Ã¢ÂÂThe time for Africa has come, it has arrived,Ã¢ÂÂ announced President Jacob Zuma as he opened the 2010 World Cup. Obviously Zuma had arrived at the stadium with a police escort and didnÃ¢ÂÂt find himself gridlocked on the motorway while trying to find a Park & Ride like most ordinary fans.
No journey to Soccer City on opening day seemed to be simple. My own shuttle bus trip started four and a half hours before kick-off, but having travelled just a few miles in two hours, reaching the stadium in time for the opening ceremony was already looking to be a distant hope when the coach ground to a halt in the fast lane of the motorway, spluttered, and never started again.
The best the driver could offer was that we attempt hitch a lift, which is how I found myself weaving in and out of three lanes of crawling traffic, trying to cadge a ride from anyone who looked to be heading for the stadium.
Avoiding the hard shoulder because of the speeding police cars using it to escort rushing dignitaries to the ground, by a piece of good fortune I chanced upon a couple of laidback Aussies, Halil and Gary, who were cruising coolly down the central lane with music blaring out of their car windows. Ã¢ÂÂHop in,Ã¢ÂÂ they said, Ã¢ÂÂwe read FourFourTwo so weÃ¢ÂÂll get you there.Ã¢ÂÂ
The biggest question in the build up to the tournament was whether South AfricaÃ¢ÂÂs creaking transport infrastructure could cope with the pressure of the World Cup, and the answer on the tournamentÃ¢ÂÂs opening day surely has to be no.
The organisers had already announced that they wanted Ã¢ÂÂto encourage fans not to rely solely on Park & RideÃ¢ÂÂ, and as if to further dissuade people from using it, in Johannesburg they made it mandatory to purchase parking tickets in advance. The trouble is, the message hadnÃ¢ÂÂt reached everyone, including my Chelsea-supporting Australian driver.
Unfazed by the news, Gary continued weaving from lane to lane, chasing the fastest-moving route, and on our eventual arrival at the Park & Walk site, as he had predicted, a fifty rand bribe (worth approximately ÃÂ£5) ensured entry to car park without a ticket. Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs South Africa,Ã¢ÂÂ he said laughing. Ã¢ÂÂNothing here is a problem.Ã¢ÂÂ
It was far too late for the opening ceremony but weÃ¢ÂÂd reached Soccer City just in time for the match itself, and we took some small consolation from the fact that both Jacob Zuma and Sepp Blatter had made it to the stadium without problems!
Getting Lucky in RustenbergAt the England-USA game the much-predicted American invasion failed to materialise, and it was the English that turned up in the largest numbers once again. With stories of travel chaos circulating, and with the authorities unable to confirm to the Football Supporters Federation whether shuttle buses would be running fans the 12km from the town to stadium, many made the decision to turn up in the early afternoon for an 8.30pm kick-off.
With the Royal Bafokeng Stadium situated slap bang in the middle of nowhere, the day could have gone disastrously wrong for fans stranded in a largely bar-free zone, but circumstances conspired to make this a trip to remember.
Those who had already done their own local research arrived at the ground and went immediately in search of LuckyÃ¢ÂÂs in Phokeng, a Ã¢ÂÂpubÃ¢ÂÂ run by the enterprising Lucky Ramaroa.
Lucky had managed to publicise his small and wonderfully down-at-heel bar to the football world as the only drinking establishment within walking distance of the stadium. It turned out that there were others (small and few), but LuckyÃ¢ÂÂs really was the place to be, even though the very act of reaching it was a challenge.
It's situated three quarters of a mile from the stadium, so the walk to the bar took you through the kind of poverty-stricken areas that the guide books suggest are avoided at all cost. But whereas the stories of Soweto quite rightly discourage you from taking this kind of stroll into the unknown, the locals of Phokeng opened up their community, and in some instances their homes, to the travelling fans. This friendly little village was delighted to play its own small part in making the 2010 World Cup a success.
The majority of the patrons in the walled beer garden of LuckyÃ¢ÂÂs proved to be English, but they mixed freely with Americans and locals, watching the Argentina-Nigeria game together and enjoying the World Cup experience.
The incredible atmosphere could only be dashed by a disappointing England performance, which the team delivered without hesitation that evening. For the Americans, a draw was enough reason to celebrate, and as their fans left the stadium, the result allowed them to deviate from their usual default chant of Ã¢ÂÂUSA, USAÃ¢ÂÂ, reworking Ã¢ÂÂWho Let The Dogs OutÃ¢ÂÂ at Robert GreenÃ¢ÂÂs expense: Ã¢ÂÂWho let the goals in Ã¢ÂÂ Green, Green, GreenÃ¢ÂÂ.