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Tue May 13 2003 (Cape Town)

The idea of a friendly in South Africa was made public last Autumn, and firmed up in time for englandfans to request registration of interest early in 2003. Around 2,500 members signed up and our FA was able to obtain an allocation for that amount from the South African FA. Since then quite a few people have changed their minds and backed out so it's tricky to guess how many of us will be there in Durban. A number of people have bought tickets without really intending to turn up. The whole englandfans approach is based upon a points system to reward loyalty, currently a count of away games attended. This ultimately dictates who gets tickets from the FA for big events, the next of which will be the Euro 2004 Championships in Portugal. Many new members have joined englandfans since last year's World Cup in Japan (myself included). This, combined with an unwise decision to discard everyone's previous points (or 'caps'), has resulted in a scramble for caps. All this hasn't been helped by England being drawn in a qualifying group with countries having a mixture of small stadiums and poor security arrangements (if any) for us lot.

Hence, the temptation for some people to request a ticket even if they don't intend to travel to the game. The FA have cottoned onto this and have asked for detailed travel arrangements to be supplied by everyone allocated a ticket (normally they ask a random sub-set of fans to provide this). I don't want to get dragged into the rights and wrongs of this as it is an emotive subject and I am a new member and maybe don't have the perspective of others. Regardless, it could be interesting to see what happens with this as, by the rules of the club, anyone trying to pull a fast one like this can be kicked out.

When the South Africa game was first announced, and don't laugh, Derby were in touch with the chase for a play-off place, and the game was scheduled to be smack in the middle of the play-off schedule. Also, we were still in the FA Cup (seeing as we hadn't played in it yet). It was therefore difficult to plan anything as Derby would always take precedence, and this would limit the amount of time I could spend away from England in May.

However, Derby soon made things much clearer by being drawn against the might of Brentford in the 3rd round of the Cup, and by losing lots of games in the league and dropping like a stone towards Division 2. Nice one lads, I know I can always count on you to make my travel arrangements less cluttered.

So, I now knew nothing exciting, except relegation, was on the cards for Derby fans in May. Also, my contract down at Philips in Southampton was looking unlikely to continue much past April. Therefore I concocted an outrageously courageous plan to fly into Cape Town, then travel by land only, via the game in Durban, back to England. I carried this noble aim around with me for a while and even allowed a few close friends to share my marvel of inspiration. Then I finally bothered to have a quick look at the UK Foreign Office travel advice and realised the concept was plain stupid. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan are quite big countries. So big in fact that together they span the entire width of Africa, West coast to East coast ... and they're both a bit dodgy. The official advice for the DR Congo condenses to "don't go there you fool!", and for Sudan to "don't go to the Southern half, and several other parts." To add weight to this, there was the small problem of getting through the Middle East, and then via South East Turkey and Georgia into Russia. A bit later I also remembered about this big trench called the Suez canal that was in the way and, as far as my limited geography is aware, can't be crossed without using a boat or a plane.

So the plan was trimmed back somewhat to go from Cape Town as far North as is sensible, which turns out to be Kenya. Originally I wasn't too bothered about how long it took, but now it was a less crazy mission it seemed reasonable to use the football season as a natural calendar boundary. Hence the return flight from Nairobi, which gets me back to Blighty the day before Derby should be playing their first competitive game.

I had plenty of time to plan things which is why I managed to leave my trip to the travel clinic too late to get Hep B protection and also turn the usual course of rabies jabs into four shots in one go. I bought my rucksack and boots last Friday, booked my initial accommodation on Sunday and started throwing stuff into the rucksack less than an hour before the taxi was due to arrive for Manchester airport. No matter how hard I try, I'm unable to get anything done until there's a real risk of everything going belly-up.

Thankfully I managed to make time to see England off properly on Saturday. In the afternoon I picked up Vikki (Crewe Alex fan; yet another team that will embarress us next season) and we made an unsuccessful attempt to go to the Conference play-off final at Stoke's Britannia stadium. Admittedly I was half an hour late, but the accident that blocked the A500 in Stoke can shoulder the ultimate blame (apologies once again, Viks ;). Then up to Manchester for Phil's birthday party, preceded by watching from the sidelines in the pub as Phil and his massed Reading FC mates went from delerium to despair in a few short minutes at the hands of Wolves in the Div 1 play-off semi 1st leg. Also managed to catch-up with my old mate Mitch, who despite being a ManU fan is a top bloke (at least he lives in Salford I suppose ...).

