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‘This is Africa!’ Vuvuzelas and all

Fan enthusiasm not withstanding, the train to the stadium was not imminent on the first day of the World Cup.

CAPE TOWN, South Africa – The 2010 World Cup in South Africa is only a few days old and while the action on the field has yet to hit the greatest heights, the world’s biggest party is certainly well under way.

I am a football-crazed Englishman who calls New York home and who will be sending you weekly dispatches from the World Cup through most of the month-long event. Just outside Cape Town, with Table Mountain as a stunning backdrop, I am staying in a house with a group of friends from England and the USA. We have tickets for seven games being played in the so-called Mother City.

We set out excitedly to the first of those matches, Uruguay vs. France, on Friday, the opening day of the tournament. We wanted to arrive early into town to soak up the pre-game atmosphere and go to a local bar to watch the opening match between South Africa and Mexico, which was taking place in Johannesburg, in the company of some fanatical local fans.

We had been advised to use the newly improved and expanded transportation system, but on arriving at the Ratanga Junction station were dismayed to discover that the next train was more than an hour away. This meant that we and the other supporters on the packed platform would miss the start of the opening match!

Had this been in England a mini riot would have erupted. But here the news was received with good-natured resignation. We met Michael Hamill who was traveling to the game with his young family. He exclaimed cheerily, “This is Africa!”

We finally found an available watering hole in town. Many of the locals were wearing the gold and green shirts of Bafana Bafana, as South Africans affectionately call their national team, The Boys The Boys. An excellent strike saw the hosts take the lead and the bar erupted to a cacophony of vuvuzelas – more on them a little later.

Alas, the game ended one each and we headed up the “fan walk” towards the newly built Green Point stadium. It was a carnival atmosphere with colorful bands and performers marching amongst us.  Thousands of fans were geared up for the game wearing hats and wigs in their national colors and face paint to match.  To add to the international flavor, you could hear English, French, Spanish and Afrikaans spoken as the mostly white crowd mixed with each other, everyone wearing a bright smile.
Entry into the stadium went smoothly and our first game of the 2010 World Cup kicked off. The less said about the dour France-Uruguay encounter the better. The real talking point however was the wall of sound we were greeted with from the first kick of the game.

The aforementioned vuvuzelas are bright plastic horns about two feet in length. They are a unique fixture at South African soccer matches and when played in concert sound like the drone of a million angry bees. Somehow even more annoying than that were the guys from New Zealand sitting behind us. As beginner vuvuzela players they could only get their “instruments” to make a noise that I can only describe as what a constipated sheep’s bleat might sound like.

And the vuvuzelas (however annoying they sound it is a fun word to say) have even raised controversy from some players on the field. They complain that they can’t hear each other, nor the orders being given by the coaches. One newspaper front-page headline read “Row over vuvuzelas” and some have called for them to be banned from stadiums. But a World Cup spokesman insisted vuvuzelas are “ingrained in the history of South Africa” and will remain.

And your humble World Cup blogger will remain too. Luckily for our house unity last weekend’s contentious USA-England game ended in a tie. And as the tournament stretches beyond the notoriously tight first set of matches, the action on the field is sure to only get better.

Yuval Lion is a former producer of “Worldfocus,”  NBC News in London, and Associated Press Television News in Jerusalem.


At World Cup, vuvuzela may give South African music a bad name
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