Monday 28th June and it’s another traveling day. We’re going to drive back to Cape Town (about 5 hours) as Liora, my wife, is arriving tonight. She has chosen to join us late so as to miss the first few hectic driving/soccer days, but from tonight she’s a full part of our team.
We’re in no rush to get back so we play on the beach and relax a while. These non soccer days feel like a real vacation, as we have all the time in the world to do nothing. Eventually we set off to Cape Town. It’s a glorious, warm, sunny winter’s day and this is my favorite drive in the world along the Garden Route. Apparently I’m too appreciative of the road – I find out a couple of weeks later that fined for breaking the speed limit – twice. And I don’t feel I’m going to fast at all.
We stop in Wilderness to allow Benjy to throw up and get some car sickness tablets. He evidently does not enjoy the car rides as much as I do. After that it’s a straight run to Riviersonderend for chicken pies and snacks. We have to find a place to watch the afternoon game – Holland v Slovakia in the Round of 16, a game in which we have a huge vested interest as we’ll see the winner in Friday’s quarter-final. We’ve always hoped and expected it will be Holland and Brazil.
We pull in to the Caledon Hotel and Casino hoping they’ll be showing the game. We walk in and there’s a giant cinema type screen and tables and chairs set up for an audience of about 200. Counting the 4 of us, there are 5 people watching, but we don’t care – it’s great. Holland duly win and we head for cape Town. The weather’s closing in but it’s still wonderful to be coming home, again. My only real regret about this trip is that we’re spending so little time here because of all the travel.
After a quick boerewors dinner – yum !- I go get Liora at the airport. I’m early, on purpose, because I need to watch the Brazil v Chile game somewhere and the plane lands at about the time the game ends. So I sit down at some fast food places and watch with a few hundred other people. The buzz at the airport is terrific. Lots of Portuguese people arriving – they play Spain tomorrow – and just a great atmosphere.
Brazil win, Liora arrives, exhausted and we head home, but not before I can show her some of the road signs along the way. On the highway, every few miles there’s a big sign saying ‘WORLD CUP EVENT TOMORROW – ARRIVE EARLY’. We saw the signs last Thursday when we arrived and it got us all excited then. Now is no different.
Tuesday is miserable. It’s pouring, real winter weather and it’s a little disheartening. Benjy is particularly upset because it’s threatening to rain like this the whole day which means the FanWalk tonight might be a no go. For us anyway. This is a day we’ve thought about for a long time, our first big, big game. I decide to take all the kids (5 in total, 2 of mine and three of my brother’s) to the Waterfront. We’ll walk around the shops and catch the vibe, but also go to the smart hotels down there. IF, and it’s a very big ‘if’, any teams are staying there, maybe we’ll get a glimpse of some players. We see nobody (not a really big surprise as we later learn the teams were staying elsewhere) and after a while the kids get bored and we head home. The weather has really set in and a classic family debate ensues for the next few hours. My dad, the driver, is probably not going to go on account of the rain. Benjy, my resident fanatic, insists on doing the fanwalk despite the rain. But I’m in charge of my family for this and will have to drive a car if my dad isn’t going. With Japan and Paraguay as a relatively insignificant backdrop, we go on around the subject most the afternoon.
Incredibly the heavy rain lifts and I drive with my dad to a friend nearby the stadium. Then I go and find Liora and the boys who have done the fanwalk. I find them in a state of great excitement. This just feels like a very big game. many, many Portuguese and Spanish fans all dressed up and there’s the realization that tonight the World Cup is starting in earnest as a big team goes home. My dad’s shoes break – apparently my mom has given him some special shoes for weather protection but they haven’t quite worked so he has no soles. You may ask why he hasn’t picked his own shoes. Don’t. Liora uses heavy-duty tape to do some miracle surgery on the shoes and all is well again.
It’s not a great game but it is exciting. It’s all Spain as Portugal set out to defend. They’re not trying to be crowd pleasers and we hardly notice Ronaldo. Spain can’t score though making the evening tense. Just after the hour mark, David Villa – who else – puts Spain ahead and they hang on comfortably especially after Portugal are reduced to 10 men late on. The atmosphere outside is incredible, singing everywhere although my dad’s shoes give up again walking to the car.
Next day we’re off on the Garden Route towards Port Elizabeth, again. As we’re doing this drive four times in eight days, it’s starting to lose its lustre, but the game we’re going for – Holland and Brazil – is the biggest, by far, in the tournament so far so it’s worth it. I escape the drive without any tickets we all settle back into the hotel in Plett. The next day is yet another glorious winter’s day. I have a good run in the early morning and while Ilani does a scuba diving course, we go to the beach and town. Yet again, it’s hard not to be humbled by the way every town seemingly in the country has taken the World Cup to heart. There are flags everywhere and the atmosphere’s fantastic. It’s also terrific all our families being together. After going out for dinner, the kids run around the hotel together before Ilani and I play some late night chess and share a milkshake. One of those small, yet memorable little things in a family’s journey.
It’s Friday, July 2, a big, big day. Brazil and Holland. We’re very excited and hyped up, and can’t wait to set out. We’re in two cars now, using all eight tickets, and we set out full of expectation. We did the dress rehearsal last week, so now we know the drill. It’s an incredible, hot day and we park near the stadium – again the organization – is fantastic – and head for St. Georges Park, the local cricket stadium turned into the fanzone for the month. Unfortunately the heat is oppressive and again, like in Cape Town, it’s basically a Dutch party, so we move on. We get a taxi to King’s Beach where the atmosphere is terrific, thousands of people, supporters of both teams milling about. We get one of the fan busses to the stadium, which is packed this time. We’ve been concerned about our seats (they say section 6 which seems absurdly high) but actually we’re on the second level, front row and the seats are excellent. The Dutch supporters are in full force, loud and happy, but Brazil start well and totally dominate. They score early, deflating the Dutch (and Benjy) and at half time it seems there’s no way back for Holland. But back they come in a memorable second half. It’s a different game now and by the time Brazil are reduced to 10 men, it’s virtually all over. After the game, which Holland win 2-1, the celebrations are long, loud and joyous. And we’re in a great mood as we head back to the car, still in shorts and t shirts in the South African winter.