It took helicopters and stuntmen to deflect me from my purpose, but I merely arched a cynical eyebrow and strengthened my resolve. But darn it, the second attempt was also foiled… by none other than Dr Viacheslav Koloskov and his international henchmen. Bah.
I was not to be thwarted. I had bided my time while army and police conducted security drills, and while the FIFA committee made their inspections. Now I would see for myself the new Cape Town stadium for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
It wasn’t that easy to find the place, given that the site has a footprint of over 18 hectares. And a dozen cranes over 250 ft high. And a team of 2 500 people swarming over it with gleaming hard hats. But after a couple of abortive attempts to sidle down dusty construction roads with NO ENTRY – DANGER clearly written in three languages, I finally located the Greenpoint Stadium Visitors Centre.
It’s a simple place, but it achieves its purpose. The lobby is carpeted in Astroturf (of course!) and lined with memorabilia of South African soccer heroes and Cape Town teams through the ages.
From there we were ushered through to an auditorium for a performance of ‘The Greensman’, a lithe and fabulously energetic portrayal of the history of Greenpoint Common, performed by the all-singing, all-dancing Apollo Ntshoko. And then, the moment we’d been waiting for… we got to see the stadium itself.
Somehow I had pictured being escorted on to a pitch of lush, svelte grass complete with markings and goal posts. In my imagination the empty stands would echo with the occasional ‘ting, ting’ of a hammer and, with the exception of a few men with measuring tapes and pencils behind their ears, the only other people would be a group of tracksuit-clad young men doing star jumps in a corner.
But of course not. The place is a building site, albeit on a breathtaking scale. The viewing platform overlooks the old 18 000 seat stadium which is being dismantled (and much of it recycled) and used mainly as a holding area for many of the construction materials. Towering over it is the skeleton of the new 68 000 seat stadium – 72 pylons soaring skywards, dwarfing the many heavy construction vehicles trundling around. Awesome.
Afterwards, I had the chance to view some of the comments written by many of the schoolchildren who had visited. One had written that being on the site was like being on Mars. Another that he can’t wait for 2010. Whenl the players come trotting on he will be sitting in the stands, singing “I was there first!”. I’d like to be sitting beside him.