People have said there hasn’t been much demand for tickets in South Africa, but no one seems to have told Patrick. For the last two months he has been sleeping outside the Maponya Mall in Soweto. He wakes at 4 o’clock in the morning, to stand alone in front of the Mall’s doors. By the time they open at 9 o’clock a long queue has formed for the Fifa ticket centre, but Patrick is always first in line. He can only afford Category 4 tickets, which cost R140 (about £12). We asked him about tickets for the England-USA game. ‘England tickets are like gold,’ he said. Even in Category 1 (which cost £110)? Even in Category 1. ‘I will try to find tickets for you, but there is no chance it will be successful.’
It wasn’t. Then Simon, who works for the BBC, got a phone call from an English colleague who works in South Africa. The guy said he had four extra tickets for the game and was willing to sell them to us ‘for top dollars’. This was both exciting and a bit worrying – until an abrupt text message shattered our hopes (though at least we hadn’t had to pay top dollar). We’d already made inquiries of local bookmakers, farmers, bankers, waitresses, football supporters, a soap-opera star, two people whose names we prefaced with the title ‘racist’ in our mobiles, and three different men called Billy, all to no avail. We decided to go directly to the Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenberg and try our chances there.
As we were parking, Bobby Charlton climbed out of the car next to us. We hurried to take a photo: this had to be a good omen. Sure enough, among the American fans dressed as Abraham Lincoln and a group of Englishmen carrying a banner that said ‘Welcome to Scouse Africa’, we found two Liverpudlian touts who offered us tickets in Category 1. They were only asking the face value of £110, however. This seemed a bit suspicious: were the tickets genuine? Apparently they were corporate tickets, dished out for free, which had somehow made their way into the pockets of the touts. We went for it. Two of the tickets had been meant for McDonald’s, the other two for the Football Federation of Azerbaijan: all four got us into the stadium.
At the end of the 90 minutes I found myself wondering if it had been worth it. My phlegmatic English friends were much less disappointed than I was, however. They’ve been through it all too many times before. And rethinking the whole experience now, I’m not sure I’d be ready to promise not to go through it all again.