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Gary Benham

Head of Communications, Pretoria

1446 days to go – estrada para o Rio (road to Rio?)

Posted 28 June 2010 by Gary Benham  

So that’s it, England have crashed out of the first African World Cup at the Round of 16 stage.  The game in Bloemfontein was rather disappointing but included, as predicted yesterday, a rather controversial decision that has captured global headlines.

When I started the World Cup countdown blogs in August 2009 my goal was to run up to the end of England’s participation.  I was hoping that this would take me to the final in July but here we are.  I’ve promised not to use any lines from the commentary of the famous 1966 final but this will be the last blog that I post.

For the last 10 months I have tried to cover topics that highlight the various and diverse strands of work that our High Commission is engaged in.  Along the way I have referred to the extensive planning and communications programmes that we hoped would help travelling football fans maximise their stays in South Africa.  The High Commission has worked closely with a range of stakeholders including the Football Supporters Federation, the Home Office, the Football Policing Unit and the FA. 

At the same time part of my “day job” was to monitor the coverage that the UK received in the South African press and try to balance negative reporting of South Africa in the UK media.  South Africans, like many other nationalities, have (or at least had) a tendency to regard English football fans as hooligans. 

Since the tournament started I have made this more of a World Cup diary as I’ve travelled the country as part of the High Commission’s mobile consular team.  Our goal was to support those fans that came here.  Estimates have varied but it is fair to say that tens of thousands made the trip and from what I’ve witnessed the vast majority have had a great time.  They’ll have fond memories of their time here (until last night of course).

I am, in case you haven’t noticed, building up to the key message of this blog.  The fact is it’s about the fans.  I’ve been watching football as a fan for decades (although some might question my use of the word “football” as a Southampton Fan).  Over this time it has been fair to say that English fans have had their problems both perceived and actual.  The reputation that they had here might have been well deserved in the past but these days it’s exactly that - a thing of the past.

I saw the fans at the Waterfall Mall in Rustenburg, at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, at the Boardwalk in Port Elizabeth and, last night, at the lakeside in Bloemfontein.  They have proudly displayed their flags and have sung their songs with passion.  In Port Elizabeth the rendition of our national anthem was incredibly moving.  What they have not done, at any stage, is caused trouble.  They have made many, many friends in South Africa; not least a local journalist friend of mine who managed to get a ticket for yesterday’s game because she wanted to sing with them.

They came in fancy dress, they painted their faces, and they sang their songs (including a new one about the now infamous vuvuzela – you heard about that first on these pages).  The local Times newspaper ran a headline this morning which said simply – “Peace Breaks Out”.  It was referring to the fantastic atmosphere between German and English fans in the build up to yesterday’s game.

I will leave the last words in my series of blogs to Assistant Chief Constable Andy Holt, the Association of Chief Police Officer’s football lead, who said:

“This World Cup should be remembered for the one where there were no arrests of England fans for football related violence. The fans here have behaved exemplary and have acted as ambassadors for England”.

I cannot add to that - what a great bunch of fans, you did us proud. 

My thanks to everyone that has taken the time to read these blog posts.  See you in Brazil?

They think it’s all over ..............................................



Gary Benham
28 June 2010
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Day 17 - its just a game, isn't it?

Posted 27 June 2010 by Gary Benham  

Today is the day!

In an unusual twist to historical battle references Carlos Amato in the South African Sunday Times calls this afternoon's round of 16 clash between Germany and England "Capello's Waterloo".  In his article Carlos likens the English coach to General Alcazar of the Tintin cartoon series, although I'm not sure about this comparison. 

What is certain is that there has been and will be a huge amount of media coverage on the game.  Its peaked interest both in Europe and in South Africa.  With so many "big guns" firing blanks in the tournament so far an English win could be the start of a run to the later stages, but before we start thinking about that there is the small matter of the game itself.

What can we expect?

