Lucas Radebe and Hospice

IF ONE wished to avoid the same old chat in South Africa about how dreadful England are, Lucas Radebe’s name was as good as any to drop.

He may have been a pundit on ITV’s coverage over here, but over there his face smiled from magazine pages and television commercials for First National Bank and, most poignantly, the Hospice and Palliative Care Association of South Africa.

Lucas lost his father, Johannes, to cancer last year. In 2008, his wife, Feziwe, died in the care of Hospice, for whom the ex-Leeds United and Bafana Bafana captain has since become an official voice.

“Lucas has been a fantastic ambassador for Hospice,” Richard Perkins from the association told me last week. “His involvement has been both on a painful personal level and a positive support level as well.”

The Hospice and Palliative Care Association of South Africa has 189 member and affiliated hospices and relies on donations to support its care for all terminally ill patients, regardless of age or ability to pay.

Click here for donation details, noting that bank transfers from the UK require the BIC/SWIFT code SBZAZAJJ.

No more notes on South Africa

SATURDAY 26th June ~ With half as many fans making twice as much noise, but with twice as much possession making half as many chances, South Korea didn’t have it all their own way in Port Elizabeth.

Uruguay carried the menace in this game. From front to back they’re pure evil, with Diego Forlan the devil incarnate. Always sickeningly in space, the ball whirls dervishly from his feet, always to a teammate, usually Luis Suarez, whose two goals proved decisive.

If there’s a more wretched beer in the world than Budweiser I’d go to the foot of our stairs. Even in this land of many cooking lagers, its omnipresence here is offensive to most of the senses. But it just about washed down an intriguing half time snack of mash & gravy which, in its clear plastic pot, looked – and tasted – every bit like a warm savoury mousse.

Shortly after the interval, with the suited occupants of the stadium’s black seats conspicuous by their absence (the mash & gravy must be to die for up there), it started to rain. Big rain. Big African rain. The vast stadium roof, designed to keep out the elements, did a great job of inviting them in.

Even 33 rows back we weren’t safe from the torrent of half-charlie-sized wet marbles. While everyone except the block of flag-waving Uruguayans headed for cover in a ground where there was little to be had, up in the cheap seats the high and dry honked their vuvuzelas like a chorus of laughing geese.

It was with some sadness that I left my final game of a short stay in South Africa. Like most teenagers, this country is experiencing everything in life all at the same time.

On the other side of town, fencing rings the seemingly-deserted white gated communities. Keep on going, into local townships where the tarmac stops, and streets burst into life with diski-playing kids and bustling shops based in roadside shipping containers.

Extremes exist even with the townships. In New Brighton’s Red Location, so-called because of its rusting tin shack dwellings, there sits a museum where coach tours can experience local life in close proxity to an air-conditioned restaurant.

First and Third World economies sit side by side in South Africa, and joining them this summer was the firstest of First World events. The world had come to Africa, and Africa had insisted it honk and dance whether it wanted to or not. But when it looks back on football’s summer of 2010, it’ll realise that it’s much better off for it.

Yet more notes on South Africa

FRIDAY 25th June ~ On Football Fridays, replica shirts are de rigueur in South Africa, so I donned my Leeds top and strolled into the afternoon sun. Stopping off at a local store I picked up a bunny chow, a hollowed-out quarter loaf of bread filled with hot curry. Is it a pie or a sandwich? Whatever it is, it’s the tucker of choice for the hungry get.

Waitrons flitted between tables at the proliferating street cafes of the smart Richmond Hill neighbourhood, on whose wide avenues prowl uniformed car guards cheerily pointing motorists (many driving Mk1 Volkswagen Golfs, which are still made in the area) into parking spaces for a few rand.

Job creation schemes are evident everywhere. From the army of World Cup volunteers clad in bright yellow Adidas, to the workshops specialising in the repair of just about anything, the sense here is of the hopeful opposite of automation.

To either end of Parliament Street, lines of multi-coloured food huts sat forlornly, draped with flags of the World Cup’s competing nations. Though occupying city centre sites, few attending supporters – certainly not England fans on organised trips – have seen them, and locals were turning their noses up at the inflated prices.

Tour operators and FIFA are spoken of here with some disdain. There are tales of entire hotels being booked out only for swathes of rooms to be dropped at the last minute. As elsewhere in South Africa, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium games are not full houses. At the fanfest, most prominent are the multi-national sponsors with local artisans confined to the fringes, unsignposted in rear car parks.

Street markets and impromptu pavement stalls are a way of life here. I made the mistake of stepping by one into a small art gallery, where the Afrikaner proprietor told me how they’d adored living in the UK because in South Africa there’s no culture. “Not like yours,” she added.

