own but as I continued looking at the photos, watched short videos of the ensuing violence and read some of the personal stories something clicked.

The children in the photos looked familiar to me. They reminded me of the friends I grew up with. But unlike us lucky lot these guys were living under a state of fear, as an underclass, with no hope of a future. But for one fateful day they'd gathered enough support to feel safe enough to make a public show of their feelings. They were defiant, they had right on their side and when I looked at their faces and in their eyes it wasn’t anger that I saw but joy.

I turned the corner and started walking down a short narrow corridor with a blank wall on one side and glass on the other. My attention was immediately drawn to an image at the end of the corridor. It was another black and white photograph hanging on the wall. Underneath a group of 10-15 children gathered staring up at the canvass. As I walked closer I was stung by the image on show. It depicted three children. Two were running towards the camera crying their hearts out and the other was dead.

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I've never seen a photo like it. And I couldn't understand why it had taken 35 years for me to see it. It affected me like no other picture I've ever seen. The overwhelming grief and irrefutable agony on the girls face was too much. The thought of finding out my brother was dead and that I had to go home and tell my own parents what had happened. That in the blink of an eye we'd gone from laughing and joking around whilst skipping school, to the shock & fear of being shot at, and then the horrific realisation of what had happened. I felt an overwhelming sadness. What a fucking waste. It was too much. I had to walk away. And as I walked past the schoolkids who turned and looked up at me as I passed them I felt guilt.

There is no doubt that if I hadn't been with work colleagues and had instead been standing alongside Fe, my bro or someone equally close I'd have cried my eyes out. It was that upsetting. I had to snap myself back into action and force myself to stare out the window that looked out over Soweto to sort my head out. And speaking to the others afterwards I know I wasn't the only one.

The walk back to the car was subdued. We were all visibly shocked by what we had seen and I hearing what the others had to say proved I wasn't alone in the sadness I felt. Trying to stop myself from dwelling on what I'd just seen as our car pulled away I finally understood what I was on this tour.

It was a quiet trip to our last destination of the day. One that would provide us a chance to end the day with a more positive mindset. But nothing could dim the shocking effects of my trip to the Hector Pieterson Museum. And nor should it have. But a chance to visit the house where Nelson Mandela lived before and after his imprisonment on Robben Island offered us some kind of closure.

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Nelson Mandela's house is, on the face of it, an unremarkable house on an unremarkable street in a quiet neighbourhood in Soweto. The only reason it sticks out is the presence of a few street traders outside and the high iron railing wall that surrounds it.

Apart from finding out about the work Nelson Mandela did for the ANC whilst in living in the building and a bit more about his family I learned three surprising things whilst here.

Firstly that this is the only street in the world where two nobel peace prize winners have lived. As not only did Mandela reside on this street but Desmond Tutu still lives down the road! Not bad for a small road in a Jo'Burg township.

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Secondly that the Mandela's had to build a brick wall inside the pantry to hide behind as the police used to fire bullets and throw bottles through the windows at night. This was during the rise in popularity & strength of the ANC shortly before Mandela was imprisoned.

Thirdly, when considering that the house itself is a small one (with only three rooms) it was also surprising to find out that Mandela actually moved back to this house after being released from prison. He stayed for eleven days until he was forced to move out because of the disruption well wishers were causing his neighbours. Incredible.

As the house was only small, and thankfully devoid of a tacky gift shop, it wasn't long before our trip to Soweto came to an end. We boarded our car for the last time, drove past Desmond Tutu's house and made the hour journey back to our lodge. It was an emotional day for all concerned. And one none of us will ever forget in a hurry.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

England's coming home?

Bloody England. It looks like South Africa is going to join Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Italy and Scotland as countries I've visited only to see my team lose. Although I never thought it would be Slovenia between us and our all too regular soul searching & scapegoat seeking. Now there's a sport we would be good at.

Don't get me wrong, I never once expected us to return home with the Jules Rimet Trophy squeezed in next to the duty free but I was hoping we'd make it past the fucking group stages.

Before I left I had a quick scan at the calendar and worked out that today was notable for just the one thing in that it's the halfway point of my trip. With just over an hour to go until kick off it could also be the day England get booted out of the competition. The tournament has still got nearly three weeks to run! Ridiculous.

