A Hockey Fan Strolls Into The World Cup...

Apparently Mike Cammalleri goes to the Cape of Good Hope to deal with his post season sadness. And here I thought most Habs just did blow...

{Note: This isn't hockey related, but still wanted to share with everyone, especially those enjoying this fan post for the past six weeks. I'll repeat one last time for Sunday: Go Holland!}

It started with a few friends and a few more beers back in 2008. Often that combination creates interesting - if not completely nonsensical - ideas and one spiraled out late night that grew legs: let's quit our day jobs (dare to dream!), spend months bouncing around Africa and hit up the 2010 World Cup. Since I'm a proponent of the "you only live once" mentality and nonsensical ideas in general, I put my name in the ticket lottery in early 2009 and - wouldn't you know it? - was awarded six of the six games I applied for. At that stage the groups weren't done so you could elect to follow a country or a city; being nationally agnostic I went with Capetown and Durban over watching the US lose.

Though never at a level I'd brag about, I've played soccer my whole life and generally understand the rules of the game. But at the global stage? I don't know the players, the stars, the coaches, the offensive/defensive schemes or who was even supposed to win short of assuming Brazil out of habit. I wanted to learn while there and see what a guy who really only cares about one sport can learn in the middle of the most popular global sport at the most watched sporting event.

Sadly that whole quitting the job thing wasn't feasible in the middle of a recession, but otherwise everything fell into place. After the jump, a laundry list of observations and one Canucks-related story. Somehow I knew I wouldn't escape this whole thing without a hockey moment or two.

  • Man do the English know how to enter a room. When there's an English game, the town is just overrun by the Queen's army. The costumes? Hilarious, the Monty Python ones especially. The chants? Thunderous. The anger at Wayne Rooney doing nothing against Algeria. Palpable. The queue for beer? Staggering, better buy five when you get up there (they only sold Budweiser at the stadiums, leaving many a fan - regardless of nationality - to come up with "tastes like piss" jokes on the fly). Maybe a few pockets of hooligans are around, but they didn't ruin my experience; the English are a fun bunch to hang with.
  • South Africa hasn't had the best history and it's shocking that most of its darker moments occurred in our life times (shocking in so far as the history books didn't explain any of it during my youth). In that respect, the World Cup really became a unifying tournament for both the African continent and South Africa. People could not be nicer, pointing out places to go (and not go), spending a long time detailing their local roots and upbringing while reinforcing how proud they are to be South African. Opening day - with the home country taking on Mexico - Capetown was alive at 7 AM, well before the match start at 4:00 PM. With the exception of Mexico fans, everyone was pulling for Bafana Bafana ("the boys, the boys" as the South Africa team was nicknamed). Their first goal tore the lid off an anxious city. Sure, their team eventually got bounced, but for what hosting the event meant and in the face of negative press prior to the opening that things would fall apart, the country did a great job. Good on FIFA for selecting them. With the eyes of the world on them, just seeing the South African pride skyrocket more than justified the 45 hours plus total flying time I endured.
  • A minor note on that flying time: it obviously gives you a lot of movies to watch. But there is no amount of alcohol or some pill-induced haze that can make The Tooth Fairy tolerable. There simply isn't.

    Surfing and soccer. What's not to love?

    Surfing and soccer. What's not to love?

  • I was skeptical I would enjoy watching soccer live (some of the qualifying matches I saw on the tee vee weren't remotely entertaining) but there's a fluidity to the game which is damn near hypnotic. How the midfielders tried to move the ball forward or how some defenses almost always sprung it back to the goalie, even without the opposition threatening them. Similar to hockey, you can tell where a team is confident with how they transition. When France (*snicker*) played Uruguay for instance, I was struck by how the French - from my perspective anyway - seemed to press and repeat the same play: loft the ball almost directly down the middle and hope the right head directed it at the right weakness to exploit on the Uruguayan defense. It comically never worked and, after one half, felt like I was watching Vigneault bark out the dump and chase during a losing second period (well, it was the French team...sue me).
  • Diving. You can probably say that word and immediately roll your eyes into the back of your skull. Some think refs should red card divers which is of course a terrible idea that could lead to worse abuses than missed goals. Not everything is a dive; sometimes you just need to get the ref's attention at a particular play or player. Then again there are plenty of cases where diving is just rewarding bad sportsmanship (Hey Ronaldo, how's the new kid?). In a way, you have to appreciate the theatrics because no sport is immune from it: football players posture after tackles, baseball managers look hilarious running onto the field and arguing with anyone, hockey has their fighting, basketball has the struts after even a mundane two points. It's part of the sport; yellow carding a dive is enough. But - just like hockey fights - it will continue to be one of the sport's sorest subjects.
  • Interestingly most South Africans I met prefer rugby over soccer. They appreciate soccer, but wouldn't get up at the crack of dawn and head to the bar unless there are 30 guys in a scrum for an egg-shaped ball. Having watched only a handful of rugby games, I now feel the need to flex my novice muscle towards rugby; just a head's up that you have about a year and change until the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
  • I found a great bunch of Brits to watch the USA/England game with and they force fed us shit when they took the lead and then helped us create a bunch of Greene-isms after their goalie Cloutier'ed an easy ball and pissed away what could have been a win for their side. Along the way beers were ordered, bets were made, shots lead to more shots until the inevitable "woah, what time is it?" moment. Spreading Dan Cloutier's name to a new audience, however, was well worth the morning headache.

