Park, ride, revel
The drums beat. The air horns reverberated. The army of supporters chanted, resoundingly and relentlessly, their arms waving through the air; their minds absorbed in an intimate, unique atmosphere. This was not a scene one could have ever envisaged coming from a car park.
But that it did yesterday at the aforementioned Nasrec Expo Centre, Johannesburg, ahead of the FIFA Confederations Cup curtain-raiser between South Africa and Iraq, in an episode that will be repeated throughout the tournament and at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Courtesy of the park and ride service, fans with match tickets can now leave their vehicles at one of several locations from four hours before kick-off and catch a free shuttle to and from stadiums across the country. This not only improves safety, eliminates traffic congestion around the venues and saves fans money, but it also allows them to experience what is, according to South African Thabo Rantso, "an atmosphere beyond your wildest dreams."
The 25-year-old Kaizer Chiefs devotee continued: "Just look around, it's truly amazing. There are so many fans together, singing, blowing the vuvuzela, creating this incredible atmosphere. The park and ride is a great initiative. It's easier and cheaper for us, and we won't get stuck in traffic. I'm really excited for the ride. It's the perfect way to start this historic day."
Mandla Ndungane, a 38-year-old local, present with his brother and two pre-teen nephews, was in agreement as he exited his car at the Nasrec Expo Centre. "This park and ride is perfect. It was a brilliant idea," he said. "The process is simple, safe and effective. The atmosphere here, it's amazing, it's really amazing. The ride will be a wonderful experience for South Africans and for fans all over the world."
Just metres away, a throng of Iraqis broke into chorus. "I am enjoying this so much," explained Khalid, 24, who was on a large coach that parked there. "It's great for us to have this service and to be able to mix with the South African fans, who are wonderful hosts. It's really safe and we're having such fun," he added before boarding one of the countless mini-buses waiting to transport animated fans to Ellis Park Stadium.
FIFA.com shared the same journey with nine South Africa followers: a sextet from Soweto and three companions from Parktown. They entered the minibus as two separate groups. They exited it united, as friends, having shared a vibrant, memorable 25-minute ride. Together, they sung the popular Shosholoza song, pausing only to engage in conversation.
"This is a wonderful experience," enthused Fazel Cassiem, 30. "There are no complications, we don't have to wait in traffic and we get the chance to meet other supporters and enjoy the atmosphere together. This is what football is all about, and this is what South Africans are all about. I would recommend this ride to anybody. The world will love it. Welcome to South Africa."
With that, Fazel and Co departed the minibus and, with a crop of equally vivacious, expectant rival fans, engaged in banter as they entered Ellis Park Stadium, dreaming of victory.
It ultimately eluded them both in the opener to the eighth FIFA Confederations Cup, but South Africans and Iraqis alike had evidently embraced a park and rise initiative that was one absolute victory for the organisers.