Thursday, 3 June 2010

England Have Landed, With All Eyes on "Coach" Beckham

WHEN it came it was exactly what we expected. A bit of an anti-climax. These brief words from Fabio Capello: “I’m very pleased to be here, my team is happy to finally be in South Africa.

"I hope this World Cup in South Africa is good for this country and of course for England. We now have to concentrate on the tournament and prepare well for the event."

Thank you, Generalissimo. And we’ll hear from you again tomorrow when you have been suitably impressed by the Bafokeng Royal Sports Campus about 70 miles away outside Phokeng, seven miles from Rustenburg (get the map out).

Strange to think John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and the like are travelling the N4, with platinum mines to their right, the magnificent Magaliesberg mountain range to their left. And the occasional jarring image of shacks to mar the view before they enter the rich Mafokeng kingdom.

Like it or not England’s stars represent the biggest arrival of the World Cup at Oliver Tambo International airport. Forget the Brazilians and Argentinians, this nation is pumped to overflowing with Sky News and live Premier League football.

One thing I did glean before my “unavoidable detention” by the South African Police in Potchestroom last night – they never did call back and show me their wonderful High Performance Centre - is that the Spanish are flying straight in to the local airport.

And interest peaked at the usual point. A bloke called David Beckham strolled through. The Achilles tendon the former England captain snapped three months ago means he’s coming as an “assistant coach” and an ambassador – but the ex-Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder (and his wife Victoria) will always be the major talking point for foreign fans worldwide who pore over the British newspapers and websites. Imperialism is not dead, just roaming the information super highway.

Captain Rio Ferdinand pales by comparison. But there he was, lugging a bag, leading the household names cavalry towards Group C and the tricky opening clash against the United States at the Royal Bafokeng Palace Stadium on June 12. Yes, that’s the one two miles down the Boshoek Road from the perfect training camp they picked out over a year ago. Very strange. See

Astonishingly lucky draw for England. Keeps the fans clear of the big cities, keeps things quiet for the Generalissimo, whose wife is apparently the only female allowed inside the abstemious England base.

After the USA they travel nearly a thousand miles to face Algeria, battered recently by Ireland, in Cape Town. Bafokeng offers warm, clear days and near-frost at night, not to mention the little matter of 5,000 feet of altitude. Cape Town in winter is nearly British with rain and gales. And it’s very definitely at sea level, same as the third qualifier against Slovenia at the Nelson Mandela Stadium in Port Elizabeth, the windy city.

It’s about now people start realising this is a nation of many climates (and Vuvuzelas). The Highveld (there was frost on the windscreen in Potchefstroom this morning), sub-tropical Durban (swim in the sea and get a winter tan) and Mediterranean Cape Town (whip the brolly out darling).

Which is why this World Cup could provide even more shocks than usual. The Americans have been based in Irene Lodge beneath the circling security helicopters for a couple of days already. It may give them a vital head-start.

But in South Africa, take nothing for granted. Even Algeria.

My visit to the England base at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus:

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