    Claustrophobia and hitting the head at halftime don't mix.

    Claustrophobia and hitting the head at halftime don't mix.

  • More proof that the World Cup is worth watching? How it can start with powerhouses like France, Italy, Brazil, Portugal, Argentina and England and yet they all got sent home early (some more embarrassed than others) while the world marveled at the Netherlands, Uruguay, Germany, Paraguay and Ghana in the later stages. Same with the star players: wasn't this supposed to be Ronaldo’s World Cup? Or Messi’s? Or Rooney's? Yet more people are lauding the efforts of Forlan, Sneijder and Oezil (and how creepy looking is he?). Nothing is ever certain and doesn't that make for good sports?
  • The vuvuzela: who knew a horn could cause such weak-willed complaints? It's just noise folks, one that mind you they knew well before the games started would be prevalent at each match. Sure, it sucks when someone is blowing it in your ear right behind you, but no worse than the clowns at hockey games who scream "shooooooooot" when the forward crosses the blue line. I enjoyed the angry hornets after awhile and blame the television productions (I know, like ESPN would screw something up?) for making it sound worse and then harping on it. The same people who bitch about the vuvuzelas are the same folks who lose their shit when CBS moves Two and a Half Men from 8:00 to 8:30. Simple problems for simple minds.

    It's a horn! RUN!!!

    It's a horn! RUN!!!

  • OK, one last soccer nag: to those who say it's a pansy sport or otherwise not manly enough for their liking? These guys often slam into each other with no pads, can get spiked or even kicked directly in the face. Some guys try and get away with brash injuries against their opponents, other happen in the line of the game. Either way you slice it, these players play a rough sport, one that can be eloquent one play and pretty damn violent the next. If you dislike/hate soccer because of the pace or the low scoring, no worries, everyone is entitled to their opinions of entertainment (except Coldplay fans naturally). But if you believe these aren't top notch athletes playing a rugged sport, chances are you aren't actually watching.
  • Did you know hippos kill the most people in Africa in a given year? While they spend most of their days in the water, they leave at night to graze. Sometimes they get startled by humans and make a beeline back for the water for safety. By doing so, they can inadvertently gore fishermen or others on their way back to the river. In the river they can get aggressive and tip over boats. One last Jeopardy! tidbit: their closest animal relative isn't the pig, but cetaceans like whales. Thus concludes the National Geographic portion of our discussion...
  • ...I lied, one more. If you ever had the urge to cage dive with Great Whites, I can't recommend Mike Rutzen - the "Sharkman" - enough.

    He's more scared of you than you are of him. Doesn't he look scared?

    He's more scared of you than you are of him. Doesn't he look scared?

  • That Canucks story? I decided to hike Table Mountain, the obvious backdrop to any picture you see of Capetown. Though it's not a overly challenging climb, it's still a hike and sadly, in wet wintry conditions, it can take a life. I set out in the morning and got to the top in about 90 minutes, not bad I thought for someone who had been eating hamburgers for 20 straight days. I began to make my way down, stopping to talk to folks going up, often about soccer but most wanting to know how far they were from the top. About 30 minutes in I came across a group of two or three guys, the last of which I had a Canucks T-shirt on. I made a simple "hey go Canucks" remark and, just like that, it's hockey time. We stopped, spent some time talking about the short comings of the season, things we hated (AV, the defense) and what to expect in the fall, all the while standing somewhat ridiculously close to about a 15 foot dropoff into God knows what. As I walked away his final comment was "Maybe next year we'll beat Chicago." I turned back with a smirk and shrugged "Maybe next year anyone will beat Chicago."
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