The Soccer City media centre
© Getty Images
Finally, Jo’burg. After almost five weeks in South Africa, spent largely around the Cape, I’ve come up north to the Highveld. I’d been warned about the differences – public safety, of course, and the colour of the landscape, a dirt brown from the greens of the south – but no one told me about the space! The vastness would satisfy even the Dutch, whose own geographical limitations inspired them to create space everywhere else, in their art, architecture and, of course, their football.
The sense of size begins with the drive to Soccer City; 40 minutes of non-stop highway driving – evoking memories of The Band’s Endless Highway - at a fairly high speed.
The stadium complex, set amid vast tracts of open land and approached after passing seemingly endless parking lots, is large enough to do justice to its name. The media centre and broadcast centre are situated on either side of the multi-hued, 90,000-seater calabash; it takes ten minutes on an empty road to drive from one to the other.
The media centre here is comfortably double the size of Cape Town’s, with suitably enhanced food options within. It had better be big – there will be a minimum of 1100 reporters and 250 photographers who will be using it on Sunday, and it takes a very large tent to hold all of us. On the day of the last World Cup final, the media centre at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium was simply unable to cope with the crowd; many of us who didn’t find chairs and desks simply sat on the ground, taking turns to use the power and net connections.
I digress; back to Jo’burg, whose size (and colour) is the sort you would associate with the American Midwest or rural Australia; after the intimacy of Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, and even Durban, where one could walk to the stadium and around it, this takes some getting used to.
Driving into town extends the feeling; I’m in a bus with the driver and conductor, three of us in a vehicle meant for 65 passengers. We drive along the De Villiers Graaff Motorway, the warnings of rush-hour traffic mercifully not coming true, it’s an almost non-stop drive past clusters of gated colonies interspersed with mine dumps, barren land, industrial parks and what I later learn are golf courses.
The bus ends up outside Sandton City, near the Michaelangelo arch, and my destination is the Garden Court Hotel where my hosts in Jo’burg are waiting to pick me up. I gather from the conductor that the bus can’t go any farther but the driver has gone to get “security” who will take me there. This is a new one but communication is severely impaired by the language barrier.
My hostess advises me to stay put in the bus. And after a while, as a means of breaking the ice, the conductor tells me I shouldn’t get down from the bus until my friends come and the driver agrees. “We will not leave until you are with your friends. Safety first.”
Ten more minutes and it seems my friends have taken the wrong turning down a horribly jammed road, so they ask me to get out and start walking down the road to the original pick-up point. I think twice, it’s dark and that stretch of sidewalk is fairly deserted. I have two bags, a laptop, a mobile and, most valuable of all, my FIFA accreditation.
The driver and conductor seem unsure but I tell them not to worry. I walk the 200 yards of desolate sidewalk and wait for five minutes before salvation arrives.
This morning I do the reverse journey, in daylight. It’s fairly uneventful till the end, when I get off the bus at Soccer City. I hear a raised voice behind me: “Hello!” It’s the conductor from last night. He shakes my hand, gives me a broad smile. “You are okay? Your friend picked you up?” He seems genuinely happy to see me. “You take care, okay?” I will, with a little help from him and his countrymen.