Gerrard Woods, Director, Sportsmart

Durban 13/6/2010 – KICK OFF

The journey has begun!

As far as sporting odysseys go, following the Socceroos around a World Cup is right up there. This year I am privileged to have the opportunity to do this in South Africa with my 3 great mates – Matt, Jason and Justin.

We knew we would be cutting it fine, but we planned to arrive in Durban the morning of Australia’s first World Cup match against Germany. This meant we’d be arriving after 36 hours of straight travel and heading to the game that night.

The bonus of this meant that we shared the journey with a plane full of Socceroos supporters, adding to the excitement and anticipation of what we are about to witness in Durban. We had 3 flights – each one taking us one step closer to Durban and each increasing our excitement levels. By the time we reached Johannesburg – and saw a sea of Socceroos jerseys – we had finally made it to match day.

Everyone was here! We bumped into many famous Socceroos supporters – Steve Waugh, and other football personalities including Ben Buckley, Aurelio Vidmar and Andy Harper who were also making the journey to see the boys in Durban.

While the experience of travelling with a collective of fellow country men and women is a huge part of going to a World Cup, a lot of the experience is also mixing with people from a range of nationalities – all brought together by a love of football. I sat next to members of the Nigerian football administrators who were still ruing their missed opportunities against Argentina.

We touched down at Durban and headed to our accommodation via the obligatory drive-by of the Moses Mabhiba stadium – Durban’s brand new football stadium and our venue for tonight’s game. Built for the World Cup, the stadium was designed to be an iconic symbol of the city and that it is. The centrepiece of the stadium is the grand arch. Spanning 350 metres and over 100 metres high, it even has a cable car that provides visitors with an amazing 360 degree view of the city.

We arrived at our accommodation in Morningside, a short walk from the stadium. It was here I discovered I was a victim of South Africa’s notorious petty crime problem. During the last flight my baggage was broken into and lock broken by a South African airways baggage handler and my personalised Socceroos top was stolen, of all things. Not the way you want to start the campaign. Luckily, I also had the 2006 World Cup jersey in my bag, which the baggage handler kindly let me keep.

Match day of a World Cup in a host city is amazing! There are colours everywhere and air of excitement. It is a true celebration of life. Every local we met was so nice and welcoming of us to their city and country. We made the short walk to the bars along Florida Rd in Morningside, and bumped into Mark Bosnich and Mel McLaughlin along the way. We talked to locals – many of whom were about to go to the game – and tried (sometimes in vain) to get their support for the Socceroos that evening. As our swarm of yellow passed bars full of patrons in the white of Germany we knew we were in for a huge match that night. We watched the Ghana v Serbia on the many big-screens in the pub, knowing that this match would be vital to the Socceroos chances at progressing past the group stage (Ghana 1 – Serbia 0).

We left for the stadium a healthy 3 hours before the match (we had problems at other opening matches that caused the delays in people reaching the stadium in time for kick-off). The roars of the vuvuzelas grew louder the closer we got the stadium. I must admit that while I was initially a bit disturbed by the vuvuzelas when I watched Australia’s warm up matches on TV, I am now a convert to the vuvuzela. They create a unique atmosphere for this World Cup, and this is football in Africa so the culture of their support for this game is what a World Cup in Africa is all about.

As we approached the stadium the atmosphere was reaching fever-pitch, and we were herded to the stadium’s only entrance. We roamed the terraces outside the stadium, discussed tactics with our fellow supporters, tried our hand at a bit of German and counted down the seconds to kick-off. We took our seat amongst the thousands of other Socceroos supporters near the half way line on the third level – a great vantage point to see the action.

As the players ran on the field for their last warm-up, we were watching for our heroes and wondering what our final line-up would be. The players disappeared down the tunnel – the next time we saw them would mean our long wait would be over.

The clocked ticked towards kick-off time and the players were backed. I must admit to some nerves and overwhelming excitement at this point. The German anthem was played, and when it was Australia’s turn we and our fellow Australians belted out Advance Australia Fair with all our might – our contribution to inspire our team.

KICK-OFF! The vuvuzelas roared.

If you watched the game you know what happened, so I won’t go into too much detail. It is fair to say we were all disappointed at the result (and the line-up/ tactics that were employed). Each German goal was a dagger in our hearts, but the result was well and truly deserved by a vastly superior German side.

Tails between our legs, we vacated the stadium 2 hours later, destined to spend the rest of the night discussing what went wrong, how we can improve and what can be changed in 6 days time in Rustenburg.

We slept well. Our long journey over and another has just begun.

Durban 14/6/2010 – Festival of the fan

We awoke early, keen to get started exploring the city before the next day’s matches begun. We were amazed when we found that the people we sat next to in the stadium were also staying in our small B&B. We further discussed the events of the previous night and what went wrong.

We headed to central Durban marina, had lunch in front of thousands of fish in a giant fish tank and headed to the FanFest site to watch The Netherlands (2) v Denmark (0) in the sun on the beach on the big screen.

I was amazed at the fan-site – a thousand people living every moment of every night. The orange of the Dutch fans were everywhere, all with smiles on their faces.

The weather became overcast and we headed to other venues to watch the remaining matches – Japan v Cameroon and Italy v Paraguay – impressed each time by the hospitality of our host city and their passion for football…


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