Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Stuck in South Africa: Australia v. Ghana

By: Trevor Kew

Despite the legions of fans covered in green, yellow, black and red, I can’t help but feel a bit lost when the white pickup truck pulls up to Royal


Photo from fOTOGLIF

, fifteen kilometres northwest of the city of Rustenburg in South Africa’s Northwest province.

For one thing, I am a tall white Canadian who has just arrived at the Group D match between Ghana and Australia, sporting a blue Japan jersey and even bluer Japanese scarf.  Now I can understand that there might be some confusion here so let me explain.  I am Canadian but spent three and a half years working in the well-known town of Leighton Buzzard, England, after which I relocated to Yokohama, Japan, where I have lived now for two years.  Due to my home and native land’s tendency to lose to and draw with small island nations, I am left supporting my two surrogate homelands at the World Cup instead.

Japanese fans simply laugh or refuse to believe me when they find out a non-Japanese person supports the Samurai Blue.  I attended all of Japan’s home World Cup Qualifying matches and yet was still told once by a Japanese usher at Nissan Stadium to go sit with the Australia fans, despite the fact that I’ve never even been to Australia.  I pretended not to understand.  English fans are usually fairly pleased when they hear I’m willing to join in the collective joy and pain (mostly pain) of supporting England, although one did accuse me of glory support.  What glory? I wondered.  The World Cup that they won when my dad was twelve, the Beatles were still together and above-the-knee tackles were vigorously applauded instead of strictly red-carded?

Like many fans, however, who have come so far to experience the first World Cup in Africa, I haven’t confined my tickets to the matches of my preferred national teams.  Due to the difficulty of obtaining popular England tickets, for example, I can only hope that they will land in the quarterfinal and semi-final for which I hold tickets.  At the moment, they’ll be lucky to get past Slovenia.

As for Japan, I’ll be attending their final match right here in Rustenburg on the 24th, which is essentially now a playoff for second place in Group E.  Attending their other matches was impossible without a car, which brings me to the first negative thing I’ve said (so far) about this tournament.

Transportation in South Africa has been a real problem.  While South African officials assured FIFA that transportation would be made accessible, affordable and reliable, visitors in reality have been largely limited to rentals cars or extremely expensive package tours.  Shuttle buses, taxis and transfer vehicles have for the most part been left at the mercy of opportunistic entrepreneur drivers.  Public transportation, especially in the Johannesburg area, is questionable in terms of safety and accessibility.  The high-speed Gautrain track is less than half-finished.

And so I had an additional reason to feel a bit lost at Royal Bafokeng Stadium, which, even more than most, is in the absolute middle of nowhere: I had been dropped off by a kind local and so no idea how I was going to get back to my accommodation.  I phoned them and they told me that a shuttle (approximately forty minutes) would cost 600 rand (about $80 US).  I told them where they could deposit that offer.

But once I was inside the stadium, I wasn’t lost anymore.  The pitch was as lush and flat as a putting green.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  And there were fans from other countries (Argentina, Mexico, etc.) amongst the hordes of braying Aussies and dancing Ghanaians.  There was even one crazy Angolan man behind me with a sign reading “ANGOLA IS HERE” despite the fact that they definitely are not.

There is a certain relaxation to watching a fantastic match in which you have absolutely no emotional stake.  I yawned as Ghanaians stopped mid-dance (you have to attend a match to appreciate how rare this is) when their goalkeeper lost his mind and gifted the Aussies an early opener.  I raised an eyebrow as Harry Kewell’s questionable red card sent Aussie fans into the depths of despair.  I sat happily between a man with a flaming Ghana pot on his head and another man wearing an inflatable kangaroo.

In the end, after the match finished 1-1, I took public transportation (a minibus flagged down on the road) at night, in the heart of South Africa, and didn’t get mugged or robbed or told to pay extortionate rates.  Instead, two elderly men told me about the marriage traditions of the Tswana people, and one of them asked if I was married and if not, how many cattle I could give for one of his daughters.  I kid you not.  And it cost me 16 rand.

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