15 June 2010
Every four years, fans from around the world travel to the moving mecca of football, Fifa World Cup tournament. Some simply travel down the road, some from a neighbouring city – while others traverse the globe to see their team take part in the world’s biggest sporting event.
On Sunday, 38 833 people congregated at Loftus Versveld stadium in Tshwane/Pretoria to watch Ghana and Serbia play in the host city’s opening match.
Waiting patiently for the Metrorail train from Johannesburg’s Park Station (the main transport hub in the CBD) to the Loftus Stadium was Maxwell Valenkamp.
“I heard that the train from Joburg to Pretoria was free on match days,” said Valenkamp. “A Brazilian at my backpackers told me, so I came. I really wasn’t expecting it to be this easy.”
Valenkamp is a Dutch national whose mother is Ghanaian. “I really decided to get behind this the first African World Cup, if it was in Holland I wouldn’t get as involved – this is special for me.”
As the train rolled out of Park Station, there were fans clad in every form of attire: Serbian flags draped over Bafana Bafana jerseys, Ghanaian flags painted on local faces – and everyone blowing their vuvuzelas.
‘There is a sense of brotherhood’
“South Africa is doing very well, totally contrary to the image that is often held in the foreign press,” said Valenkamp. “There is no tension, everybody is relaxed. I love it. The atmosphere before the match, everybody is friendly and the vibe is great. There is a sense of brotherhood.”
The people aboard the train were not your everyday commuters, but rather the mixture you would expect from a World Cup crowd. “This tournament has brought people together,” said Valenkamp. “Like on this train, supporting Bafana. Supporting Africa and supporting the World Cup. I think this tournament will open a few eyes, it has broken borders and stereotypes.”
Trains hold a special place in the national psyche of the South African people. The famous local anthem Shosholoza, which is synonymous with football in the country, depicts a steam train moving through the land.
During apartheid, trains represented the breaking apart of people as they carried workers away from their families and communities. This train and its commuters showed how far the nation has come.
‘Through this we learn a lot’
“I have found moments like this really great,” said Valenkamp. “You get asked interesting questions, people want to know where you are from, and through this we learn a lot. You get to know people, their history, sharing stories, learning about their cultures.”
The first Fifa World Cup in Africa means much to Valenkamp, whose roots are firmly established in the continent. “I was in Cape Town for the France vs Uruguay game, and the crowd gave standing ovations for players from African backgrounds. I was amazed by that. This is definitely the ‘Rainbow Nation’, in fact you could call this the ‘Rainbow World Cup’. It has that feel to it.”
Valenkamp has spent much of his life in Ghana’s main city, Accra, visiting his family, and perhaps a bigger Black Star supporter than himself is his mother. “She can’t watch,” laughs Valenkamp. “It’s bad for her heart. She is so happy I am here watching Ghana live.”
‘A confidence legacy’
As the train moved past massive rail upgrades, construction sites and new stations, Valenkamp pointed out the legacy of a massive event like the Fifa World Cup.
“It is cool to see this much improvement, but more than the infrastructure is a confidence legacy. For young people around the continent, this says something about Africa. We can be optimistic, we can make things happen, it gives people hope.”
Valenkamp made his way from the station to the stadium. After an action-packed match he was rewarded with a Black Stars victory.
“It is hard to describe what I am feeling right now,” he said. “I am so full of joy and happiness. The travel was worth it. It built the vibe. This sort of thing brings you closer.
“You meet people, and that is what makes the memories, all these South Africans supporting my team, making it a home match, just amazing. This is the World Cup spirit.”