Exiled Town fan Richard Holt reports from his World Cup trek in South Africa, where he now has his home
IT wasn’t meant to be like this.
We’re heading for Cape Town and the game against Algeria on Friday, with an air of nervous tension, rather than glowing optimism.
But then again, having been a Town fan for 40 years, I should realise that expectations often fade.
At times the game against the USA was shambolic. Losing Milner after 30 minutes and King at half-time perhaps point to coaching problems.
And the Green howler was greeted with an air of disbelief.
But the same old England can still see us through.
I would very much like to meet the author of our travel guide who said that it takes approximately two hours to drive from Johannesburg to Rustenburg.
Perhaps I should cut him some slack though, as he probably meant on a normal day. But of course this was no normal day and the N4 motorway, the only road heading west to the destination of our first England game, was under repair (good timing guys).
It only had two lanes anyway and was jammed full of white Toyota hire cars, in turn jammed full of bewildered looking soccer fans. And this was a day before the match! What started out as a carnival convoy of cars and minibuses decked out in the red, white and blue flags and scarves of both England and USA fans - soon turned into a stop, start journey equivalent to a Friday afternoon on the M62.
My mate Dave Houghton, formerly of Rawthorpe, and I were also here to see a different game, we were going on safari as well as the match.
First stop: Madikwe Game Reserve and two nights in a luxury game lodge. No staying in a tent for me with 10,000 other English fans and one outside loo, although before readers start accusing me of leaving my Yorkshire roots behind, I didn’t pay full rate; I knew the owners and had cunningly swapped a night’s stay for two sought-after tickets for the match.
Minutes after arrival, we were parked in the bush with a chance sighting of three huge lions asleep under a tree digesting a wildebeest, the sorry remnants of which lay close by.
So picture this: Dave, who works for Woolworths, and I sharing a deluxe suite, bigger than most people’s homes, with fine Egyptian linen sheets, scented candles and rose petals in the loo.
We could take an outside shower or plunge into our own private pool whilst watching zebra and giraffe drinking at the waterhole a few metres away.
The late afternoon game drive offered sightings of more lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and herd upon herd of different antelope, followed by a few beers in the bush watching the sunset, all pretty amazing stuff.
Later over a bush dinner under the stars with the best Springbok fillet you have ever tasted and a bottle or two of good red wine neatly put away, I thought for a moment how romantic a setting it would have been, that is if I hadn’t been sharing the lodge with my hairy mate, four loud American engineers from Baltimore and three cabbies from Northampton who were also here for the game.
So to the day of the match and after spotting a pack of extremely rare wild dogs on the hunt during our 6 am game drive, it was time for a huge African breakfast and to get up close and personal with my own three lions – on my chest that is – as I slipped on the England shirt.
Between the four Americans, three cabbies and the two Yorkshiremen we were a bizarre mix of football shirts, orange wigs, and George Bush masks.
We arrived just after lunchtime in Rustenburg which the Americans would normally describe as a “one horse town” and I would kindly compare to as being “a bit like Skelmanthorpe on a Sunday night”.
It was just one big street party, with the Brits and Yanks taking full advantage of the cheap beer and making fools of themselves trying to dance and sing like the locals. It was a really special atmosphere and not a hint of trouble in sight.
Unfortunately the match failed to live up to anything that had gone on before and the less said about it the better. However as we sat in the car for two hours afterwards munching warthog kebabs and trying to get away from the stadium, we had more than enough time to agree that we live to fight another day and it was “on to Cape Town”