Spain may be the champions, but SA is the WINNER!

What an amazing ending to the final game tonight – I thought it would never end – neither the actual game, nor the flood of yellow. It must be very close to a new record for the number of times the ref hauled that card out of his pocket. A dirty game – but two hungry teams.

That goal, leaving us with 3 nail-biting minutes of time before the final whistle – that’s the worst. But what a magnificent ending it was – they were so ecstatic, those guys! They deserved the win.

Which brings us to the end of a month of football, an end to years of planning, an end to a maze of car-mounted flags, an end to late nights of soccer.

And Spain may be the new world champions, but for me, SA is the real winner of the soccer world cup.

We did so well with this event; I am inordinately proud of what we have achieved.

Honestly, I never had any doubt about our abilities to handle the event – I was always confident it would go smoothly. I know the quality of people we have who organize events. We’ve done it before – rugby, soccer and numerous other events. This one was just slightly bigger.

Yes it took a lot of planning, yes there were disagreements, but yes, we got it right. Despite all the negative comments from the naysayers and pessimists out there. (please – go into retirement now; we only have time for optimists and realists).

Just 2 months ago I still caught myself saying, out loud, “can this damn soccer world cup be over already, so that we can get back to normal”. I was tired of all the promises that had been broken, of the negative press, of the naysayers. I was tired of hotels being empty when they should have been full to capacity.

I work in tourism, and through a combination of overly optimistic promises by FIFA and Match, and our industry’s own greed in the last 12 months, we ended up with many many empty beds these last 4 weeks. Luxury hotels near the stadia had empty rooms on several nights – only those in Johannesburg had a super month.

But in the last few days before the tournament a friend of mine inspired me to be excited for the game itself. She’s not involved in tourism, and she got me revved up about the actual game and all the teams that would be coming to visit. She was bouncing in her chair she was so excited! And it was contagious…

Soon I had not 1, but 4 flags on my car. I’d turn up the volume every time the Waka Waka song came on the radio. I got an SA and a German t-shirt.

And, most surprising of all, while watching the opening ceremony on 11 June, I bought a ticket to the quarter final at Soccer City. I just had to watch at least one game in that stadium, to feel the vibe, the energy, the pulse of Jozi.

All this from a guy who isn’t actually into sport. At all.

And that game turned out to be a turning point for me in many ways, probably inspired by the fact that Ghana was playing – and I became ridiculously excited at the prospect of seeing the last African team play in Soweto… as close to home ground for any remaining team as possible.

I’d never flown to another city for a sports event before – ever, and here I was with 7 items of Ghana to support them with: a full size flag on my back, a Ghana beanie, a scarf and a t-shirt on which I painted the Ghanaian flag. I re-decorated my vuvuzela in the colours of Ghana, I painted my face and I made a poster to take to the stadium with me;

I threw myself behind our brothers from the north, and joined 81 416 others at Soccer City – of which 417 were Uruguay supporters – the rest dressed in Red, yellow and green.

And the vibe was electric! From the train ride between park station and the stadium to the last penalty shot.

Every time our team got near the goals it felt like the stadium was rising up – so intense was the energy.

And when we scored that first goal at just before half time!? I swear the stadium was taking off, just like a space shuttle… the whole trip and expense was worth it for just that one moment… you can’t describe the jubilation, the one-ness of 81000 people, the utterly palpable joy and exuberance of the crowd…

And the complete opposite when the final penalty shot was scored by the Uruguayans… when they ran onto the field, arms in the air for their win – it was like a silent movie. The stadium was quiet, and I couldn’t hear a cheer or a vuvu anywhere. It was like we’d all been struck dumb.

But life carried on, and we chose a new country to support – and tonight ‘my’ team did win.

Both teams were hungry, which might explain why it was such a ‘dirty’ game, but only one could win, and I am very glad it didn’t go into a penalty shoot-out situation – I’ve never thought that’s very fair.

Tonight though, to get back to my initial point – I realize that the real winner is SA.

We’ve put on a magnificent show. Everything worked (apart from that little ACSA debacle in Durban…) and it worked well. The crowds were happy, the roads were working, the transport was excellent.

The stadia are beautiful (how’s that Soccer City!?!) and the airports too.

Yes, life goes back to normal tomorrow, and the flags have been disappearing off cars already, but I am massively proud of what we have achieved 🙂

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika – God Bless Africa

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