Usually when supporting a team you can rely on a gut feeling to tell you how things are likely to go. The magic of sport is that your gut feeling isn't always right. There in lies part of the appeal. But looking ahead to this afternoon's make or break match with Slovenia I honestly haven't a clue how it's going to go. I can see us scoring early and running out comfortable winners. I can see a tight first half and a late goal for either team in the final stages. I can see a bad refereeing decision proving costly.

I think the last England World Cup game I missed was when Gary Linekar put three past Poland in 1986. And while I'll once again be watching avidly this afternoon it will be a slight anticlimax. For after the dreamlike experience of watching the USA game in the stadium with the fans this time it'll be like everyone back in England lucky enough to be off work. Just me, my fingernails and a TV screen.

A small group of us have been left back in Johannesburg and I'll be producing talkSPORT's Drivetime Show straight after the final whistle. If England lose it'll be a painful couple of hours of live radio for all concerned. And that USA game may be the first and last time I ever get to see England in World Cup action. So for all our bloody sakes COME ON ENGLAND!!!!!!!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, OUT, OUT, OUT!

Okay, so a 3-0 win against Serbia coupled with a defeat for Germany could still see the Aussies through. But that seems about as likely as a united England side brushing aside Slovenia without causing a single supporter a heart murmur. The chances of both of us getting through to face each other in the next round doesn't look very likely following two days of contrasting emotions.

Yesterday gave me the chance to forget all about the inept display put on by England on Friday night. And hopefully laugh at a team that in losing 4-0 to the Germans provided the only World Cup performance that ranked even lower than ours against Algeria.

My day featured the obligatory early start as we were doing full commentary of the game, what is it about sports tours and getting up at the crack of dawn? So by the time we arrived, a full six hours before kick off, the security guards hadn't even set up the metal detectors at the gates and with bulging baggage we were all given a cursory wave through the gates.

With so much time to kill before the match I mused about whether I should pop in and see my Bafokeng friends for a moonwalk and a slice of biltong. But after a quick 'blog update and a lazy walk around the stadium (with security guards still out of sight) it was time to head out with Goughie to do some interviews with the Aussie fans.

It was pretty surreal being in the same beer tent I'd frequented a week previous but this time under baking hot sun surrounded by thousands of gold and green shirts, blow up kangaroos and Aussies, Aussies everywhere. Although I can imagine plenty of them had to pinch themselves when they saw Darren Gough sauntering around in their midst. "What the fuck are you doing here mate?" delivered with heavy Australian accent being the usual opening refrain. “You fucking lost?” There isn’t a nation on this planet that likes a good swear up as much as the Aussies as our radio outtakes will testify.

Pretty soon though it was time to take our seats and our beers inside the stadium and the sight inside was incredible. Unlike the USA game where the full effect of a full stadium of red, blue and white flags, shirts and banners was lessened because the match was played under darkness. This time the match was taking place at 4pm and the yellows, greens & reds rolled in and around each other contrasting and complementing basking in beautiful late afternoon sunshine to create a stunning image that made me realise once again what a lucky chap I am.

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The game soon got underway and it was the under pressure Aussies who started the better. Buoyed by the return of Harry Kewell they immediately looked the more dangerous and Ghana looked woefully out of sorts. Before long they got a freekick and the keeper made a complete hash of it to hand the Aussies the advantage.

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And then the game’s turning point as Australia had Harry Kewell sent off for handball in the area. Forget the bleating from the Socceroos though for this was the right decision. Going by the letter of the law (which is what the referee has to do) Kewell had to go and go he did.

Although following the harsh sending off of Tim Cahill in the first game I can see why their supporters feel so hard done by. They should have learnt after 2006 and that Italian penalty. Welcome back to the world of football pain Aussies. We’ve been expecting you.

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With the Aussies down to ten men and with the scores level I was surprised that Ghana played the remainder of the game so defensively. With a tricky game against Germany to come this was the perfect opportunity to guarantee a place in the last sixteen.

Indeed it was the Socceroos who came out after half time with the more positive formation. And it was they who had the games best chance when Wilkshire wasted a chance as golden as the shirt he was wearing with less than ten minutes remaining. At the final whistle both teams seemed downbeat. While my good mood was slightly tempered after a late injury to John Paintsil prevented me enjoying one of his lap of honours.

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With one game remaining Australia need to dole out an almighty thrashing to the Serbs and England have to see off Slovenia if these two teams have a chance of facing each other in the next round. But what a match that would be. England versus Australia in the football World Cup. Losing the Ashes to the convicts is one thing. Getting kicked out of the World Cup by them is entirely another.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Return to Rustenburg

And to think I was going to wear my England shirt today.........

