*Some more digging in the crates … What follows will be a series of blog posts, some published and some not, slated for MLSSoccer.com. The posts chronicle my experience as a tourist during World Cup 2010 in South Africa. The timing of posting these is obviously terrible, as the world’s “Soccer Clock” is currently as far as possible from approaching World Cup relevance. But while I have the time and the means to revisit old writing, I thought I’d post them.
** This is the original version of a post that was also published as a shorter piece in MLSSoccer.com, here, about traveling Australian fan groups.
Do Australians Do It Better?
I envy the Australians. For a people that mirror Americans in many ways, mostly in the Departments of Brash and Oblivious, they don’t travel like us. And they don’t support their national teams like we do. As a group, they do it much, much better. This is a fact that digs at me daily in Durban, when I walk past zinc-smeared hordes of Aussies pouring out of their fan compound inside the Kingsmead cricket stadium.
958 Aussies are living in the stadium, which has been converted into a fortified village, for the duration of Australia’s first round games. They’ve got 364 army-style tents arranged in streets named after Australian soccer legends, like Mark Viduka Ave. They’ve got showers, ATMs, food tents hawking local grub, and a massive bar (named after the burly goalkeeper Mark Bosnich, known as much for his partying as his hands) that has also doubled as a performing tent for the likes of Powderfinger and Fat Boy Slim.
“It’s a really quality set up,” Anthony Mancini said as he soaked up some Durban sun outside his green tent. “The environment’s great. It’s good team building.”
A tour group called the Fanatics, which organizes international trips for crews of spirited young Australians, set up the campsite with the help of the South African company Edu Sport. Petra van der Spuy, a Project Manager for Edu Sport, said that the site took about 18 months of planning.
“It started as an idea sitting over coffee in Germany back in 2006,” said Rob Brooks, a media liason for the Fanatics. The Fanatics set up a more rural camp for fans in Germany, but their 2010 home has topped that one by all accounts.
“This is the real deal,” Mancini said moments before hundreds of his “mates” gathered like yellow moths around the bar’s big screens to watch the State of Origins, a massive Rugby League match between the states of New South Wales and Queensland. “We’ve got everything we need here.”
My main concern about the camp was the same one I have about Australians in general: that they live in a bubble. But the Aussies embrace such solidarity.
“I’ve met a ton of new friends from all over the country,” Mancini said. “Also, you can leave whenever you want. And when you come back you’re home, you’re safe. You don’t have to lug all your shit around, pack and unpack. We’ve got a base here.”
The Fanatics also organized a number of optional excursions around Durban and outside the city. A group bussed to the townships to donate used computer equipment to a school while spending the day with kids. The whole camp will also uproot for Australia’s next two group games in Rustenburg and Nelspruit. Twenty six buses will transport their army of support. They’ll yell together in one heaving yellow mass.
“The best moment of my time so far here were between six and eight on Sunday night,” Patty Boyle said of the mass march that he and close to 2,000 other Australians made north from the cricket grounds to Moses Mabhida stadium for their opening match against Germany. “It was amazing.”
By most accounts of U.S representation here in South Africa, us Americans have brought it too. The U.S. purchased more tickets than any other nation. And I’ve run into gung-ho American fans everywhere in South Africa– in hostels, beaches, buses, and bars. Who says Americans don’t know how to travel? U.S. supporter sections seem to rival those of any of the nationalities here. We’re a colorful and passionate bunch.
I can’t speak wholly from experience, as I didn’t attend the first two U.S. games, but our support also looks more scattered than most fan efforts. Many American fans that won tickets via the Fifa lottery attended games besides those of their home country. I’m included in this group of Benedict Arnolds. And I’ve met dozens like me, lucky but confused travelers who chose to keep first round tickets to Australia vs. Germany or Netherlands vs. Japan instead of trying for more U.S. games.
Also, many fans that attended U.S. games told me that they still have much to learn about traveling to a World Cup.
“We probably had even numbers to the English fans, but it felt like they had more,” said one U.S. fan from San Diego about the game in Rustenburg. “They got there early and set up their flags and banners … I guess they just know what they’re doing.”
At the next World Cup, I expect to see more attempts at fan solidarity. Can we learn from the Aussies? Would a travel group like the Fanatics work in America? There are more than enough young and willing American travelers here to compete with the army of green and gold.
A few tour groups offered group packages to U.S. games. But I’m curious to see how many U.S. fans signed up for these options. And I know that none of these groups offered as fun and rugged an option as the Fanatics offered Australian fans.
When I approached one of the few girls at the Fanatics camp to ask her why her and her friends would do something like this, she responded, “Ummm, because we’re Australian.”