I ARRIVED in Cape Town to a cacophony of noise and colour, a kaleidoscope of banners and vuvuzelas, a smorgasbord of excitement and anticipation.
This city, perched beside the Atlantic coast like an expectant Dutch sailor, offered an impressive and amazing snapshot of the electric atmosphere building in this most rainbow of nations, deep in the heart of southern Africa.
The streets were crammed with fans of all nationalities, gathered beneath the incredible majesty of Table Mountain, singing and shouting their appreciation of the beautiful ga…
Only kidding. I’m actually writing this in a back bedroom in Manchester, having just done a phone interview with the chairman of Rochdale about proposed pitch improvements at Spotland. (And very pleasant and helpful he was too.)
Like Tony Gubba, I will not be at this World Cup. (Gubba has, sadly, been left out of the BBC’s World Cup team, thus denying viewers the chance to see whether he would attempt to liven up Switzerland v Honduras with a couple of inappropriate Dancing On Ice references. “Great triple salchow from Alexander Frei,” etc.)
I was lucky enough to go to Germany four years ago in a working capacity, although I did only get into three-and-a-half games (Switzerland v Ukraine was the ‘half’, if you’re wondering) and spent most of my time there travelling on trains.
South Africa is more expensive to reach from the UK and trickier to get around, and newspapers have less money to spend than they used to. Even though I only found out I was going to the last World Cup at three weeks’ notice, I didn’t expect a repeat this time.
Fortunately, the blanket TV, radio, newspaper and internet coverage of the tournament means that I won’t need to be in South Africa in order to assess the mood in the England camp and make mildly sarcastic remarks about players’ hairstyles. (Steven Gerrard is confident. Ooh, look at David James’ madcap hair! See? It’s that easy.)
There is a part of me that would love to be in South Africa right now, and is insanely jealous of those journalists fortunate enough to be there. It was a privilege to be at the last World Cup, for the bizarre moments – spotting four London students dressed as Teletubbies at an Italy v Czech Republic game in Hamburg – as well as the atmosphere.
On the other hand, I’ll probably see more of the tournament Back Home than I would have done in South Africa. A friend of mine (one of those respected journalists who actually knows what they’re talking about) advanced this theory a few weeks ago to explain why World Cup reporters will sometimes come up with a ‘team of the tournament’ that makes little sense to anyone watching at home on TV.
He reckoned that reporters at a World Cup often miss vast chunks of it because they are travelling from City A to City B while other games are on, denying them a complete overview of the tournament.
(This must be a particular difficulty for TV and radio commentators, who may not be aware that the World Cup ball has already been discussed at length in 13 live matches, and so there really is no need to tell us yet again that it moves in the air quite a bit and goalkeepers don’t like it.)
Although I picked up a lot of the atmosphere at the last World Cup, I probably missed around half of the matches, as I was travelling when they were on TV. That’s the only reason I can think of for picking a World Cup Nightmare XI at the end of the tournament which featured Cristiano Ronaldo. (It’s true. I did.)
I should get to see most of the matches this time around, work and social commitments allowing. I think what I’m trying to say is this: If a make a complete pig’s ear of selecting a Nightmare XI at the end of this tournament, I’ll have no excuses to fall back on.
Oh, and I think Brazil will win the tournament, with England going out to Argentina on penalties in the quarter-finals. But I won’t be sorry if I’m wrong.