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Without anywhere near the same amount of fanfare I've made the short journey back to the Bafokeng region of South Africa. Rustenburg is set to host the Group D match between Australia & Ghana this afternoon and I'm going to be in the stands with a beer and a Goughie.

Before last night's diabolical showing by England I'd envisaged a jolly boys days out here. A bit of payback for 06/07 and a chance to ask the Aussie fans to 'look at the scoreboard'. For after their trouncing at the hands of Germany it's make or break for them today. A loss will see them exit and Ghana progress. However a win will see them with more points than England. Suddenly I've less reason to be so cocky.

What price a John Paintsil lap of honour at the final whistle? It's the only thing that could put a smile back on my face today.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Wrong way street

In the build up to the World Cup hundreds of scaremongering articles were written and countless dire warnings made about the perils facing any traveller in South Africa. As fans back in Britain no doubt remark on the scores of empty seats at some of the games featuring the smaller nations the blame could and should be rested at the feet of such irresponsible and lazy journalism.

Forgetting, or choosing to ignore the fact that in the past 12 months the country has seen an IPL season, an England cricket tour and a British Lions rugby tour all pass without incident prospective football supporters were warned not to make the journey to a country which admittedly does boast one of the highest murder rates than any other on the planet and where car jacking is commonplace.

I haven't been here long, obviously wouldn't profess to having any experience of living within a township and certainly don't want to tempt online fate, but I would suggest that the biggest danger anyone faces in a car is at the hands of a taxi driver rather than a car jacker. For although they nearly always welcome you with a smile and blare out commentary of all the World Cup games in African they are the most reckless of breed.

The standard of driving here is terrifying. The roads are often gridlocked during rush hour and it leads to some impressively innovative ways of escaping traffic. Since being in South Africa I've been driven down the wrong side of the street on two separate occasions and seen the car I have been sitting in squeeze into and go through areas a rush hour tube traveller would turn his nose up at.

While the look of terror on the normally cocksure Darren Gough as he stared wild eyed through the windscreen as our driver spoke on the phone, the car weaving back and forth across four lanes of traffic on the way to the airport will long live in the memory. I wonder if that's what I look like when I fly?

As looks go it was right up there with the one that greeted me early in the morning at Heathrow when with my work colleagues all ordering a fry up I went for a double vodka and lemonade. Or the one that reverberated around the lodge living room when my erstwhile colleague Matt Smith announced he was only going to have fruit for breakfast.

It's also not uncommon for taxi drivers to reek of alcohol when you get in the car, and one car we picked up in Cape Town after the France game was in such bad state it could only go at 20k an hour up hills, stunk of burnt metal and by the time we reached our destination started to rattle ominously.

They say the biggest killer in Africa is malaria. That might be true but I'd say the humble cab driver is also right up there.

Monday, 7 June 2010

And on the seventh day God invented football

It took more than three hours to make the weary 80 kilometre drive back from Rustenburg to my home for the next month, The Lourie Lodge in north Johannesburg. Forty thousand English, American and South african fans all on the same single stretch of highway that connects the town where England played their first World Cup game and the largest city in the country. And it was well past two thirty in the morning before I was finally able to pull my duvet over my head, and with the sound of thirty thousand vuvuselas still ringing in my ears said goodnight to the most memorable week of my life.

It's difficult to know where to begin describing the past seven days. A passage of time that has seen me fly into one of the most violent cities in the world and seen nothing but multi-racial harmony and joy. Tried and failed to sit comfortably with a lifestyle that allows me at night to submerge myself in five star luxury following days spent surveying the destitution of the township. The only constant that unifies such disparate ways of life has been the unreserved welcome handed out to us all since we arrived.

It's been a week of firsts. First time in South Africa, first World Cup, even first class flights thanks to a certain Mr Gough. My trip has seen me basking on the dazzling waterfront of Cape Town, immersed within 200,000 Bafana Bafana fans parading through Sandton (Jo'Burg's brashest, flashest urban centre). I've eaten my first Afrikaan brai, sat in Nelson Mandela's chair, danced with locals in Rustenburg and held back tears in Soweto. And on Saturday night the seven days that have shook my world ended on the ultimate high as I watched England play the USA live in the biggest sporting tournament on the planet.

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Cape Town, Soweto and the sumptious Lourie Lodge, a place so grandiose I've been warned not to put photos online for fear of raising Fe's expectation levels for our honeymoon (not that she ever reads my 'blog) will have to wait for another day. For today's post and Saturday's action was all about one thing, England.

