It should have long been obvious but is now beyond doubt: the South African vuvuzela needs to be banned. Stupidly, in the run-up to the Cup the local authorities and media celebrated it as an authentically patriotic piece of equipment although doctors long ago testified that to have one blown next to you throughout a football game would leave you with permanent hearing damage. The noise is considerably louder than a chainsaw and not much more melodious and it is seriously bad for the game as well as the spectators. A stadium full of such horns guarantees that the players can’t hear the ref’s whistle or their team-mates’ words and that broadcasters are drowned out. The only hope lies in the fact that the stadiums aren’t full – several thousand seats were going begging at the England-USA match at the anyway small Rustenburg stadium and the Nelson Mandela stadium in Port Elizabeth hasn’t yet been more than two-thirds full.
The games so far have mainly been the sort which have earned a bad name for previous World Cups: negative, tentative and boring encounters as teams play mainly not to lose and, if they should gain a 1-0 lead, are content to sit on it. Only the South Koreans and the Germans have played as if the object was to score as many goals as you can. True, negative football is more typical of the group stages – sometimes three goal-less draws will get you through your group – but any team worth its salt should be hoping to top its group so as to earn an easier draw to help it through to the quarter finals.
Undoubtedly the biggest disappointment to date has been the England-USA game, not just for England fans but for Africa’s legions of Premiership TV watchers. Green’s famous fumble reminded me irresistibly of the similar goof by Peter Bonetti which allowed England to lose to Germany in Mexico in 1970. Such mistakes at this level are not forgotten. Bonetti was a fine goalkeeper but is now remembered chiefly for that one disastrous error. The England team as a whole doesn’t seem to have the confidence or personality to go very far. The winning team of 1966 had such characters as Alan Ball, Ian Callaghan and Roger Hunt who played their hearts out quite unselfishly, letting others do most of the scoring. But that team had a core of Northern grit – the three above plus Jack and Bobby Charlton, Nobby Stiles and Ray Wilson. Those seven played in almost every game. This year’s team is very different. True, it has three vital Scousers – Rooney, Gerrard and Carragher – but the bulk of the squad comes from the South, reflecting the perhaps inevitable rise of London clubs in the age of giant cheque books. It is not exactly confidence-inspiring that England rely on Heskey and Crouch, both explicitly rejected by Liverpool.
South Africans, though, are still wildly enthusiastic about the whole event and the national team has picked up a great deal more support, having survived its first game undefeated. But both Algeria and Nigeria have been beaten, so Ghana, Cameroon and Ivory Coast will probably gather increased support here now. I just hope that South Africa won’t object if Fifa does the obvious thing and bans the vuvuzela.