Well the obvious historical references have been peppering the tabloid reports for the last few days.  We should expect a tough, gritty game in which chances to score might be few.  We should expect the odd questionable referring decision - or at least the accusation of a dodgy referring decision from TV pundits.  There might be some reference to Gazza's tears of 1990 or of Stuart Pearce's missed penalty in the same year - he is now an England coach by the way.

Most of the papers (UK and SA) seem to be predicting a penalty shoot out.  I hope not.  I really am getting too old for all of that stress.

But what I do know is that if England are victorious then our mobile team will be heading off to Cape Town for the Quarter Final. If the English are defeated it will be back to my desk on Tuesday and to an "inbox" that is, in itself, as scary as the thought of any high pressure football match.

Good Luck England!



Gary Benham
27 June 2010
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Day 16 - Bloem

Posted 26 June 2010 by Gary Benham  

Bloemfontein is Dutch for "spring of Bloem (bloom)", "flower spring" or "fountain of flowers". It is the capital city of the Free State Province of South Africa.  Bloem, as it is often called, is popularly and poetically known as "the city of roses", owing to the abundance of these flowers and the annual rose festival held there. The city's Sesotho name is Mangaung, meaning "place of cheetahs". 

Bloem is about 5 hours drive from Pretoria, which is how I have spent most of today.  England will take on Germany here at 4pm local time tomorrow.  So much is at stake, its always difficult to read how these games will go.  As we have walked around the shopping malls here this evening it is clear that German and English fans have already started to arrive.  The first thing that they'll notice is how cold it is. We got out of our car to a proper winter's evening.

I hope that the fans wrap up warm and that the football is exciting enough to keep their minds off the chill.



Gary Benham
26 June 2010
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Day 15 - End of the group phase

Posted 25 June 2010 by Gary Benham  

The group stages of World Cup 2010 come to an end this evening with Chile vs Spain in Pretoria and Switzerland vs Honduras in Bloemfontein.  Later this evening we'll know the full line up for the first knock out round.

We already know, of course, that England will play Germany on Sunday.  It does not matter where in the world this fixture takes place it will always attract massive interest.  The British tabloids tend to take a very obvious focus, we've already seen some rather predictable headlines.

It promises to be a full house on Sunday, the atmosphere will be electric.  I'll be heading Bloemfontein as part of the High Commission's mobile consular team tomorrow.  This means that tonight, for the first time in a long time, I'll spend the night in my own bed, but not before I've been to watch the Chile / Spain game.

Some time ago I, like millions of others, entered the lottery for World Cup tickets.  The three that I have for tonight were all that I was able to get.  As a South African resident I was able to buy category 4 tickets which cost R140 each, which is a little over £10. 

My first posting with the FCO was to Santiago, indeed our son Luke was born there.  A small part of me wants to shout "Vamos Chile" but a win for the Chileans would knock Spain out.  It promises to be a great game, with so much at stake I am hoping to get great value for money!



Gary Benham
25 June 2010
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Day 14 - iSpy

Posted 24 June 2010 by Gary Benham  

The end of the group stage for England last night means that the High Commission's mobile team (Jo Bowyer and me) is on its way back to Pretoria.  this evening we've stopped in Colsberg having driven for about 6 hours from Port Elizabeth.

This is a distance of about 650Kms and if I'm honest there is not a huge amount to see or do on the very long, very straight roads.  As per British tradition Jo and I decided to play a little iSpy.  The "subjects" that we used give a great snap shot of South Africa.  So I spy with my little eye something beginning with ......

A.

Anthills - ok more accuately termite mounds but they litter the countryside in varying sizes, some as big as small trees.#;
Air strips - we're in remote country grass strips are common.

B.

Biltong stands - for those that have not visited South Africa biltong is a national delicacy.  To some its the local equivilent of parma ham, to others it is edible shoe leather.

C.

Cactus - not unique to Mexico.
Can Can- Jo's very annoying ring tone!
Cattle - of varying types in huge open paddocks.

D.

Dairy - saw a few of these, probably linked to the cattle thing above.

