About the Author: Sharon Hudson-Dean serves as the press attache at U.S. Embassy Pretoria.
Three games in three days -- it's addictive. The spirit really does sweep you up. Even Vice President Biden's granddaughter Maizy took her turn on a vuvuzela, blasting it out for the "Stars and Stripes" against England last Saturday. And what a great game that was -- our team did us proud against a very aggressive English side. When I phoned the British High Commission press officer the next morning, he just groaned and said, "I've been dreading this call..."
The atmosphere at the game was fantastic -- Americans walking around in all kinds of flag paraphernalia, including tri-cornered hats and lots of face paint. Outside, it seemed as though there were quite a few of us, but inside the stadium it felt like an English home game. The red and white supporters got there early and managed to hang big English flags all along the overhang of the top tier of seats -- the stadium was completely ringed in white flags with red crosses and the names of the big English professional teams. But, while they get five points for ambush marketing and messaging, we get 10 points for forcing a draw in the game. I'm no soccer analyst or fanatic, but it was obvious how hard and fast our boys in blue worked that game. Like our amazing win over Spain last year, this game had some excellent team moves and great goal defending. The English fans left grumbling, and the Americans were dancing.
So far this World Cup is going quite smoothly, to our great pleasure from a work focus as well as a fan angle. I was lucky to attend three games: U.S.A.-England, Netherlands-Denmark, and Ghana-Serbia. All three had tremendously upbeat, enthusiastic atmospheres, and thousands of happy fans streaming out at the end, tired but very much alive.
My favorite element of these games -- apart from watching the English goalie scramble helplessly after the ball on his hands and knees -- is the cross-cultural soccer fashion. Not even a really good American Halloween party comes close to the impact of 40,000 to 80,000 adults wearing brightly colored hats and wigs, face paint, flag capes, and matching jackets. Silly soccer clothes are a wonderful equalizer between all kinds of groups. Yesterday's Netherlands-Denmark game had some spectacularly outrageous orange outfits on display (the Dutch far outnumbered the Danish supporters), which wasn't really fair because Soccer City in Joburg has orange seats anyway, so the place was a wall of orange. At the Ghana-Serbia game, one ardent supporter even carried a Ghanaian flag-colored, ceramic cooking pot on his head -- and proceeded to start a fire in it in the stands. Although the guards didn't cause a fuss over that as far as I could see, papers reported the Nigerians were not allowed to take their green and white-colored live chickens into the game against Argentina in Johannesburg. (And as a result they lost? Hmmm.) The beleaguered spokesman of the South African Organizing Committee was forced to give a press conference on the 'no pets' rule -- now that's a press statement I would like to do.
If I could share one thing with my family and friends back home, it would be the incredible multicultural atmosphere at the Ghana-Serbia game. Held on a sunny, warm Sunday afternoon in Pretoria, the fans of mixed races and nationalities fans joined the enthusiastic Ghanaian supporters in wild cheering when the Black Stars made their penalty kick victory. Wearing red, green, and yellow graduation gowns and body paint, the crowd danced to the beat of its drums for the whole game, and we danced with them.
To view photos from the U.S. Embassy Pretoria, click here.Follow the U.S. Embassy Pretoria on Facebook and Twitter.For information on the World Cup in South Africa, visit the U.S. Mission's website.See Sharon Hudson-Dean's previous entry: Dr. Jill Biden Visits With "Kami" and South African Children.