World Cup #15 – Heading into injury time

The concept of time is on my mind as I stand at Rondebosch metrorail station awaiting transport to the Germany vs. Argentina quarterfinal in Cape Town.

The World Cup doesn’t offer up much in the way of a personal schedule. To be honest, days haven’t really existed since my arrival here. I don’t know what a Friday or a Saturday is anymore. The idea of a workweek is beyond me at this point, as is a weekend.

But today is the weekend, a Saturday in fact, and it seems that half of Cape Town has decided to use their time off to get themselves down to the city centre and be a part of the football in some shape or form.

I haven’t anticipated the crowd. I should have. How hard is it to look at a calendar, a newspaper or the corner of the screen on my laptop?

A few days earlier, transport to the Portugal/Spain match was quite simple. But today is different.

The trains are running less frequently and later than advertised. They are full. Not full, but full. Very full. The fullest you can get. Fuller than full.

Each train that makes a stop is unable to take on more than a handful of the couple hundred waiting hopeful passengers at a time. People lean out of the odd open door as the train pulls in and leaves for the next station. This goes on for four or five trains, an hour and 45 minutes.

“I’m not going to get my last game,” I start to think.

My concern must be very apparent because after a quick conversation with an older South African couple of English decent, who are just planning to head to the street party near the stadium, they say that they’ll make it their mission to get me on the next train.

I politely chuckle at their attempt to lighten my mood.

“It’s very sweet of them”, I think. But the dark cloud of anxiety remains over my head.

Soon another train squeals to a stop. The doors open and produce the same scene, jammed bodies and bewildered sweaty faces. This time there’s a police officer amongst them.

“There’s gotta be room,” I pointlessly say.

At first he ignores me but the sergeant’s indifference gives way to at a simple general acknowledgement when he spies my media credentials around my neck.

“C’mon in, if you think you can find room,” he shrugs with sarcasm.

But before I can answer, I find myself thrown forward – something pushing me from behind. I have to take care not to trip over the step as I’m pressed into the mass of humanity.

I’m about to swing around and push back at whoever is showing such impatience, but I quickly realize that I’m on the train. There was absolutely no room but I’m on. Making sure I have firm footing, Astonished, I look at the cop, whose face is now mere inches from mine. He smiles and nods his head in the direction behind me.

I strain my neck and see my older South African couple. He’s faux dusting off his hands in a job well done sort of way and she’s giving me a double-thumbs up. Never got their names or their photo, but I’ll always remember their smiling faces as I blurted out a short and inadequate, “cheers,” as the doors closed. Their ‘mission’ is a success.

The 20-minute ride to the Cape Town Station is surprisingly upbeat, with a metaphoric and literal, “we’re all in this together,” sort of attitude.

A young boy of about 5 years-old cries in the cramped conditions. I envy him his social standing whereby he’s allowed such freedom of expression. I’m getting to the point where I might start weeping as I’m worried the delay in transport has meant my pitch ticket has been handed out to someone on the waitlist.

Upon pulling into the central station, I dart off through the slowly moving crowd, dodging and weaving – confident I can make up the time.

But it quickly becomes apparent that in the end it doesn’t matter how adept I am at cutting through crowds. Frustratingly, every route through the masses that opens up, is quickly filled by more people.

A walk to the stadium that took 25 minutes earlier in the week takes an hour and a half today thanks to the street festivities. It’s a fool’s game.

“Damn you Saturday.”

Eventually make it to the stadium and find, to no surprise, that the pitch ticket has been given away. The media centre volunteers aren’t quite able to contain their laughter at the sight of a breathless, bewildered, sweat-soaked photographer, as they deliver the sad news.

I have benefited from being on the waitlist at other games so shouldn’t be too dejected but it’s a bitter pill to swallow – this being my final match.

They do however have a couple tribune tickets reserved for seats way up in the stadium. I accept their offer and head up to the seat and plug my laptop in.

Send off a few e-mails to various people, expressing my initial disappointment, only to send follow up messages asking the recipients to ignore the previous notes when some perspective hits me and I realize I’m at a World Cup quarterfinal between Argentina and Germany.

“Stop your whining!”

Germany gets off to blistering start and never look back. By the time the referee blows the final whistle they’ve put four goals past the virtually nonexistent Argentine defense. I reluctantly admit my elevated perch, in the second tier of the stadium, has given me the perfect vantage point from which to witness the decisiveness of the German attack and the embarrassing gaps in the South Americans’ defense; Argentina looking very much a team with a coach with no previous managerial experience.

Spend much of the match just sitting in ‘photographers row’, next to lenses that dwarf mine, just taking in the occasion. I raise the camera to my eye on the odd moment when it might be worth it, but I’m not really going to get anything amazing from up here. Not from this distance and with the equipment I have.

Grab a few frames of Diego Maradona as he mopes around his technical area.

He’s Argentina’s manager and, for the uninitiated, is one of the football’s most famous/infamous characters.

His body language exhibits the image of a man who’s run out of ideas and he only really gets animated when calling for a German to be booked.

When time’s up and the hands are shaken and his team has left the field he offers up a little post-match Maradona moment, choosing to exchange words with a couple euphoric German fans as team officials and family try and restrain him.

I turn to the Japanese news wire photographer next to me and we share a laugh at what we’re seeing.

I wouldn’t have seen this had I been on the pitch.

El Diego then heads out of sight, down the players tunnel when I realize that that’s it. Both of us have attended our last match of World Cup South Africa 2010.

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