E. 

Elephant parks - big parks with elephants in them, enough said.

F.

Farms - pretty much the only dwellings we saw for hundreds of miles.

G.

Goats - along with sheep and cattle almost always present.
Golf Course - at least two!

H.

Humps (speed) - in front of traffic lights in Port Elizabeth.  Surely the lights control speed?

I.

Irrigation - without it there would not be as much "green".

J.

Jaywalkers - we drove through nothingness for miles and miles and yet every few yards there was someone walking along the side of the road. Where they were going or where they had come from is a mystery.

K.

Kniphofia Uvaria - the Red Hot Poker plants that line the roads here.

L.

Lorra lorra lorries - road trains, suppling South Africa.

M.

Monkeys - lining the roads;
Memorials - lonely and forgotten.

N.

Nothingness - there was lots of it.

O.

Ostriches - as common as cattle.

P.

Petrol Stations - few and far between, we were on vapours at one point;
Picnic areas - frequent but basic.

Q.

Queues - at the roadworks, lengthy delays.

R.

Road works - long stretches of one way traffic;
Road Kill - sadly too common, probably monkeys;
Road sweeper - my personal favourite.  Miles from anywhere a bloke, a broom and hundreds of miles of roads - why?
Rhinos - we didn't see any!

S.

Secretary Birds - like in Lion King!

T.

Trains - saw two, not common.

U.

Urban areas - became less frequent and smaller the further we drove.

V.

Vistas / views - stunning, simply stunning.

W.

Wind Turbines - not enough given that we were near the "windy city";
Windmills - the prairie kind of American Mid West fame.

X.

X - Roads - sorry nothing else.

Y.

Yellow lining - the courteous practice adopted by drivers to cross the (hard shoulder) yellow line to let faster vehicles pass.

Z.

Zebras - see Rhinos
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz - very tiring.  Good night!



Gary Benham
24 June 2010
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Day 13 - Lucky for some

Posted 23 June 2010 by Gary Benham  

As a football fan I suffer the double whammy of supporting England and Southampton.  For the former I have sat through countless penalty shoot outs that have seen cross bars hit and targets missed.  For the latter I have seen three nil half time leads become five three defeats 45 minutes later.  Furthermore I am not a "good supporter", I get very nervous.

Being in Port Elizabeth tonight was not good for my health.  What I would have given for a straight forward win, leading four nil at half time perhaps?

Today was always going to be a nervous type of day but we'd arrived in PE yesterday.

It’s a very pretty city, South Africa's second oldest.  It’s often referred to as the "windy city" but this morning fans were gathering along the beach in preparation for the big match to come later.  Beautiful blue skies and a balmy winter high of 21 degrees set the scene for a classic World Cup game. It would take place at the striking Nelson Mandela Bay stadium which, incidentally, was the first of South Africa's new stadiums (or is it stadia?) to be finished.

Nothing but a draw would realistically seal progression to the knock out stages for England.  Jermaine Defoe got us off on the right foot with a goal in the first half.  England continued to build pressure and kept attacking the Slovenian goal.  There were, it must be said, some moments where my heart was in my mouth but at the final whistle England had held strong for a solid 1 - 0 victory.  Then news reached us that the USA had scored a goal in the 91st minute of their game against Algeria in Pretoria.  This means that England were through but as runners up in the group.

So now it’s off to Bloemfontein where England will play Germany on Sunday.  I'm sure that the UK tabloids will have a field day with their headlines on that one. It’s a classic tie with a huge amount of history. In recent clashes the English have done well but in tournament play we've struggled.  Perhaps we could use a South Africa expression for the next game, and the rest of the event - KE NAKO - it means "its our time".  We'll see.

I have to leave the last words for the English fans that were at the match tonight.  The vuvuzelas were NO match for the chanting and singing that reverberated around this very impressive new stadium.  When, in the second half, the fans broke into spontaneous renditions of "Rule Britannia" and "God Save the Queen" the South Africans around me stood and applauded.  It brought me out in goose bumps!

