We picked up our hire car in Cape Town then began the arduous 980km drive north towards Bloemfontein. When I say “we drove” I mean I sat back and relaxed taking in the passing scenery while Laura drove the entire way.
12 hours later we arrived in a village called Quaggafontein, 10km outside of Bloemfontein. This proved to be our best and only warm accommodation to date, a quiet farm cottage with heating and electric blankets (believe me this was quite a special moment to find this added bonus after shivering to sleep every previous night). The peaceful, laid back surroundings were a welcome respite to the madness of Jo’burg and Cape Town.
The following day we set off for the early 1am kick off of Paraguay v Slovakia. We set off in plenty of time as the last three games we’d been to we’d seen how bad the traffic could be. No such problems for this match. We’d been worried about not getting a space on the car park but we were one of the only ones on there. Milled about outside the ground for a bit, trying to get on Paraguayan TV but they were having none of it so we headed inside about 30 minutes before kick off. The ground was more than half empty; expected it to fill up before kick off but it never did. The attendance was given out later as 24,000, only just over half the stadiums capacity. About 10,000 of these appeared to be schoolkids that Fifa had probably dragged in at the last minute to avoid too much embarrassment. I know it was hardly the match of the tournament but the country is football crazy. It’s been a massive fuck up by Fifa. There’s countless reasons as to why they shouldn’t have held the World Cup here but seeing as they decided on it, the first thing they should’ve ensured was that the tickets were affordable to locals. The majority of locals you see are the richer white families, there are very few black kids. Tickets for locals are half the price of the tickets for foreigners but this is still way too expensive. They are around £20 per ticket. To watch the Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs or any other top South African league team costs less than £2. It’s like the World Cup being held in England and charging £300 for tickets.
Back to the game though and it was an enjoyable day. The sun was shining, everyone was in high spirits and the half empty stadium made me feel at home. It also meant we could move from our cheap seats at the back and head down to the middle and sit with all the mad Paraguayans.
Slovakia looked poor (another team great in qualifiers but terrible so far in the tournament) but Paraguay were on better form than the Italy game. Traz had another solid game at the back, disappointed not to see him keep up his 100% scoring record though. Despite the half empty stadium, the atmosphere was amazing and louder than even the England game where there were 3 times as many people in. This noise was no doubt coming from the vuvuzela armed schoolkids with free tickets. I don’t understand why they couldn’t fill all the empty seats at every game with these kids. It makes for a great atmosphere and gives these kids one of the best days out they’ll ever have.
After the game, we’re walking along the gangway at the back of the stand and I finally get my 15 minutes of Paraguayan fame. A photographer grabs hold of me shouting “Paraguay, Paraguay! Please let me take photo with this boy” I look down and there’s a little African kid, dressed head to toe in South Africa gear and a vuvuzela in his hand. A crowd surrounds us and the photographer snaps away with me crouching down with my arm around the kid.
“I’m from Sun newspaper, this front page photo tomorrow!”
It’s not our Sun but it’s one of South Africa’s biggest tabloids. At this point, loads of other Paraguayans are heading over to me, smiling and shaking hands and then trying to talk to me. I don’t speak Spanish and I definitely don’t speak Guarani so I smile and nod then sneak off before I am exposed for the phoney that I really am.
The afternoon continues with several locals coming up to me shaking my hand and shouting ‘PARAGUAY!’ at me.
“You must be really please with win and result today”
“Yeah mate, well chuffed. Belting performance” I respond in my best Paraguayan accent.
Found the people of Bloemfontein the friendliest and happiest that we’ve encountered so far. Wasn’t sure how the (Whites) would react to the English here as the area is a strong Boer stronghold. During the Boer war, the British moved up into Bloemfontein and set up a concentration camp where 25,000 women and children died. A fact that is conveniently left out of our history curriculum and most British are unaware of, even though it took only as few years before the First World War. Incidentally, at the moment in Wigan a lot of the work in Mesnes Park has been put on hold because of a group of Wiganers calling themselves the “Friends of the Boer War”. They are trying to stop the plans going ahead until the council agree to reinstall the Boer War statue on top of the empty plinth in front of the cafe. This has been going on for about two years now. Can you imagine a “Friends of the Holocaust” group in Germany holding up work in Berlin because they wanted a model of a gas chamber installed on Alexanderplatz?
Anyway, enough of the history lessons, tales of near carjackings and muggings in the next installment.
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