Passports, jobsworths and the Kaizer Chiefs
Ã¢ÂÂIÃ¢ÂÂm sorry Sir, youÃ¢ÂÂll not be boarding the aircraft to Johannesburg.Ã¢ÂÂ
This was the culmination of a conversation at midnight on Thursday, shortly after IÃ¢ÂÂd tried to board the Air France 777 to South Africa at Paris Charles De Gaulle.
As I handed in my final boarding card, an airline employee flicked through my passport. He paid particular attention to each visa stamp. Was it because IÃ¢ÂÂd been to Cuba, Israel or Saudi Arabia? No, it was because there wasnÃ¢ÂÂt a free page for my South African visa. There were half pages Ã¢ÂÂ and a previous South Africa visa took only half a page, but Mr Jobsworth was adamant and I wasnÃ¢ÂÂt allowed to fly with my passport.
As my head started to spin, I heard: Ã¢ÂÂYouÃ¢ÂÂll have to try and get a new passport and weÃ¢ÂÂll put you on tomorrow nightÃ¢ÂÂs flight.Ã¢ÂÂ
Ã¢ÂÂBut IÃ¢ÂÂm in Paris? How can I get a new passport in a day?Ã¢ÂÂ
Rooney tussles with Jimmy Tau in Cape Town
I was escorted out of departures to an Air France desk, where a lad overheard my conversation who lived in Manchester. HeÃ¢ÂÂd missed his connection to Rio de Janiero and Air France were putting him up for the night in an airport hotel. He was a United fan. With no space in the airport hotels, he said that I could crash in his room. I appreciated the gesture immensely.
First thing on Friday morning, I rang the British Consulate in the French capital.
Ã¢ÂÂWe canÃ¢ÂÂt promise anything, but come down,Ã¢ÂÂ offered a soothing voice.
I took a train into Paris, thinking about lost flights and interviews. The staff in the Consulate were highly efficient and promised me a brand new 48 page jumbo passport within four hours for Ã¢ÂÂ¬194. I called my mum and praised the Consulate.
Ã¢ÂÂThey knock the British for many things,Ã¢ÂÂ she said, Ã¢ÂÂbut weÃ¢ÂÂre good at things like that.Ã¢ÂÂ
Then I rang Carla Bruni to see if she could whip up some eggs on toast and a brew, but she was at Lidl buying cleaning products. So I walked the trendy Arrondissements around the Consulate, the Champs Elysees and St. Germain in the same clothes IÃ¢ÂÂd been wearing a day earlier as my luggage was held in the airport.
The Brits were true to their word with the passport and at 5pm Friday I headed back to the airport hoping to finalise my flight connection to Cape Town, the destination of Manchester UnitedÃ¢ÂÂs first pre-season friendly at 3.30pm on Saturday.
The first Air France official told me it would cost Ã¢ÂÂ¬3,064 as my ticket needed to be upgraded to Business Class. I laughed. The second took an hour, but did it for free. My new flight meant I would arrive 1 hour 10 minutes before kick-off. I boarded the plane, with officials barely glancing at my new passport and not checking any pages.
I rarely sleep on planes, but managed eight hours as we flew south before switching for a connection to Cape Town where a hire car was still waiting. 47 hours after setting off, I arrived two minutes before kick-off. United drew 1-1 against the Kaizer Chiefs.
Goalscorer Chris Eagles congratulated by Ryan Giggs
Later, I was further surprised when a Manchester United director told me that he too had a full passport Ã¢ÂÂ but that heÃ¢ÂÂd had no problems boarding the plane.
Ã¢ÂÂI didnÃ¢ÂÂt have any free space so they just stuck a little visa over my Macau stamp,Ã¢ÂÂ he said.
I had barely 24 hours in Cape Town, a superb city as I learned in 2000 when first visiting with Quinton Fortune for a magazine feature, before flying to Durban, where IÃ¢ÂÂve finally been able to unpack my case ahead of UnitedÃ¢ÂÂs game against Orlando Pirates on Tuesday night.
A few of my mates have travelled out to watch the tour, but while they enjoy beaches and beer, IÃ¢ÂÂm holing myself up for two days to write. IÃ¢ÂÂve got to deliver 4,000 words by next Monday. IÃ¢ÂÂve already got 8,000 words of notes and interviews, so I need peace to work.
And no planes.