Bloemfontein - our next stop where, with a bit of luck, the dream will continue.



Gary Benham
23 June 2010
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Day 12 - End of the road

Posted 22 June 2010 by Gary Benham  

The World Cup has reached the point that it starts to say good bye to some of the 32 participating nations.

This afternoon a thrilling game between South Africa and France saw the hosts running out 2 - 1 winners, but sadly this was not enough so both teams are out of the tournament.  This means that Uruguay and Mexico will pass in to the Round of 16 where they will be joined by Argentina and the Republic of Korea.

It will be interesting to see how South Africa's exit will affect the local interest in the rest of the event.

What we do know is that tomorrow all eyes will turn to England's group.  The High Commission's mobile team is in Port Elizabeth, the city that will host the English game against Slovenia.  Only a win will do for the English, we're "holding thumbs" that the team are able to do enough to progress to the next round. 



Gary Benham
22 June 2010
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Day 11 - Take the weather with you?

Posted 21 June 2010 by Gary Benham  

We made a point of mentioning the South African weather in our "Be on the Ball" campaign.  Local commentators found it quite ironic that we were doing so, given the infamous British climate.

In Cape Town today it was like a classic British winter's day, wet and cold.  Tomorrow the High Commission's mobile team sets off for Port Elizabeth to prepare for England's next game on Wednesday.  We hope that the weather will improve as it will make the drive an even longer and tiring one that we already face.

I'm told that the team from the Football Supporters Federation will also be driving to "PE" tomorrow but when THEY get there they will be camping.  Now that is a brave decision as it is sure to be very chilly during the night.  I hope that they all have decent sleeping bags!



Gary Benham
21 June 2010
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Day 10 - Stereotype?

Posted 20 June 2010 by Gary Benham  

He's come forward and admitted the conversation.

On TV, on the web and in some of the later editions of the Sunday press an English fan from South East London recalls the conversation that he had with Davd Beckham after the game on Friday evening.  It was, both parties seem to agree, a short conversation without any physical contact.

Initially the press reported a "scuffle", but this is nothing new.  My Americans colleagues here kept asking me how many English "hooligans" we were expecting for WC2010.  It got tedious but I corrected them to use the expression "fans". 

The South African press is reporting that the English are making up the largest single contingent of fans here and it would appear that they are being made very welcome.  South Africa is hoping that they'll be sticking around for a few weeks yet.

On Friday morning our mobile team was joined at our breakfast table by a English fan that had built his own World Cup itinerary.  He'd just arrived in South Africa having decided not to go to Rustenburg for the first England game.  During breakfast he was asking the manager of our Guest House for things to do in Cape Town.

It will surprise pretty much all of you to hear that his priority for Friday (other than the game of course) was to visit the rather stunning botanical gardens at Kirstenbosch!



Gary Benham
20 June 2010
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Day 9 - Royal Command Performance?

Posted 19 June 2010 by Gary Benham  

Unless you've spent the last 24 hours on Mars you'll be aware that England played their second game of WC2010 last night.

The match, against Algeria, took place in Cape Town.  Throughout the day thousands of English fans made merry on the V&A Waterfront before making their way to the new and incredibly impressive Cape Town Stadium.

I'm not football pundit so I'll not go into detail about the match itself.  But press reports today are focused on four main issues:

  • The quality of the English performance;
  • The comments made to camera following the crowd reaction to the above;
  • The presence of not one but two Royal fans; and
  • An unexpected visitor to the English locker room.

 

The Royal visitors left Cape Town earlier today and attended an FA reception in Jo'Burg.  There they were joined by (among others) David Beckham and London's Mayor (and Birthday Boy) Boris Johnson.

I had helped arranged for some of the local media companies to join a bigger pool of British press.  Questions on last night's game and  associated events were handled professionally by the Princes and Mr Beckham who explained that he had had a "frank and personal" conversation with an English fan who had been able to make his way to the dressing rooms after the match.