The journey to the Rustenburg's Royal Bafokeng Stadium started on Thursday morning as due to last minute sponsorship commitments Goughie had to be in Cape Town for two days. I was drafted in to accompany him as we flew business class from Jo'Burg and stayed in the £330 a night Bay Hotel in the millionaire playground of Camps Bay.

Not that I got to exploit either experience as it doesn't really matter what class of flight you're on when you're still convinced it's about to plummet into the earth. The stewardesses would have to be pretty bloody attentive & the peanuts infused with a seriously strong sedative to ever make that an enjoyable state of mind to be in.

And even after my 68th flight ended in much the same way as the previous 67 by safely making it to land without any hint of mechanical failure or hijack by a screaming bomb-wielding banshee our tight schedule meant very little time to take in some more beautiful South African surroundings.

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But let's fast forward two days and another early start on the Saturday morning. Well before the sun could rise and allow one last peek of the water I awoke with an unusually reasonable five hours sleep under my belt and both Goughy and I were in fine spirits as we left for the airport. For after working our bloody arses off since arriving in South Africa it was the day that had been shining like a beacon throughout the week.

Flight number 69 also passed without incident and was made memorable only because we met three famous BBC competitors who had to walk past our Business Class seats on the way to economy. "Send the red cross parcel" one of them muttered to Goughie. It's good to know our tv licence money isn't being wasted away.

We'd booked into an early flight so that we could get back in time to make the two hour trip to Rustenburg where England were playing. And it was a good decision as a tight turnaround time and lack of cabs meant we only had time to drop our bags back at the lodge where our hosts were waiting for us. They'd kindly agreed to drive us to the game and the good times were to start early as we were invited to join them at some friends who lived in Rustenburg.

A short car ride and a little snooze later and we were greeted by another amazing location with equally impressive views - not sure what Candice, the 17 year old daughter must have thought about having to sit next to me as I slouched comatose, head tilted to the skies and mouth wide open - at least I didn't dribble.

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The outside views were stunning and the inside wasn't too shabby either boasting a fully stocked bar, ping pong table, huge TV & sound system and even a full sized snooker table. Ridiculous. I was also amused to hear that one of the brothers had bounced off the trampoline (picture above) aiming for the swimming pool only to overshoot and nearly fly over the fence. Oh man, I would love to have seen that.

Within minutes of arriving we had beers in our hands, footy had replaced rugby on the box and we were introduced to the meat we were about to eat. It was time for another first. The Afrikaan brai.

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I've learned a lot about South African people since getting here. One is that they don't really understand football. They're keen to talk about it, they're totally enthused about having the World Cup here and they are eager to be educated. But it doesn't take long before you realise there's more for them to learn than just the off-side rule.

The other is that if they are proud of anything, and they have a lot to be proud about at the moment, it's of the quality and quantity of their meat. M*E*A*T. Yum. And for the next half an hour we were frequently reminded of the cost such slabs of cow, lamb and beef would be back in England.

Man, they love their meat here so much they even added it to the salad & pasta dishes that accompanied the giant sausages and paving stone sized steaks. Even the quiche was no more than lumps of chicken & bacon served up in a bit of pastry with an egg cracked over it. As Goughie declared in his strong Barnsley accent "I'm not usually into quiche, but this is the best one ever!" He wasn't wrong.

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As starters go to the main event it was up there and the fun wasn't to end there. As before long we were back in the car and on the way to the game with full bellys and light heads.

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Our Afrikaan host was also friendly with a local police chief. And they'd worked out safe passage through the local township so that we could park the car near to the ground. The stadium is actually owned by the local Bafokeng people who are the richest townsfolk in South africa due to their location on and around land rich with mining opportunities.

It provided us with another delightful twist to the day as we shared drinks, biltong and blows on the vuvusela with a couple of the families who live in the shadow of the stadium where England were about to play.

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We were shown the quickest route to the game by a couple of local teenagers who left us once the stadium was clearly in sight. Sadly, though they were relatively lucky in that their township had money and a decent infrastructure it's unlikely any of those who lived here could dream of affording a ticket to the game.

As we strode to the ground with pulses racing and the sounds of songs and chants making themselves heard over the incessant droning of the vuvusela Goughie worryingly remarked he'd received a tweet that said a bomb had been discovered. We shrugged it off but we shared a few quizzical stares when two military helicopters suddenly swooped down on us.

