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Meet the luckiest fan in the world

Meet the luckiest fan in the world

While scuffles broke out at South Africa’s ticketing centres and football fans (including myself) grew irritated at yesterday’s computer ticketing collapse, leaving many empty-handed, one man sat exceedingly pretty.  (Photo: World Cup ticket winner Thulani Ngcobo)

He hadn’t needed to sleep overnight on the streets of Cape Town nor Johannesburg – where one devoted couple hired a hotel room near a Fifa centre so they could tag-team for a 20-hour marathon that eventually yielded two much-coveted tickets for the final.

Nor had he encountered an unwelcome burst of pepper spray as police took drastic action in Pretoria to control the ticketing frenzy.

For Thulani Ngcobo already had his ticket for the final, and the semis, and the two quarters: in fact, cutting to the chase, he has tickets for over half the World Cup matches – courtesy of winning a sponsor’s competition last year.

With his crown came the chance to make history for the football-daft Kaizer Chiefs fan will be attending 38 of the World Cup’s 64 matches – taking in all the groups and stadiums as he watches the equivalent of a Premier League side’s championship season in a month.

“I feel like the luckiest man in the whole world,” says the smiley asset controller, 29. “This is a dream come true for everyone. Breaking this record is going to be as easy as shooting a butterfly with an AK47!

That’s probably not as easy as it sounds: nor will be breaking the record – even if there isn’t actually one to beat since no one had previously applied to the Guinness Book of Records, who’ve since set the tally at 20 (please step forward if you’ve been to more!).

But if Thulani is to make his mark, he’ll be wary of long half-time queues for the toilet and the impending traffic gridlock because he can’t miss a minute of action. Not that he’d want to anyway. “I can’t wait to see Lionel Messi’s magic tricks. He’s the best ever! But I’m most excited about Bafana Bafana’s opener against Mexico – more than the final.”

Yet the real bonus for Thulani is not that a man who spends his own money following Chiefs home and away will be being paid for, but that he didn’t have to rely on Fifa’s ticketing system. “Before winning the competition, I tried to buy tickets online but the connection was so bad I couldn’t apply – and it was the same for many friends.”

Many believe the over-the-counter availability came too late for it meant South Africa’s traditional – i.e. less wealthy – fans would be left with the scraps. And if European sales had been on par, the 500,000 tickets available yesterday would have been far less.

A quarter of that tally was exclusively reserved for South Africans, at just $19 a ticket, and given that, why couldn’t a similar number of tickets have been set aside in each preceding phase?

“This is a learning experience and when Fifa goes to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, another developing country, one would expect them to introduce it earlier,” World Cup organiser Danny Jordaan admitted at a ticketing centre in northern Joburg.

Outside lay a scene somewhere between a park picnic and a disaster relief zone, with all the colours of the rainbow nation sitting in camping chairs, sleeping under blankets, staring vacant after long hours outside or simply chewing the cud or playing cards – with the preceding evening’s barbeque charcoals having long burnt out.

As if to underline previous purchasing difficulties, with many here having neither internet access nor a bank account, one woman had US$14,000 to splash on tickets. Many were buying for their entire families and I’ve never heard the phrase ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ so often.

South Africans have now snapped up over a million tickets, but the teams they’re supporting make for interesting reading. A survey last month found that while 81% of black South Africans will follow Bafana Bafana above any other side, that figure drops to 50% for whites. Instead, these fans are supporting Brazil first, sometimes England next – ahead of their own nation.

“If you consider that less than 10% of white South African adults support local soccer, the fact that almost 50% will support Bafana Bafana must be seen as a positive trend,” says Dave Sidenberg, whose company questioned 2,400 adults for the survey.

Meanwhile, a handful in the queues were concerned for their fellow Africans.

“The sadness is that they won’t be coming because they don’t have credit cards either. It’s the same for our lower-class citizens: most football fans are labourers, working long hours, so how can they buy a ticket without a day off? It’s not fair,” said accountant Wiseman Cele, 32. “These tickets have come too late. And since many Africans don’t have internet facilities, Fifa’s dream of bringing the World Cup to the people is not going to happen.”

Fans in Cape Town patiently queueing for World Cup tickets

Fans in Cape Town patiently queueing for World Cup tickets

That said, Fifa has created a fund of 120,000 tickets to be given to locals, including 40,000 workers who built the stadiums. And the numbers for the competing African nations are sizeable – especially when I recall the 22 Senegalese I counted at a World Cup match in South Korea.

Fifa says 9,000 tickets have been sold to Ghanaians, 6,000 apiece to Cameroonians and Ivorians while Nigerians and Algerians are taking around 5,000 – but considering that some estimate 100,000 Nigerians to be living here, the Super Eagles can certainly expect further support.

Fifa could not provide ticket sales for non-competing African nations but they’re seemingly coming in dribs and drabs, not just from across the continent but the diaspora as well.

One fan who will be impossible to miss is Congolese Dikembe Mutombo, the recently-retired NBA basketballer, who considers it a ‘gift’ to be bringing his children to an African World Cup.

“I don’t think I’ve met any African overseas who hasn’t said they’re coming to the World Cup,” says the 7ft 2in star. “Nobody wanted to be asked in 10-20 years: ‘Did you see that game? Were you home?’ In DR Congo, people are talking about driving because it’s easy to fly to Lubumbashi (in the south) and then jump on the highway through to Johannesburg.”

Now praise for governments and multi-nationals is seldom heard but Africa’s most enthusiastic football fans would be hard-pushed to follow their favourite team without them, for the overwhelming majority lack the financial independence to follow a team at a World Cup otherwise.

As seasoned Nations Cup watchers will know, the number of visiting fans is minimal but if their backers weren’t paying for them to be there, that tally could be zero: so thanks to them, Africa-based fans are coming in small numbers (45 from Uganda, 62 from Mauritius etc. etc.).

Obviously, these financial restrictions are not just an African problem. At Germany 2006, some England fans supported themselves through the cashback earned by returning empty plastic glasses after matches while despite being Colombia’s most famous fan, ‘El Cole’ spent much of the 1990 World Cup sleeping on Italian park benches (to give just two examples).

Last week, a 39-year-old Serb started trekking to South Africa. “I’m walking to South Africa, but will hitch-hike and take public transport when possible,” said Sasa Jovic, who set off draped in a Serbia flag and with just a back-pack and world map for company. “I’ll travel via Bulgaria, Turkey, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and Botswana, and hope the team gives me plenty to cheer about.”

Travelling 10,000 miles and awaiting footballing miracles are concepts Thulani shares, but that’s where the similarities end – for the Kaizer Chiefs fan’s World Cup concerns are wholly relative. Namely, the horror at having to sit, rather than stand, throughout 90 minutes.

“That’s going to annoy me!”

Piers Edwards, UK

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