World Cup: US vs England – The Martians Have Landed

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One of the lasting images of the first World Cup in Africa has to be the sight of 500 England fans turning a tin-roof township shack into a pub outside the stadium in Phokeng where their team plays the US in exactly an hour. Of all the tournament venues, Phokeng – a village at the foot of the Magaliesberg mountains in northwest South Africa – is perhaps the most unlikely. The audacious story of how the Bafokeng, the tribe of 150,000 that live in and around Phokeng, came to host two of the most powerful nations on earth at the world’s biggest sporting event is here

This afternoon, as promised, 44,000 England and US fans invaded Phokeng, for the first of four matches to be played there during the tournament. It was hard to say who was more shocked. The Brits and Americans, who found themselves stepping off their buses into a dusty African village. Or the Bafokeng, who found themselves confronting tens of thousands of men in giant flags and flourescent wigs asking if there was any beer and where they could take a pee. After some initial hesitation – “I won’t be taking a left there,” declared one American, peering down a dark, empty alley – this meeting of worlds went surprisingly well. Sensing the new arrivals had cash and wanted to spend, at least ten Bafokeng houses, several shebeens and a place called the “Orphans Tuck Shop” promptly turned themselves over to the fans, selling them quarts of beer and setting up giant braais (barbecues) of boerwors sausage on their front lawns. The fans lapped it up. Within minutes Phokeng was doing a decent impression of any pre-match fan gathering in Europe.

It’s hard to think of another reason why 44,000 Westerners might decide to drop in on a small African village. I guess that’s just another example of why – and in this World Cup more than any other – soccer is more than just a game.