The World Cup: Only a game

There are as many strange and fascinating things happening off the pitch in South Africa as there are on it. David Randall offers an arcane guide to the World Cup

What are those things?

The must-have accessory for South African football fans is cross between a trumpet and a hunting horn which they blow incessantly throughout the games. In its standard form, made of plastic and played en masse by spectators, it emits – so experts assure us – a low, moaning B-flat. But it's not the note it plays, or its tone (likened by some to a depressed elephant's lament), but its volume which disturbs. Played with the usual enthusiasm, the vuvuzela hits 127 decibels, considerably more than a chainsaw's 110.

Nelson Mandela gets the bird

The managers at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium at Port Elizabeth have taken the advice of the Duke of Wellington. When Queen Victoria asked him what could be done about the problem of birds inside the Great Exhibition, he famously replied: "Try sparrowhawks, ma'am." They worked then, and natural predators are doing the trick today. Pigeons and rats at the stadium are being controlled by a "staff" of three African peregrine falcons, plus a larger falcon for tackling the local crows. That leaves the mosquito menace at this waterside arena, and, to deal with this, bats have been attracted by the erection of roosting boxes. Each bat can catch an average of 132 mozzies an hour.

Not all employment opportunities for birds are as happy. Some, as with the already threatened Cape vulture, are posthumous. A few locals are devotees of "muti" magic, an arcane branch of clairvoyance which holds that smoking the brains of these birds allows the smokee to see into the future, and thus, one supposes, predict the outcome of matches. Mark Anderson of BirdLife South Africa said: "The harvesting of the birds' heads by followers of muti magic is an additional threat these birds can't endure." Quite so.

Sorry for the loss of picture

North Korea is in the World Cup for the first time since 1966, but television viewers are unlikely to see the games. In the past, the South – which holds the broadcasting rights for the whole peninsula – has agreed to supply a feed to the North free of charge. But, with tensions between the two nations worse than at any time for years, the South has this time demanded a fee. The North won't pay, and so television screens there will show tractor production documentaries, gymnastics displays or whatever rather than the football.

In Zimbabwe, where, incidentally, the North's squad is based for "security reasons", there is happier viewing news. Consumers who can't – or won't – pay their electricity bills owe the state generator $300m. But the government has announced that defaulting customers will not be cut off during the tournament, and so can watch every kick.

Watching grass grow

Our combing of the country for acts of excessive World Cuppery has produced the case of a Mr Dan Taylor of Sutton Coldfield. He has laid 100 sq ft of turf in his living room, painted white lines on it and erected some corner flags. He did this because, after festooning his home with flags and bunting, he felt more was still needed. All it needs now is some turnstiles, stewards, a mascot, 50-yard queue for the loo, unhealthy meat pie stall and executive boxes.

Teach yourself the lingo

Do you have a fundi in the house? I mean one who's a real moegoe? And, more to the point, do you have any idea what I'm taking about? If not, then you need to learn the mixture of Afrikaans, Zulu and nine other native tongues from which South African colloquialisms are derived. A fundi (literally, a teacher) is what they call an armchair know-it-all, and a moegoe is a fool. Other useful words are: ayoba (cool), jol (party), oke (bloke) and soutpiel (abusive term for Englishmen, literally meaning "salt penis", because Englishmen had one foot in Africa, and another back home and so their sensitive parts were near the ocean).

Just fancy that

The venue for England's opening match will go down in the record books as Rustenburg, but the stadium is actually in Phokeng. This is the capital of the Royal Bafokeng Nation, a 300,000-strong semi-autonomous tribe that, thanks to its own wits and some canny lawyering, secured in 1999 no less than 22 per cent of the royalties from the area's platinum mines, much of which it took in the form of equity. Thus has been acquired sufficient wealth to invest in substantial community projects, including the arena in which England played.

A lawn-spotter's guide

Some of you, especially during the more tedious matches, will be wondering at the lush texture, vivid colour and durability of the grass of which the pitches are made. In anticipation of a flood of inquiries from gardeners keen to reproduce such a sward in their own backyards, we can reveal the secret of the groundspersons' success. All World Cup pitches use grass grown on farms in Manitoba, Canada, from two strains of perennial rye grass: Zoom and SR4600.

Betting news

The results of matches, the number of goals and their scorers are not the only things on which serious punters are laying wagers. Among the odds being offered by bookies are: 10-1, Wayne Rooney to be sent off, with 150-1 on offer for it to be for stamping on an opponent's (or team-mate's) genitals; 100-1, Thierry Henry to score with his hand; 9-1 favourite, Jermain Defoe to be the England player who misses in a penalty shoot-out; and 16-1, China to have the first player to fail a drugs test.

World Cup quiz

Which country's fans, apart from those of the host nation, have bought more tickets to this World Cup than any other fans? Is it a) Germany; b) the United States; c) England; or d) Ghana?


The United States

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