Ghanaian goalkeeper Richard Kingson shakes hands with former South African President Nelson Mandela on July 3, 2010. Mandela met Ghana’s soccer team on Saturday following their defeat by Uruguay.
IT was all too good to be true.
It was all bound to end in tears somewhere down the line but why, oh why, did it have to happen in Cape Town?
For four weeks the South African World Cup adventure had been everything I didn’t think it would be. It had been fun, it had been safe because I listened to all the precautions and enacted them, and it had been thoroughly enjoyable because of the warmth and the friendliness of the people.
I even survived 28 nights in a Johannesburg guest house without getting robbed or mugged or threatened by anyone with anything more dangerous than the scissors used by a man who cut my hair last Friday morning.
I’d been to Soweto and enjoyed the experience in the most famous township in the world.
I had walked from the digs to the Hyde Park shopping mall and survived it.
I had even encountered my first real brush with South African alcohol and managed to live through it.
I’d learnt to cope with the Vuvuzelas, accepted them for the integral part of football that they are in this part of the world and escaped with my hearing intact.
And then on Monday morning I flew to Cape Town for a 48 hour visit that everyone assured me would cure any World Cup blues.
They were right to an extent. The city dwarfed by Table Mountain is beautiful and it is far more European than anything I had encountered in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Rustenburg or Bloemfontein. Almost Mediterranean in style, you can easily and freely walk around the regenerated docks area, sip a cappuccino and watch the world and the World Cup go by.
You don’t have to look over your shoulder in this part of South Africa. Restaurants aren’t all in shopping centers, the local wine is as good as it gets, and the people are as tuned into tourists as they are keen to exploit the World Cup.
Even the open top bus tour on Monday afternoon was a wonderful release from four weeks on the road and the daily grind of filing copy for the Irish Daily Star and the Irish Daily Star Sunday.
So where did it all go wrong? What happened that brought me back down to earth after 24 hours in Paradise? Who’s to blame?
Nelson Mandela actually. Well, sort of.
The first man to disappoint me in all my time in South Africa was Nelson Mandela. See, a month ago I booked online for a tour to Robben Island on the Tuesday morning of the World Cup semifinal in Cape Town.
Back then I didn’t know who was going to play in the match, but I knew I wanted to see the island where Mandela spent so many years incarcerated by the apartheid government of this fine and beautiful land.
I’d been warned that demand for the three hour Robben Island tour would be high on the day of a World Cup match, so that’s why I booked in advance. And I paid no attention when the e-ticket included a notice that refunds would be issued in the event of the tour being cancelled due to high winds.
Guess what? I awoke to a storm brewing in the middle of Monday night and thought no more of it.
By the time I had arrived for my 9 a.m. tour to Robben Island on Tuesday I was well aware of the force of that storm. The signs told me that the tour was cancelled and the boat wouldn’t set sail at all on Tuesday.
The nice woman behind the counter offered to swap my ticket for a Wednesday tour. Sadly I’ll be in Durban on Wednesday for the second semifinal between Germany and Spain.
She apologized, and I explained the irony that my first and only disappointment since my arrival in South Africa came courtesy of the great Nelson Mandela.
It’s not his fault and I won’t blame him, but I am bitterly disappointed. I really wanted to see Robben Island, and God knows if I’ll ever be back in this part of the world again.
Now I just want to go home. South Africa has finally let me down -- but if that’s my only gripe after five weeks here I don’t have anything to complain about, do I?
World Cup Sideline Views
TOILETS: A month into this World Cup and I’ve finally managed to get drunk but still haven’t been mugged, a stat I am quite proud of considering how dangerous it is supposed to be out here.
The breakthrough on the alcohol front came in a pub called the Baron in a suburb called Bryanston in the middle of last week. It’s quite a typical middle class South African establishment -- not my cup of tea to be honest -- where the clientele were all white and the staff were all black.
I preferred it when we moved to a little area called Melville which is far more cosmopolitan and far more my cup of Barrys if you know what I mean. It was in the Six bar in Melville that I was re-acquainted with the concept of the Soweto Toilet, the only dangerous shot I have encountered here in South Africa. Soweto Toilets are a cunning mixture of banana liqueur and Baileys with a dash of chocolate on top to finish off the image and justify the name. They are very sweet and very nice and quite cheap at ***3 a pop, but they are also bloody dangerous as my head could testify for most of last Thursday.
So from now on I’m staying away from the Soweto Toilets.
GOODBYE: Diego Maradona has yet to resign but he will. Argentina’s heavy 4-0 defeat to Germany on Saturday didn’t just expose his tactical weaknesses, it also confirmed that he is not cut out to be a manager. That’s often the way with great players.
Maradona will always be a better player in his head than anyone on the field in front of him, and he’s wasting his time trying to think he can get players to play to his level for club or country. They won’t because they can’t, as the current Argentineans proved in Cape Town.
SILENCE: Bray Wanderers have banned Vuvuzelas from their Carlisle Grounds, starting with Friday night’s Airtricity League clash with Sporting Fingal. Now the news hasn’t made big headlines here in South Africa, home of the Vuvuzela. And I doubt the Africans will be worried if their pride and joy is banned from a football ground in Ireland that rarely attracts more than a few hundred fans.
But the story did give me a good laugh when the email from Bray landed on Monday. So thanks to them for that.
BISCUITS: You know when you’ve been away from home for a month or so and you start longing for things Irish. You start looking for them, in fact, which explains my delight at discovering a packet of Boland’s fig roll biscuits in my local shop in Johannesburg on Monday morning.
The rolls came all the way from the Jacobs factory in Tallaght and they were nice. I still haven’t figured out how they get the figs into the fig rolls, however.
SQUIDS IN: You may have heard of the Octopus in Germany who has correctly forecast the results of all their World Cup games to date, including the incredible win over Argentina on Saturday.
Well, now animal rights campaigners are calling for the Octopus to be released into the ocean and freed from captivity. Could they wait until after the World Cup final please? I might have a few bob on his tip for Sunday’s game.
CURSED: The Mick Jagger curse continues. Not happy with backing the U.S., England and Brazil as they made their World Cup exits, the Rolling Stones frontman was openly supporting Argentina against Germany. And Argentina lost. He really should go home and leave the remaining World Cup teams in peace.
HERO OF THE WEEK
GERMANY thought they were in trouble when Michael Ballack got injured on the eve of the World Cup, but how wrong they were. The absence of the former Chelsea midfielder and their captain has proved a blessing in disguise for the Germans.
In his place Bastian Schweinsteiger has emerged as their new midfield general, and he has matured into a player of real substance as his man of the match performance in the 4-0 win over Argentina last Sunday only proved. And yes, I am taking great delight in the fact that the Germans have done so well here when a certain RTE pundit reckoned they were “crap.”
IDIOT OF THE WEEK
THE Uruguay striker Luis Suarez was suspended for Tuesday night’s World Cup semifinal against Holland for deliberately handling the ball on the line in the final seconds of his team’s match with Ghana last Friday night.
To my mind Suarez cheated Ghana and Africa of a semifinal place because Asamoah Gyan missed the subsequent penalty with the last kick of the game and Uruguay went on to win the shoot-out. The Uruguayans are upset that Suarez has been branded a villain in some quarters, and the player himself has even claimed he is entitled to Maradona’s Hand of God after making the “best save” of this World Cup.
He may be a hero at home, but Suarez is still a cheat as far as I am concerned.