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But as soon as they arrived they were gone with nobody any wiser and we made our way into the ground. At this point we had to separate from our hosts and me and Goughie made our way to one of the beer tents to really get ourselves in the mood for our first England game.

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The game wasn't for a couple of hours so we stood and chatted to the endless stream of England fans who wanted to come up and have a photo taken with Darren. He's completely unfazed by this and actually enjoys the banter. So it was pretty entertaining to be in this mix. We were also the beneficiaries of several free pints as punters fell over themselves to say they'd bought a beer for Goughie.

The American fans were also making themselves known. It's been widely reported that the Yanks have bought more tickets for this World Cup than any other nation outside of Africa. And they were here en masse. They were loud, excited and mostly in fancy dress. They also had a different mentality from the majority of working class English fans and this is something that would become a problem later in the game.

But still this was party time and we duly sunk a few beers each before making our way into the ground where we met up with the big boss at talkSPORT and some of the sales guys with their clients. The big boss is an Aussie and was loudly declaring he couldn't work out which team he wanted to lose more. I knew how he felt when I watched his side take on Germany last night.

Unlike in Europe it is perfectly acceptable to drink alcohol on the stands and as Goughie made his way to the bar I soaked up the atmosphere of my first ever World Cup England game. Thousands of fans mixing happily alongside each other waving red, white and blue flags as the two teams took to the field.

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I sat down happily with my beers in seats about half a kilometre nearer the action than the ones I'd had for the France v Uruguay game and started to take in the action. But within moments I was back on my feet as Stevie G turned in a short range effort to get our World Cup campaign off with a bang.

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And for a while it looked like it was going to be all too easy. But England's lifelong problem of not knowing what to do after going an early goal up struck. And I'm sure there were hundreds of Fulham fans with mixed feelings (and a winning betting slip in their back pocket) when Robert Green threw in a Clint Dempsey shot that was no more than a back pass.

It sparked the only unsavoury scenes of the game as pockets of USA fans chided the English fans sitting alongside them or behind them. All over the ground minor squirmishes either threatened to start or were carried through. The security guards having to haul off the offenders.

I could see that some of the Yanks just didn't understand the reaction. For them this was a game. What they now know if that for many English fans football is far more serious than that.

Half time came and went and old man Carragher made an appearance on the field. We had the possession but did we have the belief? Emile Heskey certainly didn't when he went one on one with Howard. While the USA fans held their heads in their hands when Altidore's chance cannoned off Green onto the post.

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At the final whistle the differing reactions from the two sets of fans told its own story. For the USA this was possibly their greatest ever World Cup result. While the English supporters trooped off with a familar air of downbeat resignation.

As we made our way out the ground the American fans chanted, sang and posed in front of TV cameras. We reminded them that they hadn't even won. But a long campaign for both teams certainly awaits.

But I was determined not to let the dropped points spoil a memorable evening. One I may never ever repeat as I'll not be able to watch England in action again unless they get to the quarter-finals in Jo'Burg. And after that disjointed display I wouldn't bet on them making it that far. But the evening was still to end on a high.

For after meeting up with the owners of the Lodge we made our way to our cars back in the township. And upon our return we found some of the families were having a party all of their own. One of the buildings had a TV and they were blasting out tunes from a TV music channel. While outside a group of children and adults were dancing and mucking around. I didn't have to be asked twice whether I wanted to join them. Which was good because as far as I can remember I wasn't even asked once.

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What a loser! Ha ha ha!!!!!

Fair play to the family & Goughie who patiently stood there waiting for me to cease my drunken dancing. In hindsight they were probably tired and with a long journey ahead the last thing they wanted was to wait around while I made a fool of myself. But any feelings of embarassment on my part immediately disappeared the morning after when I heard that one of the older African ladies had turned away from watching my high jinks to remark in broken english to everyone 'I love that white man'.

Climbing into the car I waved goodbye to new friends & far more talented dance partners before our vehicle began its crawl all the way back home. Dissecting the game with the others it became clear the trouble after the American goal had been mirrored across the ground. And also that maybe England didn't need to feel quite so disappointed considering the usual way we open World Cup campaigns and standard of the opposition.

And as darkness had fully enveloped the car and with fellow passengers starting to nod off alongside me I let my head rock back one more time, closed my eyes and let my mouth hang open all the way back to Johannesburg as another remarkable day approached its end.