POLICE WITH BULLET-PROOF VESTS WELCOME ROONEY, OTHERS
A CLUSTER of local workers, police and security guards and a pack of television crews welcomed the England World Cup squad to its Rustenburg base in warm sunshine yesterday.
After a two-hour coach drive from Johannesburg, where they landed earlier in the morning following an overnight flight from London, the 23 players, manager Fabio Capello and his members of staff, were greeted without much visible pomp or ceremony.
“It is good to see them come, so now we know the World Cup is starting here,” an electrician, bedecked in a bright green South Africa soccer shirt, Donald, said. “We have been waiting to see them – and we wish them good luck on the pitch.”
Other members of staff from the sprawling campus of the Royal Marang Hotel at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus, situated in dusty isolation close to the main road 18km north of Rustenburg toward Sun City, gathered with him in a policed area around 50 metres from the hotel entrance.
A new set of “robots,” as the South Africans refer to traffic lights, had been installed for the occasion and these flashed on red for several minutes. It was a faintly surreal occasion out of context with its surroundings – thousands of hectares of dry farmland stretching in all directions, except the urban sprawl on the way back to the city.
Traffic was halted to allow the England coach, carrying the slogan “Playing with Pride and Glory,” to turn through the high metal security gates that are so common in this remote mining and agricultural city with an exceptionally high crime rate.
There was no acknowledgement from within the England coach as it turned in, the smoked glass windows making it too difficult in the bright sunlight to identify the players or their reactions. The combined efforts of the blue uniformed police, many wearing what appeared to be bullet-proof vests, and the khaki-clad North West Traffic Police, kept most spectators further away. It signaled the attention to security that characterised the mood.
Only accredited television crews were allowed near but they were policed into a controlled area of the road's central reservation, where they waited on the red soil that grows citrus fruit in the surrounding savannah scrubland.
Coach Fabio Capello, greeted warmly in Johannesburg by the South African Organising Committee's Chief Executive Officer, Danny Jordaan, said he was very glad to have arrived for the tournament. He said: “I'm very pleased to be here and 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.”
Many of the watching South Africans, including Donald, said they would follow England's fortunes. Happy, a cleaner said he was hoping to catch sight of striker Wayne Rooney, England's most famous and best player: “I like him but my favourite of all is Lionel Messi, who plays for Argentina,” he added.
England was scheduled to relax and settle in to its remote desert highway retreat yesterday, after a brief reception laid on by the local organisers, before starting its training programme at the Bafokeng Sports Campus today.
It opens its Group C campaign at Rustenburg's Royal Bafokeng Stadium, just five kms down the road, against the United States on June 12, before playing Algeria in Cape Town and Slovenia in Port Elizabeth on the 18th and 23rd of this month respectively.