On the plane down to London I had a good read of the Manchester Evening News' excellent coverage of Maine Road's last act before the old girl is put to rest. Unfortunately I only ever went once, must have been around 98-99 season in the Worthington Cup (or whatever it was called then). Entertained by the slightly deranged Moonchester mascot before the game, which was won for Derby (1st leg) by a bizarre goal from the god that was Paolo Wanchope. He disappeared down the far end of the ground by himself, attempted to cross the ball from near the corner flag (lord knows who to as he was the only Rams player in their half), it hit the tracking defender's leg, took the weirdest dipping, looping trajectory and went straight over the keeper into the far corner of the net. No-one celebrated as no-one knew (or believed) that it had gone in, including the rest of the Derby players. We just sat wondering why Wanchope was running around like an aeroplane with his shirt over his head. Eventually word spread through the team and on to us clueless fans behind the other goal where we sort of celebrated, but also felt a bit daft as the ball had probably been in the net for ten seconds by this point.

Anyway, I digress (makes a change). At Heathrow I treated myself to a new pair of snazzy Oakley sunglasses. My existing Lacoste beasties are still lovely, but a bit battered and bruised and I'm a bit worried about wandering around Africa for 3 months with scratched lenses. On the bus out to the plane I sat next to a couple of lads on their way to the game in Durban, one Scunthorpe, the other F****t. They're flying between Cape Town and Durban later in the week. The flight was pretty uneventful, sat next to an elderly German couple with a comedy accent and eventually gave up on the entertainment system as the audio on our row put out high volume white noise every few minutes. Managed to get a few hours' kip and plenty of food down me before we landed in early morning sunshine at Cape Town.

Had a bit of a scare at passport control when it became clear they weren't happy about admitting someone without a return flight or any definite travel plans out of the country. Eventually the supervisor backed down from her position of demanding a bond when I showed my ticket for the flight out of Nairobi. So onto the baggage carousel where I slowly got the sinking feeling that no more bags were being added and mine wasn't there. Eventually there was a call put out for me to report to the BA desk where I was told my pack had somehow missed the connection (of 2 hours) and was sitting in London. It should be on the next flight (arriving same time tomorrow morning), and they gave me 500 Rand compensation which pays for my accommodation in Cape Town.

Next came the complimentary shuttle bus to the Ashanti Lodge where I'm staying, driven by the very cheerful Kennedy, a Congan (if that's the right word?) who arrived as a refugee in South Africa several years ago. Until recently he'd been playing league football in SA, but was now struggling with what I presume was work permit problems. He's hoping to play in Switzerland next year, where he has famly. The Ashanti is great, very well organised, really nice staff and totally laid back atmosphere. After I'd signed the guestbook I flicked back a few pages and found Emma and Sara's entries. They left by car on Monday to begin the journey up the coast to Durban, but seeing their names made it feel like I was staying here with friends. My room is next to the swimming pool, twin beds, African inspired decor (wrought iron animal-hide shield and spear headboards!), really high ceilings and as I have discovered whilst writing this diary entry late at night, the odd flea in the bed. Ah well, been bitten by fleas before and at least these particular insects aren't going to give me Malaria - wish I had my insect repellent though, will have to wait for my pack to arrive for that.

Had a few hours kip after I checked in, then ventured into the local streets to see the great views of Table Mountain and get some basic toiletries from Checker's mini-mall until mine hopefully turn up in the morning. Grabbed some lasagne and beers at Mimmo's pizzeria under the blue skies with a nice backdrop of the mountain. Hopefully the cable car to the top will be open during my stay, it was closed due to high winds during Emma and Sara's time here. Apparently if the clouds are coming from the direction of the mountain as we view it here, then this is bad news.

Had a chat to Jess, a Swansea girl, out by the pool. She's been over here since February, mainly in Cape Town and Durban, is due to go back home at the end of the week and doesn't seem at all happy about the idea. A bit later I spoke with Thomas, an Italian who has spent the last 18 months driving organised tours around Southern Africa. He's given me quite a bit of info and I now have a slightly clearer plan. He's offered to help me draw up a rough itinerary, which could be really useful. I also made contact with my mate Rob in Jo'burg who might be coming down for the game and travelling back to Jo'burg with me. Emma and Sara continue to make progress up the coast, tonight they're in Plettenberg Bay after chasing ostriches earlier in the day. They've given me some handy pointers for when I follow them later in the week. I think I'll hang around Cape Town for another couple of days, before heading out by hire car on Friday and hopefully catching up with the girls somewhere around East London on Sunday evening.

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