The grey haired night clerk I dealt with the evening before is nice, affable and full of conversation but he seems scattered. I just want to make sure I’m all settled up for the next couple days.
Have to wait for a couple irate English fans that are not impressed with the establishment. I piece together that they booked their rooms over the web and had agreed to 1000 rand. This motel definitely isn’t worth 1000 rand per night. They leave quite pleased they have talked the clerk down to 700 rand. Choose not to ruin their moods by telling them I’m paying a third of that.
Cab drivers, the world over, seem to enjoy talking about the dangers of their cities. Today, a school group plays in the square in the morning sun, indicating that it’s safe enough for the moment.
Arrive at the bus queue, but none of them are heading to the stadium yet.
Speak to Lunika, a civil engineer student, who’s been placed in charge of the temporary bus stop. He asks about city planning and the infrastructure of Canada, and especially Calgary. Introduce him to the term ‘urban sprawl’. He laughs and promises to use it at the next possible opportunity. We then speak briefly about the differences between Spanish and English soccer before he runs off to try and convince one of the bus drivers to take a trip to the stadium as there are more people showing up wanting a ride.
Jump on the bus and head to the stadium. On the way the odd shirtless English fan can be spotted on the occasional bar patio. It’s not what I’d call hot out but when an English fan decides he’s on holiday, chances are at some point the shirt’s coming off.
The stadium comes into view as we make our way through the streets. The venue looks to have been designed to look like a seashell but the Canadian part of me sees a Tim Horton’s cruller.
“Don’t be an ugly tourist,” I tell myself.
Jump off the bus and pass a few locals kicking the ball about on the street next to the stadium. It’s two and a half hours before kick-off between England and Slovenia so there’s still space for a game of kick-about.
One of them is singing the first few lines of K’naan’s Waving Flag. “Give me freedom, give me fire, give me rhythm, take me higher,” incorrectly substituting ‘rhythm’ for ‘reason’.
Head to the media tent but am told by the policeman manning the gate that I have to walk all the way around the stadium to enter it from the other side, despite being a dozen metres away from the tent.
He’s apologetic but firm.
“Things change around here every day. Sometimes in this way, today not,” he says as I start off.
“Give me rhythm,” I think to myself.
It’s warm with a nice breeze but the humidity of the coastal city is starting to tell. A bit of sweat begins to soak my shirt between my back and the backpack that I’m using for my laptop and photo gear.
“Maybe the English have the right idea,” I joke to myself. Anyone who knows me would laugh at the idea of me walking around shirtless.
After the two kilometre walk, I find the entrance and am ushered in to pick up my field pass and hit the internet for an hour or so.
Head out to the pitch and join the photographers lining up for anthem photos. Spot David Beckham heading out in his vest and tie – I had forgotten he was serving as team assistant for this tournament. Grab a few frames as he makes himself comfortable on the England bench.
Game time approaches and I take my position behind the English goal. This spot was chosen with the hope of England attacking this net in the second half, perhaps needing a late winner. But once Jermaine Defoe scores in the first half at the opposite goal, I know that’s it done. This game was only going to have one goal in it, and that’s all that’s needed for England to progress. Never the less, England are through. Brilliant!
The English fans are loud throughout the game. Don’t know whether it’s because there are fewer vuvuzelas or if the English support was just bigger than the other matches I’ve been to but their chants and songs could be heard echoing around the stadium the entire match.
The English band continually coaxes the fans to join in with the playing of God Save the Queen, Rule Britannia and a fourteen minute performance of the Great Escape theme.
Following the match I grab place in the media room. I’m slowly surrounded by English photographers, who seem more interested in showing their images to one another and fishing for compliments than working.
Chuckle to myself when I think that this is not trait exclusive to English photographers.
Jump on the web and hit skype for a quick chat with my girlfriend. Afterwards, admit to myself I’m missing home, and two people in particular.
Go looking for the shuttle back from the stadium. Was told they run for four hours after any match. It’s only been three hours and there’s no sign of them. In fact I’m the only one on this particular street.
Give me rhythm.
Head back to stadium and phone a cab. Within ten minutes I’m headed back to motel.
David, the affable night clerk, welcomes me back as he sorts through the money and bookings. He asks if I’m leaving the next day. I remind him that I’m not and that we’re all sorted for the next couple days at least.
Head up to bed thinking I’m going to give myself a break over the next couple days.