At that moment, a young cast of black and mixed heritage performers were basking in the glory of a sell-out show at the town’s Opera House. At that moment, a group of hip hop artists from nearby Motherwell were defying all frustrations at their township’s half-built arts centre by squeezing into a nearby studio in an upstairs box-room. At that moment, South Africa was certainly not at a loss for culture.

That night we headed out, where it was open mic night with wannabe funnymen reciting mother-in-law jokes in Xhosa. According to those in the know, it was a typical evening in Port Elizabeth, with a lack of those those funny-looking foreigners. Apart from this one.

No more notes on South Africa on TBG.

Even more notes on South Africa

WEDNESDAY 23rd June ~ 7.50am. That was the time I received a text from Simon announcing his arrival from Johannesburg into a bar at the Boardwalk, Port Elizabeth’s white-collar beachfront playground. By the time I could fashion a coherent response, he was enjoying his third pint of the day while I, a “lightweight” apparently, was yet to have breakfast.

Mark and I headed down to the casino and soon found ourselves – like England – drinking in the last-chance saloon. As travel-weary fans ran up bar tabs on plush furnishings next to the slots and tables, entrepreneurial spirits drifted between standing traffic outside, peddling St George flags and fresh copies of the Daily Mirror. After a few quick pints, there was a rumour Nicky Campbell was in the area, so we didn’t stick around.

Pockets of English meandered in the sunshine along Summerstrand while Slovenians mobbed boisterously together. But England enjoyed the lion’s share of the support here today, where chants inside the ground disrupted the B flat of the vuvuzelas with some ease.

As if to make the English feel at home, the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium has an empty, red-seated Wembley-style “ring of indifference” of its very own, and it was with fitting disregard in the early stages of this contest that England treated the ball.

It’s not in young James’ honour that the ground here resides on Milner Avenue, I’m sure – but it might as well be. From precisely where Aaron Lennon had spent three hours flattering to deceive, Milner swung in a cracker of a cross for the game’s only goal.

In the end, England’s sour-faced Cockney and Scouse millionaires ran down the clock while Fabio Capello stood in that different-bloke-in-a-different-suit-wearing-different-specs-in-charge-of-the-same-old-shite way of his, and as Slovenian players bunched in the centre circle, their fans pogoed in anticipation of a favourable result elsewhere before stopping and heading grumpily for the exits.

With the host nation’s warning of the perils of four points apparently unheeded by Slovenia, England had somehow progressed on their World Cup path of most resistance which, on all available evidence, hasn’t long left to run.

Yet more notes on South Africa on TBG.

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.

Notes on South Africa

MONDAY 21st June ~ “Okay, I’ll put you on the earlier one,” said the chap on the domestic check-in desk at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo airport. “But be nice to me.” I was about to compliment him on his tie when my mate Mark announced he would find a cash machine and I realised what was really going on was a squeeze, without which kick off in a football match 500 miles away would not be made. The deal was done and we had arrived in South Africa.

Approaching the ground in Port Elizabeth on foot is not unlike the walk down Beeston Hill to Elland Road. There’s nowhere decent to drink and enterprising local youths offer lucrative car parking “services” to which a sizable yet low-key police presence turn a blind eye. A neighbourhood watches as a colourful river of people, a trickle by the time we passed through minutes before kick off, wends its way to the magisterial Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

And then there are the vuvuzelas. Like wasps returning home after a hard days’ stinging, solo performers toot their way into an arena seemingly bulging with noise for an ensemble performance of that now-familiar multi-purpose note.

Its sound spreads like a virus for which there is no known cure. For the thousands of South Africans present, clad in the yellow of Bafana Bafana, it has become what football sounds like; a commitment to celebrating the game no matter what. The drone is ever present, dipping and rising in volume as the game ebbs and flows. It exalted wave after wave of Chilean endeavour just as much as the wall of Swiss defenders that repelled it.

Despite facing 10 men for what seemed like a fortnight, Chile will never have to work harder for a 1-0 win. As Switzerland manager Otto Hitzfeld symbolised his team’s work ethic by trudging the touchline dressed as a removal man, the evening sunshine gave way to a distinctly northern European temperature and the cowbell-clanging Swiss supporters were daring to dream – just as their back line melted under hot stuff from their opponents.

The Chile fans, who all afternoon had so admirably refused to partake in Mexican waves on geopolitical grounds, could bounce even more enthusiastically when an astonishing late Swiss chance to tie the score went begging and everyone strode into the night, senses brimming with the sights and sounds of the same old game that somehow seemed new again.

More notes on South Africa on TBG.