World Cup Diary: Bunnys, bands, bids and Bafana
Almost 10,000 Australians converged on Durban for last night’s match against the Germans, many of them coming from elsewhere in South Africa or flying down from Europe, but the vast majority have been staying here for a week or few days and doing their bit for the local economy.
It’s a terrific city, a huge port filled with character, still a bit gritty around the edges. A bit too gritty for the German tourists, who appear to have succumbed to the media hysteria on the continent and have largely kept away. Local shopkeepers have been heartened by the Aussie presence but stunned by the German no-show.
Maybe the German fans should have heard this dark tale doing the rounds in Durban. One local white driver claims that, a couple of months ago, known gang members were approached by the cops and told that if they are responsible for hurting even one tourist in this city, they will be killed, their parents will be killed, and their cousins will be killed. In the absence of any outbreak of tourist-related crime this tough love policing strategy appears to have worked.
Some tense scenes at the Fanatics tent in Durban on Saturday night during the USA-England game when, to their eternal shame, many so-called Australians were clearly barracking for the Poms. While a majority of the crowd was rooting for the Seppos - to use the raunchy American adjective for barracking - several deluded Australians of English extraction were punching the air for joy when the to-and-froms scored just six minutes in. They went kind of quiet after the sheer hilarity of America’s equalizer, when Pommy keeper Robert Green conceded a goal which would have cost a schoolkid his spot in the under-10s.
And the Poms think we’re the ones that always start the petty stuff. An English newspaper has dubbed the Socceroos the “Sheilaroos” throughout this World Cup. Not sure if they’re trying to start the mind games early in case we run into them in the second round – presuming that they actually win a game over here. Or maybe they’re trying to stop everyone from remembering that the last time the Socceroos _ is it really that hard to say ? _ played England, it was in England and the, ahem, Sheilaroos won 3-1.
The hottest culinary experience in Durban, literally and metaphorically, is an unusual dish called “the bunny”. Happily no rabbits were harmed in the making of the dish, although we’re not sure about the diners. It’s a slurry of red-hot vindaloo-style curry which is served inside a large butterflied bread roll, which has had the crumb pulled out to make way for the thermo-nuclear slurry. They were doing a roaring trade in the small hours yesterday morning back in central Durban after the Powderfinger gig.
The English team almost found itself in the centre of one of the more unusual police chases of all time in Johannesburg last week, where the guy the cops were chasing was another cop. A blind-drunk 49-year-old police colonel was clocked by police doing more than 120kmh on the wrong side of one of Joburg’s insanely busy highways. They gave chase and the drunken copper took them on a mad pursuit out of town and towards Rustenburg. The colonel was eventually stopped and arrested less than 1km from the English team’s base camp.
Diego Watch, Day Three: From the “do as I say not as I do files”, the man who famously used his fist to put Argentina 1-0 up against England atthe 1986 Mexico World Cup has issued a stern statement calling for referees to crack down on unfair play in South Africa. Now Argentina’s national coach, Diego Maradona said the he wanted the refs to make sure everyone played within the rules, and to stamp out cynical tackles. To make his point Maradona recalled a vicious foul against him by Cameroon at the 1990 World Cup in Italy. “Someone gave me a kick which nearly knocked my head off,” he said, which might explain a few things.
Endurance-challenged Aussie males have scored the first victory of the World Cup after discovering South Africa’s chemists don’t require a prescription for Viagra. Available over the counter, the tiny blue pills are fast developing into an unusual souvenir for supporters at Fanatics HQ in Durban.
Heartbreaking news for sections of the Australian media contingent which has just checked out of the plush Melrose Arch hotel to move into a modest boarding house at St Stithians School in Joburg, where the Socceroos are training. At the same time they were checking out, every finalist for the Miss Universe pageant was checking in, with Melrose Arch being the base for all the contestants in the beauty parade. It could have been a lot worse – two journalists from Spain and one from Portugal were robbed at gunpoint while sleeping in a five-star hotel, and a bunch of Greek journos were also robbed in the lobby of their hotel, and a Chinese photographer had his camera stolen on the street.
It was the battle of the goodie bags inside the FIFA Congress last week where nations bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups got to engage in some friendly low-level bribery to promote their bids, The cutest goodies came from the Russians, who had specially-made Varushka dolls promoting their bid, while the Japanese handed out silk kimonos bearing the mildly incomprehensible slogan “209 kisses”. The Aussies drew on our rich fashion heritage by giving out green and gold beanies in our “Come Play” bid bags. Sadly there were no ugg boots.
Given the rate of HIV infection in South Africa it was a noble and sensible gesture by the local health authorities. But the question has to be asked - how many condoms does one person actually need? The gents’ toilets at the opening match at Soccer City were doubling as a safe sex emporium with packets of condoms being handed out for free. Each packet contained 12 frangas. Surely that’s just showing off.
Their team might only have a slim chance of progressing far at this World Cup but host nation South Africa can rightly claim to have the most fanatical fans, with even the highest eschelons of society gripped by Bafana Bafana fever. After Parliament was in uproar last week when an MP brought his vuvuzela into the chamber - prompting the speaker to rule “Sir there shall be no vuvuzelas in the House” - now even the judiciary has caught the bug. High Court Deputy Judge Willem van der Merwe removed his robes in court on Friday to reveal a green and gold South African jersey. “Today we are experiencing something that will only happen once in our lifetime,” his honour said. Meanwhile, an office worker was sacked in Johannesburg last week for blowing his vuvuzela in a colleague’s ear.
If the miserable sods from Europe get their way this will be the first and last World Cup which encourages the use of the vuvuzela. The Dutch national team had an open training session here on Friday which the public was welcome to attend, and many of the 3000-strong crowd were locals who did the traditional thing and took their horns to support the Dutch. Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk repaid their kindness by saying that he found the vuvuzelas “annoying.” “I could not make myself audible,” he said. FIFA is receiving many complaints, mostly from Europe, saying the horns are wrecking the telecasts and detracting from the game.
A heartening little fillip for Australia’s bid for the 2022 World Cup - even the American vice-president Joe Biden appears to have forgotten that the US is also vying to host the tournament. Biden gave a very moving speech at a US Embassy reception in Johannesburg on Friday where he spoke at some length about the struggle against apartheid, and also offered condolences to Nelson Mandela over the tragic death of his great grand-daughter in a car accident on Thursday night. However Biden made no mention of the fact that the US World Cup bid, despite having a captive audience to spruik the American campaign.
Forget about tactics and names on team sheets, the most closely guarded secret of ultra-cautious Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek and his apparatchiks over the past week has been the culinary habits of his players. Requests for details of the Socceroos pre-tournament diet, masterminded by their own personal team chef flown out from Oz, were met with a withering dismissal straight from the Gordon Ramsay School of rebuffs. England revealed their recipes for World Cup success with disarming candour but FFA functionaries closed ranks insisting any leaking over whether the Socceroos had imported Vegemite and Milo in their kit bags could ’’destabilise’’ preparations for their duel with Germany.
Who said sport isn’t also educational? The Brazilian referee and his assistants in charge of Saturday’s match between England and the USA took a quick crash-course in English swear words ahead of the clash. The reason was the presence of England’s potty-mouthed striker Wayne Rooney, who gave a ref an f-word laden gobful in a friendly match last Saturday and apologised by giving him his jersey at the end of the match. Fan-farken-tastic.
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