Johannesburg, South Africa-Kicking and Screaming, Shallow Hal, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s, The Night Man Cometh. What is this amazing list of some of the greatest film every produced you ask? These award winners mixed in with a few hundred hands of computer black jack, three surprisingly delicious in flight meals, several mini bottles of African red, and a few failed attempts at starting my capstone literature review, is how I spent the eighteen hours on my way to Jo’burg, South Africa.
After an hour long lay over Dakar, in which we weren’t allowed off of the plane, but if I may say so myself, from the runway the city looked lovely, it was a race against time to make it to South Africa by the opening kickoff of World Cup 2010, which pitted the host nation against my arch rivals, Mexico. While we didn’t quite make, it was very special to receive in flight updates of the game from the captain as well as the flight crew. For next time, if I were South African Airlines I would look into hiring a play by play guy or two for the flight.
Once we arrived in South Africa it was a scramble to get bags, get through customs, get to a television, and get our first beer. While the Johannesburg airport is thirty miles or so miles from Soccer City, the venue of the opening match, I couldn’t have asked for a better place to watch the home team play. The airport was a sea of yellow jerseys, smiling faces, dancing, and horn blowing. The look on South African’s faces as their ‘Bafana Bafana’ opened up their World Cup campaign can only be described as a one of true joy and happiness, a look that you see on the face of a child as they open up a Christmas present or take a ride on the slide at the local park. In a country that has suffered so much pain and strife throughout its history, to see and be a part of this joyous occasion was truly touching.
Just as I was finishing up my first Castle Lager, the South Africans were able to break out into a beautifully orchestrated counter attack, which led to an even more beautiful goal. Siphiwe Tshabalala’s 54th minute wonder goal sent the airport into an absolute frenzy. While I consider myself a die-hard USA fan and a fairly level headed guy, I couldn’t help but join in the celebration. I was jumping around and high fiving anyone with a hand in the pandemonium. At 26 years old, I have been many places and done many things, but I would have to say that experiencing this goal with the South African people, in South Africa, was one of the more special moments of my life. This was truly a celebration of the ‘Beautiful Game’. The celebration continued for the next 35 minutes and although the match ended in a draw, to score the opening goal and come away with one point against a highly touted Mexican side was a huge accomplishment for the host country.
After the match, it was off to the Apollo hotel, our home for the next eleven days. The Apollo, which sits several miles outside the downtown Johannesburg area, is a four star hotel and banquet hall so commonly used for conventions and important events, that there is actually a dress code in place for any a guest outside of their room, but due to the special circumstances of the World Cup, the only dress code people have been following is your county’s soccer jersey is a must and the only banquets being attended are the evening matches which are being shown on a projector screen in the ball room converted beer garden.
After traveling from LA to Atlanta, Atlanta to DC, DC to Senegal, and Senegal to Johannesburg, I was in no condition to tackle the local night life so the Spruell family settled for hot showers, a couple bottles of wine, South Africa’s version of beef lasagna, and the perfect pre cursor to any night’s sleep, the 90 minute snoozer put on by France and Uruguay. So, after 10,000 miles of travel and couple shots of Cuervo Silver (which the bartender had to call the manager in order to find out how much a shot cost), it was time to get some rest for the big US vs. England match. You never know when you might get the call up from Coach Bradley to suit up!
Check back tomorrow for my US vs. England experience!