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Ben Trovato

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

My Trip to Cape Town Stadium

After a series of unexpected events ranging from kidnapping and extortion to begging and weeping, I managed to secure tickets to the Italy vs Paraguay game that was played on the outskirts of the Arctic Circle on Monday night.

Cape Town was performing a credible impression of the Siberian town of Oymyakon in mid-winter when I went to fetch Ted. He was dressed like a bipolar bear and had the bearing of a man who recently ingested more than his share of the hallucinogenic smarties.

“It’s the cold,” he said,running a yellow plastic duck through his hair. That explained it, then. I told him we were going to catch a train into town and then do the Fan Walk to the stadium. He looked at me as if I had suggested we dress up like Mussolini, then run onto the pitch at half-time and shout pro-Fascist slogans at the crowd.

“Why would we catch a train, let alone walk anywhere, when you drive a Fifa-approved vehicle?” He had a point. This is probably the only time I’ll ever get to drive my Hyundai without feeling like a pariah.

“We take it right into the stadium,” he said. “Everyone will think we’re Sepp’s people.”No, they won’t. It might be a Hyundai in name, but as far as instant recognition as one of the World Cup’s sponsors goes,it falls short. A high-speed run at the stadium would generate the same kind of interest as a taxi careening towards US military headquarters in Baghdad. I wouldn’t put it past Fifa to have snipers on the roof.

The train from Fish Hoek to Cape Town station was strangely empty. “Where are all the Italians?” Ted asked. “In Italy,” I said. “And the Paraguayans?” I gave it some thought. “In Paraguay.” Comforted by the thought that sometimes there are easy answers, we travelled the rest of the way in silence. Well, silence broken only by the screams of passengers being tortured in third class.

Ted was reluctant to embark on the 2.6km Fan Walk without some kind of support system.

“You mean like sherpas?” He gave me the lazy eye. “No. Like beer.” It made sense. I had read that the local constabulary had been instructed to turn a blind eye to drinking in public. We were taking our first tottering steps towards anarchy and, damn, it felt good.

By the end of the Fan Walk a number of people were taking tottering steps in all directions. We hunkered down in an old house that had been converted into a tavern. Later, Ted said he didn’t think it was a tavern at all. He had stumbled across a family watching television and got the impression that drunken footie fans had simply occupied the house much like the Germans occupied France.

With two hours to kick-off, the sky was thick with police helicopters and we were surrounded by hundreds of flashing blue lights. Sirens competed with vuvuzelas to create a sound one might expect to hear heralding one’s arrival in hell. It felt as if something terrible was about to happen. And it did. It started to hail.

Inside the stadium, Ted automatically headed for the beer tent. “Don’t do it,” I shouted. “You will find nothing but Budweiser in there.” He agreed that it would be irresponsible of us to contribute to the spread of American imperialism. It was impossible to carry that many beers to our seats but time was running out and we were forced to leave some behind. It was worse than Vietnam.

After climbing three million stairs, we emerged two floors down from God to see what R4-billion looked like from the inside. It was beyond biblical. Never before had I seen something with such raw, powerful magnificence. I wanted to have its babies. Ted told me to get a grip. He was right. I’m not much of a gusher and I earn a living from being a curmudgeon. But this was impossible to resist. I could scarcely believe that mere men had constructed such a glorious monument to capitalism.

After a moment of prayer, we began the ascent. If either of us had lost our balance, it would have been like plummeting off the north face of the Eiger. Fifa should provide adult nappies and pitons and crampons and make sure people in the top rows are roped together before setting out for the summit. This was the highest I’d ever been without the benefit of artificial stimulants.

The game was fast and furious, as were our trips to base camp for fresh supplies. “I am just going outside and maybe some time,” I said, promptly missing the only two goals that were scored. “Now I know how Oates must have felt,” I said bitterly, handing Ted five more plastic bottles of Bud. “Jungle Oats?” he said. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother. We seemed to be the only people supporting Paraguay. Ted said it was because the last time Paraguayans were herded into a stadium, one or other lunatic dictator had ordered them all to be shot. Ted then amused himself by using a marker pen to write “Gen” on the back of shirts that said “Italia”. Not very grown-up, I know.

Without goals, soccer isn’t much more than blokes in short pants running around and falling down. The tedium was lifted when Fifa’s paramilitary wing arrested a woman on the grounds that she made people think of a beer other than Budweiser. Who, apart from Homer Simpson, thinks of beer when they see a beautiful woman? The evening ended badly when Ted and I became separated after the ref blew his whistle to signal the start of the traditional stampede and it took me until dawn to find my way back to the station. After developing a hangover that caused permanent neurological damage, I can only imagine that Budweiser is made entirely from dangerous chemicals. I doubt I shall drink it again.


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