The World Cup has continued today with games for Cameroon, Denmark, Australia, Japan, Holland and Ghana.  What I am beginning to realise is that there is little "down" time during these type of events.  And with about 1 in  3 English fans that I saw yesterday clutching vuvuzelas perhaps the little plastic horn will be coming to a stadium near you soon. 



Gary Benham
19 June 2010
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Day 8 - how much?

Posted 18 June 2010 by Gary Benham  

I'm in Cape Town as part of the High Commission's mobile team that aims to offer consular support to the thousands of English fans that are here for the Algeria match tonight.

Since I've been in South Africa I've been aware that there tends to be a slight price inflation between Cape Town and the rest of the country.  In the run up to the World Cup many suggested that local vendors would increase prices to take advantage of the (perceived) wealthy visitors.

This might be the case in some instances, I've certainly heard anecdotal stories about the price of beer going up in the more popular bars and I'm sure that similar situations develop in the margins of other large scale events like music festivals, motor shows and Wimbledon. 

But in general I have been impressed with the way that prices here have remained reasonable.  For example - my colleagues and I stopped for a coffee yesterday afternoon at a branch of a national chain of coffee shops.  This store has an ocean view in the very trendy V&A Mall in Cape Town.  A (bottomless) mug of house blend coffee cost about £1.20.  Many fans have chosen to hire cars and drive around the country, for them a litre of unleaded fuel is about 75p.

South Africa continues to impress with its hosting of WC2010 and the fans that I've talked to are enjoying their African adventure.  The hope is that many will make SA their new favourite holiday destination.



Gary Benham
18 June 2010
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Day 7 - vuvuzela, the debate continues

Posted 17 June 2010 by Gary Benham  

One week in.  All teams have played their first round matches.  The Argentineans have looked impressive in their destruction of the Korean Republic earlier today.

Sadly the South African campaign took a major hit last night with their three nil defeat by Uruguay.  That game was played at the (usually rugby) fortress of Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.  I was watching on TV from overnight camp at Beaufort West and from where I sat the drone of the vuvuzelas sounded somewhat mute.  Indeed the stadium went very quiet after the second Uruguayan goal.

Regular readers might remember that I posted a blog on the great vuvuzela debate some time ago. I referred to the plastic horn as "football marmite" - you either love it or you hate it.  The English fans have not taken to it and I have been keeping abreast of the debate that is ongoing in the UK media.  Reports here suggest that the Local Organising Committee is still open to the idea of banning the vuvuzela if the weight of opinion goes against it.

The South African defeat last night might see them making an early exit from the tournament.  This MIGHT see the demise of the vuvuzela in WC 2010.

Kevin Miles of the Football Supporters Federation told me:

"If South Africa were to make an early exit the sadness of their departure would be tempered by the prospect of a reduction in the number of vuvuzelas at future games".

Another local commentator has suggested that when the European seasons kick start in August the terraces will have been infiltrated by the small plastic horn that was first created in Cape Town in 2001. 

We'll see.



Gary Benham
17 June 2010
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Day 6 - Hit the road

Posted 16 June 2010 by Gary Benham  

I am getting used to very early starts. Today World Cup Liaison Officer, Jo Bowyer, and I set off from Pretoria at 5am on a road trip heading, ultimately, for Cape Town.

Its now 530pm and we've just arrived in Beaufort West, our overnight stop. Another early start tomorrow will see us drive the last 500kms into the "Mother City".

This serves to highlight how huge this country is. Our drive today has reinforced the messages that we've used in our Be on the Ball Campaign about travelling by road. Whilst I was at the wheel I think that I might have been flashed by a speed camera and we were subject to long delays by roads works. But we've arrived at our overnight stop safe and well (and just in time to see Switzerland’s shock win over Spain).

Between Pretoria and Beaufort West there is not a huge amount to see, although as we got further south there were traces of recent snow fall, a timely reminder that this is a winter World Cup.

