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

About Me

Friday, 9 July 2010

The long goodbye

It’s been nearly two weeks since England got knocked out of the World Cup and still the tournament rumbles on. The final takes place on Sunday and I’m desperately waiting to find out if I’ve got a Willy Wonka golden ticket; although I’m not sure anyone back home will be watching.

Many people have described it as the worst World Cup in living memory. I realise that my enjoyment in being here might colour my view but I’d say that’s more a reflection on the frustration brought on by England’s disastrous showing. It was without doubt our worst World Cup in living memory, even worse than USA’94 and we didn’t even qualify for that.

Knowing full well how the English newspapers would react to our exit I was happy enough to remain in South Africa. But there’s no doubt that we all had to raise our spirits. We were certainly all a bit Joechim Loew for a few days but in one way England exiting stage left meant we could all sit back and enjoy the football on show without worrying about what it meant for our chances of winning.

After three weeks we could all fully appreciate the ebb and flow of football played like it ought to be and watching the likes of Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Chile and Holland play in front of full houses in different football stadiums reaffirmed my appreciation for the game.

Another bonus was the appearance of Ray Parlour in the talkSPORT lodge. He turned up the morning of the 4-1 thrashing that signalled the end of the tour for several members of our party. It would have been easy for him to think he’d gate crashed a stranger’s funeral and kept himself to himself. But thankfully he’s one of the funniest characters I've ever met and has given everyone a lift at exactly the time we needed it.

A World Cup without England meant a slight reduction in the amount of hours we were broadcasting from the lodge. But for the next week or so I continued producing shows in and out of stadiums throughout the quarterfinals and taking in the sights and sounds of the first African World Cup.

After the delights of Tevez, Hernandez and Messi on the Sunday in the meticulous & mammoth Soccer City I spent the following evening marvelling at darting swallows feasting on moths and insects attracted to the inner-city floodlights on Ellis Park. A ramshackle ground situated near one of the no go areas of Johannesburg.

Upon arrival I looked around at the uneven stands, the ancient facilities, the darkened alleyways and raucous atmosphere with a view from the upper tier over the threatening nearby neighbourhood and proudly exclaimed “now this is a proper football stadium!” Before being reminded that it was in fact a rugby ground and the scene of South Africa’s famous World Cup triumph, which united the nation for the first time. Oops.

During the week I took a taxi 45 minutes across town to the best museum I’ve ever been to, The Apartheid Museum. As sobering as it was in parts it was still an uplifting experience and despite spending two hours inside I could have spent another hour at least so packed is it with information, videos, artefacts and displays.

Sadly, it made me realise that this country has been inextricably linked with violence since the Dutch ‘founded’ it in the 17th century. It also made me realise just how important having the World Cup on its soil is for the people. They need a uniting force more than any other nation.

At the end of the museum as I walked out of the austere building into the daylight and wandered through the gardens the emotions of what the people here have been through hit me and once again I had reason to thank my parents, friends and country for such a blessed life so far.

And I was thanking god for entirely different reasons minutes later as we were picked up by our resident nutcase taxi driver Sidney. For once he wasn't on the phone arguing with his wife or business partner but that didn't stop him swerving across the lane during the midday traffic and try and share a lane with a truck. Even Sidney looked apologetic after that manouevre ended in fist waving and horn blowing rather than the death of three people.

The following Sunday I enjoyed my first day off in four weeks. And as I wasn’t needed for the semi-finals this was quickly followed by my second, third & fourth days off. A chance to chill out, get a bit of a suntan and finish my holiday shopping, "fifteen vuvuselas please!"

It was also a chance to finally do something I’ve never done before and ride a bloody horse.

Four of us travelled to a game reserve for a two-hour horse ride. It was a cloudy day and things didn’t start too well when we arrived at our destination. Firstly the place was called Croc River and my imagination started to run away with me before the guide informed us that the crocs had long since left the scene. However our discomfort was quickly replaced by the domestic that seemed to be going on with the Afrikaan owner and his African helpers as he chastised them for not preparing the horses in time for our arrival.

But once we got underway our moods improved and I really started to enjoy riding the most laidback horse on the ranch. Our trip was punctuated by sightings of bored looking wildebeest, zebras and deer. While the snakes that could have ruined everything by scaring the horses and sparking a stampede remained out of sight in and firmly in hibernation. T’was a lovely way to spend a morning.

ALl of which brought me to my final weekend in South Africa. An evening out with my fellow talkSPORT workmates on the Friday night and the prospect of attending the final on the Sunday awaited. It ended up being one of the best and worst weekend's of my life.

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