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It's a very exciting day for us here at Virgin Atlantic as we prepare to fly the England Football Team out to South Africa for the FIFA 2010 World Cup. As the Official Airline Supplier to the England World Cup Squad, we'll be providing the team with its own plane which will carry the manager, his 23-man squad and the key support team from London to Johannesburg.
For dedicated football fans around the globe, four long years of waiting are nearly over. On Friday 11th June, South Africa's long-awaited month in the spotlight begins, as the World Cup hosts take on Mexico in the opening game of the tournament at Soccer City in Johannesburg. Located on the edge of Soweto, Africa's largest stadium has had a major makeover for the biggest event in its history (since a momentous speech from Nelson Mandela on his release from prison), with its new facade designed to represent traditional African pottery.
Regular vtravelled contributor and football fan David Whitley recently spent time travelling throughout the whole of South Africa, and among his many other adventures (more details at the end of this post) he experienced first-hand exactly how much of an impact the World Cup is having on the country and its people.
Below is his account of how a different kind of football tourism is having a positive effect on the lives of young people in the townships of Cape Town, which allows the visitor to interact with locals through a mutual love of the game.
Soccer Is My Life
David writes: "When Andile, clad in a Steven Gerrard shirt and balancing a ball on his head, says “Soccer is my life,” you believe him. “If I could, I’d play all day every day,” he says after firing the ball into the top corner of the net. He’s not lying.
It’s only when you head out into South Africa’s townships that you realize quite how much hosting the World Cup means to the people. We’re on an artificial pitch in Khayelitsha, the biggest of Cape Town’s sprawling townships, and we’re having a kickabout with street kids who are determined to make a difference.
Our opposition is the Ambitious Youth of Khayelitsha, a group of friends that has tried to make life better by organizing football tournaments. The marathon events go into the early hours, with the theory being that if people are playing football, they’re not drinking or getting themselves into trouble.
During the day, they also play against groups of tourists herded together by Coffee Beans Routes. Coffee Beans’ football tour takes a behind-the-scenes look at a South African Premier League club and bird’s eye views of the new Cape Town Stadium. But the real point is to show that there’s more to South African culture than Zulu dances in a cultural village.
The AYK’s story is inspirational – they also work with charities and Government agencies who run employment, health and education workshops alongside the tournaments – and the enthusiasm is infectious. Whenever Andile and co aren’t playing football, they’re talking about it, and they’ll happily expound on their theories about what makes a great player until the early hours.
The football tourism experience in South Africa’s other big coastal city, Durban, is a little different. The new Moses Mabhida World Cup stadium is a giant adventure playground. The stadium tour is interesting, but the real fun comes once you start conquering the 106m arch above the pitch. The choice is yours: go up in a funicular ‘Skycar’, take on the 550 step ‘Adventure Walk’ or – at the more extreme end of the scale – brave a bungee swing from the top."
But It's Not All About Football
England fans will have to wait until the second day of the tournament for the team's first game against the USA in Rustenberg, and nearly a whole week until their second outing against Algeria in Cape Town. However, if you're lucky enough to be heading off to the Rainbow Nation, and you're a lover of travel as much as football, you might not want to spend every second of your trip glued to a screen. It would be a crying shame to go all that way and not experience some of the other things that this truly amazing country has to offer, and if you need some serious R&R at the end of all that cheering and chanting, treat yourself to a stay in one of South Africa's many beautiful safari lodges. Check out our reviews of the Amakhosi Safari Lodge and Isandlwana Lodge, both in Kwazulu Natal, to whet your appetite.
How will you be celebrating the World Cup? Do you live in South Africa or are you heading out there for the tournament? Do you have any tips or suggestions to add to this article? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.