More notes on South Africa

TUESDAY 22nd June ~ Just as I was about to extend a friendly hand and state that final group game wins would be mutually beneficial for our respective nations’ World Cup progress, Tigger-like New Yorker Tommy unveiled a hypothesis of his own. “You’re gonna get fucked up tomorrow,” he said.

Around us, face value tickets for England’s date with destiny went unsold as Swiss and Chilean stragglers swelled Parliament Street’s bars, where pickled Slovenians and middle-aged Englishmen mingled furtively with a young, mainly black crowd in a sort of “look, we don’t want any trouble” sort of way.

This had been South Africa’s day. The local test cricket ground is the imposing venue for Port Elizabeth’s fanfest and we had taken up a position at first slip to enjoy multi-lingual match coverage (South Africa having 11 officially recognised tongues) on the biggest telly in the country.

It took barely half an hour before Bafana Bafana had us all believing in World Cup miracles with two quick strikes against the shambolic French. To the crowd’s sporadic hoots and cries of “Ayoba!” (from a ubiquitous mobile phone commercial) a procession of chances came the host’s way and a cardboard coffin bearing the scrawl “RIP FRANCE” was carried around the St George’s Park outfield. Its vuvuzela-honking pallbearers wore customary bright yellow makarapa hats and those big plastic glasses Lenny Henry used to put on when doing Trevor McDonald on Tiswas.

How cruel, then, that they will exit the tournament having exceeded all expectations, and how premature do early claims look that the South African World Cup was somehow inferior to those before it. The host nation’s pluck will be missed on the pitch, but their joy, warmth and colour is as infectious as ever.

Even more notes on South Africa on TBG.

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