Witnessing the biggest game of football

 Being at the centre of the World.

I remember listening to the Baddiel and Skinner podcast from 2006 when they’d described being at the final of the World Cup as feeling like “you were at the centre of the world.” On July 12th 2010 I understood what they meant.

My ticket for the World Cup Final

Having organised tickets for every game bar the final, it was inevitable that getting in was always going to be touch and go. Four hours before the game tickets weren’t shifting at less than £800 each on the black market – too much in our opinion. We returned two hours later to the ticketing centre which had become the ticketing market place for the day. A young English guy who if he wasn’t one himself, was doing a remarkable impression of a archetypal ‘chav’ had a category four ticket, one reserved only for South Africans. £300 later I had a ticket and soon purchased another higher category ticket for my dad at face value and we were on our way to the World Cup final.

In fact paying for that other ticket for my dad was in hindsight one of the most bizarre moments of the whole trip. The cash machines were only giving out 20 rand notes (slightly less than £2) having been ransacked all day by ticket buyers and the face value was $900 (yes, a disgusting amount of money). It what could easily have looked like a drugs deal given the huge wad of cash that was exchanged, I handed over more than 150 different notes for the ticket.

With my dad outside Mandela's house in Soweto.

Mandela, despite being unwell had battled to make an appearance at the final in the hour before the game, supposedly under some pressure from Fifa eager for his image to be connected to the final. I can’t deny being slightly disappointed to not see the former leader in person due to how late we were. The trips to the apartheid museum, Mandela’s house in Soweto and Robben Island had made me fully realise the importance of his role far beyond my previous grasp of South African history.

His impact was noticeable at the football. Nowhere else in the world have I seen such a diverse audience mix at a football match – from a personal point of view, noticing religious Jews wearing skullcaps was particularly interesting; it’s something I can only recall seeing once in England.

My attentions turned from the disappointment of missing Mandela to whether or not our tickets were real. I was mildly optimistic about mine but less sure about my dad’s – after all getting rid of a World Cup Final ticket at face value isn’t exactly a normal transaction to conduct. I remembered the stories I heard when in Paris, venue for the 2006 Champions League Final of people paying upwards of £1,000 only to find their tickets were fakes upon trying to enter.

Soccer City, viewed from the outside on the day of the World Cup Final.

Thankfully we had no such problems – though this will do little to make me less suspicious of ‘chavs’. From the outside, the stadium looks magnificent, a beautiful African design to be proud of. Walking inside to my seat I looked down at my ticket again to see it said ‘FIFA World Cup Organising Committee’ for who the ticket had been issued to. I was pretty much the only person within 10 metres of me not in a suit and stood out like a sore thumb. I didn’t care – this was the World Cup Final and I had a birds eye view from the front of the top tier.

Maybe it was the excitement of being there, but at the time the game was nowhere near as bad as friends watching on TV would later tell me. In fairness it certainly wasn’t pretty and as it drew to a close I can’t help but admit part of me was hoping for penalties. In hindsight the football purist within me was glad for an ending that didn’t involve the lottery of penalties. Spain had been my team of preference during the tournament having tipped them at the start (like everyone else to be fair).

The teams line up for the World Cup final. Image is my copyright.

Having first gone to a professional football match on Boxing Day 1992 (Barnet 5-4 Torquay), 18 years later I had witnessed the biggest game of all. The game where one billion people gather around their TV sets to see who will rein the football world for the next four years. Having seen Arsenal lose to Barcelona in the biggest game of club football in May 2006 it was an equal privilege to witness the biggest game of national football at South Africa 2010. I hope it’s not the last time for either.

Perhaps the most memorable moments of all surround the trophy. It’s only a foot or so high, but it’s the glint of seeing it being lifted will live with me forever. It is the most iconic image in world football, the stuff that every young boy interested in football will dream of, yet only 23 men will get to lift it every four years. Whilst we’d all rather be the people on the pitch, being in the crowd at the World Cup Final was the ultimate second option.

Spain celebrate their World Cup success. Image is copyrighted and not to be reproduced!

This was our view of the celebrations after the game

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