Jo and I will need to get our heads down early again this evening, but not before South Africa take on Uruguay in their second game at Loftus in Pretoria. If South Africa win they'll be looking good for a place in the second phase. To say the country is excited is an understatement.



Gary Benham
16 June 2010
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Day 5 - In Camp

Posted 15 June 2010 by Gary Benham  

Day 5 has seen the arrival of Portugal and the Ivory Coast in a great game in Port Elizabeth.  Brazil are about to kick off so its just Group H to go tomorrow, then all of the contenders will have started thier campaigns.

But the evening game tomorrow is South Africa's second group match against Uruguay.  Everone seems to be enjoying the show that South Africa is putting on.

I think that its worth sparing a thought for the 736 players that are here but holed up in their various training camps.  Of course these camps are very nice, but have you ever thought how the players spend their days?  I asked Matthew Booth (Bafana Bafana and Mamelodi Sundowns centre half) for a typical "day in the life of" a SA World Cup Player .............

  

Get rudely woken up by our security detail...media duties! Our sacred meeting room is swamped by local and foreign media. Four pre-allocated players get to answer the press about various issues surrounding the World Cup. My chance...and they can't resist asking the 'question'..."How does it feel to be the only 'white' player in the team?"....zzz...zzz. Will colour always be an issue in our country?
 
With that over it's lunch at 12h30...no matter what the chef does these days (after 3 months of being in training camp) I miss home-cooked meals desperately.
 
After lunch it's on the the net to write my article for The Star, Hotmail, Facebook and to keep my site (www.matthewbooth.co.za) updated. The amount of time the lads spend on the net is quite considerable.
 
A quick massage in the medical room is sometimes needed before training...the room is constantly stocked with coffee, fruit, energy bars and drinks. And therefore is a busy hub in the hotel corridor.
 
We are taken to training in our newly acquired FIFA Hyundai bus...in front and @ the back are numerous police cars...marked and un-marked. I often feel sorry for the motorists who are shunted out the way. They usually don't mind and often stop to get out of their cars to shout encouragement and wave at the team...
 
Training normally takes 1 - 2 hrs of our time depending on how close we are to match-day. The training facility now looks like Fort Knox. Often after the session we are dragged to the nearest gym for the dreaded ice-baths to rejuvenate any tired legs.
 
After dinner we sometimes have a tactical meeting, motivational talk or the dietician may pay us a visit. The motivational speaker is Robin Banks who keeps us entertained and concentrated for 2hrs...a fantastic achievement with a group of footballers. The lesson is usually about our 'mind control' and 'positive thought'.
 
Back on the net, a bit of telly to catch up on the latest World Cup news, then off to sleep by 23h00...
 
I wish Matthew and the South African team the very best of luck, the whole country is behind them.


Gary Benham
15 June 2010
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Day 4 - African winners

Posted 14 June 2010 by Gary Benham  

Four days in and I'm back in the office trying to catch up on emails before Jo and I take the second leg of our mobile team to Cape Town.  We leave early (omigoshearly) on Wednesday.  We're going by car so it’s a two day trip,  have I mentioned that this country is five times larger than the UK?

 

Anyway, Ghana secured the first African win in WC2010 by beating Serbia 1-0 yesterday.  Much has been made, rightly so, about the fact that this is the first African World Cup.  Anyone at Loftus yesterday will tell you how much colour and energy the Ghanaian fans brought to the game.

 

Back in 2004 the job that my buddy Jo is doing here was done by another friend of mine, Gary Fisher.  That was the Euro Championships of Portugal with Gary being based in Lisbon.  These days Gary (F) works in our Chevening Scholarship team in London.  

 

There are quite a few South African Chevening Scholars in the UK at the moment.  Gary asked them for their opinions of this historic World Cup.  Read their thoughts by clicking here.   



Gary Benham
14 June 2010
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A blog about the preparations for the football world cup in South Africa, and the role of the British High Commission in Pretoria.

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