Thursday, June 17, 2010

A day worth remembering!

This morning like most others we are all slowly doing our own thing. Brett and Ryan have gone down to the ticketing center at the Brooklyn mall in hopes of securing some tickets to today’s Denmark/ Netherlands game at the flagship stadium in Jo-burg, Soccer City. While Jim and Corey lay in their rooms, Clint and German type on their computers, I write.

Not yet knowing what today will hold I can pronounce with confidence, “Yesterday was a great day”! After lunch we decided to walk to the stadium down the road from our house to check out the scene around the stadium on a game day for an African nation- Ghana vs. Serbia and it did not disappoint. We ended up getting some tickets from some guys that seemed to be representing the Ghana Football Association- at least that’s what our tickets say. The scene around the stadium was, as expected, full of Ghana supporters with a couple, and I seriously mean very few, Serbian fans mixed in between the Italians, Argentines, ourselves, and the S. Africans. This is of coursed assumed based on the jerseys present. One guy wanted to trade my brand new US jersey for his old beat up Argentina jersey. This potential opportunity of an old school barter seemed a no brainer to me. The dude didn’t look as though he’d had a shower in days so I can only imagine how long it’s been since that shirt has seen the inside of a washing machine. “Sour apple” was the only thing that came to mind. I walked on with my new US jersey freshly laundered and about my front and back.

With our new tickets in hand we approached the stadium gates hearing the buzz of the vuvuzelas from deep within the belly of the stadium. First place we hit, it was our liquor store…they will sell you as many beers as you can carry. At one point they sold just German and I seven $2.50 beers. Yes the beer is that cheap and the largest number of beers I have seen one person walk away from the counter with is 5. I guess bigger hands, means more beers. So we grab our fizzy fun makers and make our way to the seats. The tickets we have purchased turn out to be all over the place, but at least they are in the same section of the stadium so we all pretty much just found an open section of chairs and called it home. Two of the most noticeable aspects of this Cup, which is in stark contrast to other Cups I have been to and sporting events back in the States. First, the level of organization is a bit lacking. Those who would be considered ushers are really just people who stand at the opening of a section and answer questions if you have them. For those of us that know the “I own this place” rule, the stadium has been our playground. For those who may be unfamiliar with this method of seat selection it is done by finding the section that we feel will provide us with the best experience, walking up to the usher with ticket in hand and if they try to stop you from walking through, (knowing the section) say something like “104, row K” and then point to the left or right and they will enthusiastically point to where you are not actually ticketed. They feel as though they are being helpful and you get to see if there are any open seats where you would like to sit. If there are not we move along, if someone comes to find us in their seats we courteously move along and find a new vantage. But this can only be done because of the less than capacity crowds that have been seen for this opening round of games, which is the other aspect of this Cup that differs from those in the past. Korea also had a small issue filling the stadiums but rather than allow them to look ¾ full they gave tickets away to youth groups and community organizations which ensured a stadium at almost capacity. There seems to be no attempts at filling these stadiums, at least the couple that we have been to thus far. There are ticketing kiosks that do sell any available tickets but these ticket centers are not in or around the stadiums. They are often miles away from the stadiums so there is no way of accommodating walk-up ticket sales. There have been some ticket holders selling their tickets, but these options have been few in our experience. So after attempting to purchase tickets via the ticketing kiosk at the mall a few miles from our house we hit the street and walked down to the stadium to find a way into the game.

The tickets we ended up with cost us about $35 each. To put this in perspective, the seats we ended up in would have cost about double that for an MLS match and hundreds more for any of the other major league sports in the states. This, I think, says a lot about the affordability of great seats in MLS and just how great the cost was for us to see a World Cup match on level 1 at about the top of the penalty area!

So the scene inside the stadium here in Pretoria was fantastic with the drums and flags, dancing and singing, and of courses, the vuvuzelas. As a little side note, I was chatting with my friend, and fellow Fire volunteer, Jenn Jarmula and she had mentioned that the vuvuzela is a bit much for those of you back home. Now I realize this might not ease the nightmares of swarming African killer bees, inside the stadiums it is not at all like on the TV. The group of Ghana supporters next to us were actually using them as musical instruments and blowing them in rhythm in such a way that the different horns complimented one another and was, to me at least, rather entertaining. However, I have also watched the games on television and it would appear that every single horn being blown at any one time is picked up by the broadcast. Sorry about that! It really isn’t as bad as it might seem.

So as we sit and watch the game we have noticed that there is the usual 10 ft space between the stands and the field boards but there is no gate blocking the end of the steps of our row. Not only is there no one really guarding this space between the field and the stands, there are Ghana fans doing a sort of conga dance in it. It’s halftime so I look to German and give him the “you wanna go down there” head point and eyebrow raise, to which he responds as I thought he would with the “hell yeah!” facial expression head nod. Armed with smiles, our cameras, and a fearless sense of adventure we ran down the aisle and dipped into the river of drums and song. After a few minutes we the 2nd half begins and we all return to our seats. Our seats are in an area just a row or two above a section of fans that are mostly women dressed in gowns, scarves and headdresses of the most brilliant reds, yellows, blacks and greens. They sang and danced and clapped without pause for the entire game as I stood in awe of what I was so lucky to be a part of. The Ghana attack is moving toward the goal directly in front of us so every attempt at goal has an added sense of electricity. With each charge up the field toward goal, in this scoreless match, the Ghana fans and us as well become a little more rabid. The whistle blows and a Serbian defender is called for a handball in the box- penalty kick. From where we sat it looked as though it was a poor tackle from the Ghana attacker so hearing the whistle was not a surprise but seeing the referee point to the spot made us think that perhaps Serbia had just been served a cold, stale portion of bad luck. But that’s the game and the kick is taken, goal scored and we witnessed this little stadium split at the seams.

This is the type of experience that makes the World Cup such an amazing event. Being a part of, and surrounded by what can only be described as pure joy felt by so many people. Each country brings with it a different style both in the way they play the game and also in the way the fans take part. From a cultural viewpoint it is an incredibly wonderful experience. I danced with the people of Ghana in celebration of their win at the World Cup. Even the vuvuzelas had a charming appeal which may be as rare a thing as my opportunities in life to share, with a people who were before yesterday strangers to me, something so special. Will I recognize these people on the streets tomorrow? Probably not, but the memory of the moment will last forever.

1 comment:

Tina said...

I can see you are having a fantastic time there in South Africa and I love the pictures! I look forward to reading your blog everyday.