9 July ~ After travelling through South Africa for three weeks I have struggled to find anyone who is not interested in the World Cup. The owner of the guesthouse I stayed at in Johannesburg, a former rugby professional, has watched every televised game. I spoke to an old anti-Apartheid campaigner at the fan-park in Cape Town. “I’ve never been much of a sports fan before, but this World Cup is bringing people together,” she said. “My kids think I’m crazy for coming down here to wave flags. But as a white South African I always felt so ashamed of where I was from. But now I can celebrate our flag, together with everyone else.”

After all the worrying about whether South Africans would take to the World Cup, it was ironic to hear a local fret over the choice of hosts for 2014. “The Brazilians are only interested in their own team,” he said. “If they go out early it could become a fairly flat World Cup.” After South Africa were knocked out there was that same concern about the locals losing their enthusiasm for the competition. But they have instead adopted other teams to support. Ghana were the natural choice, but each fan has their own method of selecting a second team. On the way to the Argentina v Germany quarter-final I asked a woman from Cape Town which team she wanted to win. She had just painted her friend’s face in German colours but said she would wait until she knew the half-time score before painting her own.

The South Africans are not the only fans lending their support to other teams. After the unpredictable group standings left a fairly unconventional line-up in the round of 16, many fans were left stranded at games they had not foreseen. Ghana’s defeat of the US was watched by an odd concoction of fans. The Ghanaians were present, supported by every African in the crowd. A few optimistic Americans, including Bill Clinton, offered support to their team. They were joined by over-optimistic Australians, uncommonly pessimistic Germans and, of course, bitter Englishmen. The disposed English fans, who had expected to see their team win Group B, formed some of Ghana’s most passionate support.

No group of fans have been more kind with their support than the Americans. FIFA sold more tickets in the US than in any other country apart from the host nation. And, while many of the Americans have supported the US team faithfully, they do seem to pop up in the oddest of places. I saw one American with a France shirt on, waving a Spain flag while watching Ivory Coast play Brazil. Another US fan told me he had enjoyed attending his team’s win over “South America”.

There also seem to be quite a few “Brazilians” who speak with American accents. At the match between Ivory Coast and Brazil I sat in front of one of those archetypal Brazilian girls who flashes onto the TV screen when the game lulls. She was blonde, draped in at least three Brazil flags and as expressive as a Californian actress. It turns out she was no more Brazilian than Marylyn Monroe. Another girl a few rows in front held up a sign which read “Happy Father’s Day” for the entire match. The man directly behind her (who wore a Brazil shirt and one of those ginger Scottish wigs) wasn’t too impressed. She was sent to the aisle for the second half, where she dutifully stood waiting for her moment on the big screens.

With Brazil, England and Argentina failing to make it to the latter stages of the competition – and Italy and France not making it past their groups – the competition has developed a cosmopolitan feel. Few fans would have expected Paraguay to play Japan in a last-16 match, or Ghana and Uruguay to contest a quarter-final. But the surprises have made for some great moments. And the mix of different nationalities inside the stadiums has fitted perfectly with the idea of bringing people together through the game. Travelling fans might leave disappointed, and many South Africans were never going to afford to see the games from inside the stadiums, but to see people from all over the world sit together and lend support to each other, nothing could beat it. Paul Campbell 

Comments (8)
Comment by G.Mandoza 2010-07-09 11:49:09

And there was not one single incident of violence between fans. In fact, I think the most brutal act of violence came on Wednesday night at Cape Town's fan park, when after the game my disappointed son pushed out of his way a Spanish flag (waved by a local Spain "fan", of course).

It should be surprising that anyone was surprised that South African fans would adopt a second, third or fourth nation to keep their interest going. If the international media had actually asked about that — or read WSC — then the question would have been answered. Just another one of the many idiotic things about SA that the press thumb-sucked.

Comment by Lincoln 2010-07-09 13:32:10

Two points, firsly it would be nice for the press, particulalry a certain Daily and certain columnist called Martin, to apologise for whipping up fear. I've not heard of any stabbings myself and could be wrong, but there was nothing like the chaos expected. Also I was informed barely any Dutch people would be going to the world cup due to the fear of crime, which was strange as the Cape Town stadium seemed to have been painted orange when I went there.
Secondly, still not a fan of this 'adopting a team'. Once England went out I enjoyed watching the football on display as an impartial viewer as I had done throughout the tournament in non England games. It is very much a modern day thing where you have to have a team, whatever happened to just enjoying watching a game of football for the play and not the score?
As for violence in the fan park, I was rightly kicked in the back at the Cape Town fan park for making a serious of drunken loutish gestures every time Maradonna appeared on the TV screen during and Argentina game. But nothing more serious than that was witnessed.

Comment by gtheo 2010-07-09 14:16:45

The atmosphere and partcipation of the crowds at this World Cup will be what's really remembered after everybody's packed up and left. We even got used to the vuvuzelas after a couple of weeks. A real pity that not all the matches matched the vibrancy and fun of the fans in the stadiums and outside.

Comment by jasoñ voorhees 2010-07-09 15:53:55

For Euro 2004, I had tickets for 2 group games, 2 quarterfinals, and the final. I had the entire tournament staked out with having a jersey available for each game I'd be at.

No, I never changed shirts halfway through.

I'm quite happy for South Africa. As I said before, for many US teenagers over the past decade, they made it a point to save up for this trip. "I'm going to South Africa in 2010" was a bit of a mantra for many kids. For this generation, this World Cup was the backpacking in Europe trip.

I'm very happy for South Africa.

Comment by Moonlight shadow 2010-07-09 17:37:37

My Swiss mates who were there all had a brilliant time, they were taken aback by the kindness of the locals, after months and months of gruelling headlines about the awfulness of South Africa crime-wise. Not a bad word about the organisation, which baring in mind their nationality, is high praise indeed...

Comment by gtheo 2010-07-10 14:19:12

The tournament has proven a resounding success for South Africa and whilst the problems it still faces are numerous, it can only be hoped that the revenue generated from the tournament will result in a strong infrastructure which will allow Bafana Bafana to compete more strongly in years to come. The great sadness has been Nelson Mandela's absence and it can only be hoped that he will be there on Sunday to share in something he was so instrumental in bringing to the country and the continent as a whole...

Comment by G.Mandoza 2010-07-11 09:22:09

lincoln, I think the second-nation practise is to a large extent a hang-over from the days of SA's international isolation. Some people have had loyalties to the same international team for years. So Germany is very popular, for examole, because 1990 was the first WC to be televised in SA.

As for violent crime, I've heard of ine serious incident, in which robbers shot an American tourist in the arm.

Comment by Lincoln 2010-07-12 11:21:17

Most of the people I met were wearing Spanish and Brazilian shirts, but I take your point.

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