East London's World Cup is over

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Everywhere in South Africa is trying to get a little rub of the World Cup action. Arrive at East London Airport on the eastern cape and it’s immediately obvious that this is a city trying desperately hard to join in with the country’s 2010 football party.

It's a former industrial centre now in decline in the post-apartheid era, and within seconds of stepping off the plane visitors are greeted with signs associating the city with the tournament. “Be part of the game” says one banner paid for by the local municipality, oblivious to the fact that the nearest World Cup stadium is a good four-hour drive down the coast to Port Elizabeth.

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The flags of the competing nations hang alongside the roads of East London, football statues have been placed inside city roundabouts, a giant screen has been erected for the matches in the local shopping centre, and huge sums of money were unsuccessfully spent in trying to entice a team – any team – to use the city as its training base.

In the 100-day run-up to the finals, as with the rest of the country, every Friday in East London was deemed ‘Bafana Day’ and the local population gleefully turned up to work wearing South Africa’s colours.

Yet despite all these admirable efforts, the World Cup party only really seemed to take off in East London when the national team were playing. In a delightfully shabby bar known as Buccaneers, South Africans of every complexion crammed in to watch Bafana Bafana’s make-or-break game with France on the giant screen, while outside the streets were quiet and in the local chippie around the corner the only noises to be heard were the screams that accompanied South Africa’s opening goal. For the duration of the match, East London seemed largely closed.

Throughout the game the punters of Buccaneers remained on the edge of their seats, enlivened by the performance of their team but seemingly unaware of the true consequence of the game being played out on one smaller screen in the corner of the bar: Uruguay v Mexico.

For all the gallant efforts of Bafana, unless the Uruguayans were capable of upping the ante, South Africa’s World Cup was over. However, the fans seemed more intent in revelling in the moment that victory was achieved over Les Bleus. It was as if ejection from the World Cup was inevitable and all that was being played for was pride.

For just a moment in East London, with South Africa leading the French 2-0 and with the hosts forging forward with one attack after another, anything seemed possible, but after the final whistle there were few tears.

Later in the week, when reigning world champions Italy were going through the same experience against Slovakia, no-one in Buccaneers asked for the giant screen to be turned on and few noticed that the smaller TVs around the pub were tuned to Paraguay v New Zealand.

For the South Africans, maybe the World Cup is over, or maybe they’ll just eventually point their vuvuzelas at their second teams instead.

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