Friday, 16 July 2010

Exactly a year on from the best day of our lives (10th July 2009) we marked our first anniversary in Johannesburg, South Africa and on the 11th, experienced the second best day of our lives at the World Cup Final in Soccer City Stadium.

You could say it's been a good year!

I won a trip to the World Cup Final in a Hyundai UK competition on Facebook, where entrants were to submit a video explaining "What Would You Trade?" for people to vote on.

I was willing to give up my collection of 23 football shirts and the rest, as they say, is history.

The once-in-a-lifetime prize was, unbelievably, somehow even better than I expected.

It's not often that I'm lost for words, but summing up this weekend is impossible. I can only give a flavour of how amazing it was, so bear in mind that no amount of description can match simply being there at the time!

I was very conscious every time I took a photo or video that seeing it later on the laptop screen would be simply nowhere near as good as actually experiencing the moment we were capturing.

We made good friends with the other competition winners and the whole group agreed that the words "Savour this!" were never far from your thoughts.

As if the Final itself wasn't all you could ever wish for in any sane football fan's dreams, we were also treated to; flights with free meals and drink, transfers to our luxury apartments, a round of drinks on arrival, a three course meal with free alcohol flowing all night, transfers to the game, hospitality with all you could eat and drink, and Category 1 tickets for the game itself.

Sound good? It doesn't even scratch the surface of how awesome this weekend was! Everything was better than you could imagine.

Take the three course meal for example. Hyundai picked up the bill as we tucked into steaks, beers, wine, the lot.

Who could ask for more than that? Not us, but in keeping with the whole weekend the night just got better and better, as the Dutch brass band made a spontaneous appearance to entertain diners with some truly amazing renditions of football songs like Carnival De Paris. It kicked the atmosphere into overdrive, and as if to tip us over the edge the Budweiser girls appeared with free merch and enough buckets filled with complimentary bottles of Bud to get even the most seasoned alcoholic absolutely legless.

The free flights were equally amazing, as they were filled with loads of football stars and celebs. Over the course of the weekend we shared a flight with or even met in Johannesburg: Andy Townsend, Edwin Van Der Saar, Gareth Southgate, Mark Lawrenson, Vincent Del Bosque, Brian Bowey, Ray Parlour, Frank Skinner, David Baddiel, Jim Rosenthal and Raymond Van Barneveld.

I am by no means a star spotter or celeb botherer so for the most part, it was just really cool to keep the company of these guys. It reminded you that ordinary punters like me are normally nowhere near events like this! But one guy who I admittedly lost my cool over and had to go pester for a pic was the greatest Scottish football player of all time, Kenny Dalglish.

How could anyone from my neck of the woods fail to be delighted at meeting the biggest legend of our game just days after taking in the World Cup Final?!

I could go on all day about the little extras that tipped the trip into the realms of extra special, but the game itself dominates my every thought of the weekend just past.

The excitement hit what I thought was top gear as we were handed our Final tickets on the bus, and rounded the corner to get our first glimpse of Soccer City stadium.

But the venue is not best viewed from afar. After making the trek round to the gates and waiting for them to swing open and unveil the entrance to Wonka's football factory, you were now so close you could touch it, with so many crazy Dutch nutters around that you felt lost in a football heaven. You felt like you had leapt into your television set and landed in Jo'burg.

Fast forward through over £100 (or 1000 Rand) worth of programmes, souveniers and footie shirts, then past the wining and dining of truly world class hospitality, and it was time for this moment I had been anticipating so badly; I had only looked forward to it for the three weeks since winning the competition, but in earnest I had been dreaming about it my whole life.

Jen summed the Closing Ceremony up perfectly: "This alone was worth it"

I could tell from the big screens that it must have looked just as special on TV as it did in the flesh, but the buzz lent to the experience by 85,000 fans who had taken their seats a full two hours before kick off was like nothing I've ever seen. Even the mighty vuvus fell silent for the ceremony!

You could have ended our night there and then and I would have been delighted. Fortunately there was more to come...

We had the best seats in the house for what we were about to witness. Right at the half way line, just 7 rows back, so close you could almost kick the ball!

The atmosphere grew and grew: helicopters beamed the imminent arrival of the team buses on the big screens; the players emerged to warm up; Nelson Mandela made an appearance(!!!); and finally the teams came out to line up.

Believe me, the irritating sound of the vuvuzelas you hear on television is nothing like the awesome roar that travels around the ground. You couldn't hear the ref's whistle for noise.

The game itself I don't need to describe as you are almost certainly one of the 20 million UK viewers who tuned in...

What I will say is that I'm shocked upon coming home to hear people say it wasn't a great match.

Being there obviously added to my enjoyment so many times over, but other than a nervy first half I genuinely though it was great entertainment for a 0-0.

I have yet to rewatch it but off the top of my head we had the excitement of: countless yellow cards, Robben clean through twice, Sergio Ramos' glorious chance, Fabregas one on one with Stekelenburg, Puyol's header, several Xavi free kicks, a few Sneijder screamers, a couple of world class saves at both ends, the drama of extra time and potentially penalties, and Holland being reduced to 10.

Of course it made for a better game being there in the flesh, as the whole stadium gasped every time we thought we were about to witness a goal.

And here's a fact: noone screamed louder than I did when Andres Iniesta scored in extra time in the 117th minute.

Not one Spain fan went half as mental as the daft Scot jumping for joy in Block 125!

Anyone who knows me is well aware of the fact that I always root for Spain in tournaments. More importantly, Iniesta is my favourite footballer of all time.

I didn't even dare to dream before the game that he might score, but for it to come in the dying minutes of extra time made for such a special moment that I will never forget it. I can still see a replay of it in my head every time I think back!

Again, the words will fail to do the rest of the night justice so just picture the aftermath. I could have flown back to the apartment I was so high with adrenaline, but before that there was the small matter of more food and drink in the hospitality tent. I could go on and on and on and on about this weekend...

No matter how much I blether on to people, how many stories I recount from my adventure in South Africa, or how many times we go through the photos, all I have now are the memories of the time that my family and friends sent me to the World Cup Final.

I want to say "Thank you!" again and I mean it even more now than I did before. You guys are the best.

I'll be in touch about my campaign to get to Brazil 2014...

Friday, 9 July 2010

Tonight, Johannesburg readies itself for the end of South Africa's World Cup 2010. Sepp Blatter waits in the wings, ready to close the curtain on a tournament that can be described in one word as "unique".

The wonderful event has been the first of it's kind on African soil and billions around the world have scarcely been able to look away as it has reached it's climax, with Holland or Spain set to make history - this will be a first win for either team, and the only time a European nation has won it outwith their continent. 

While the eyes of the world may be on Jo'burg, mine are not quite there yet; Jennifer and I arrived in London today to collect our World Cup Final tickets and to fly out to Africa for the second most memorable weekend of our lives, exactly one year after getting married.

I'd argue that I'm more excited than the Dutch and Spanish squads put together!

Any intention to blog on the World Cup has fallen by the wayside in recent weeks as I had a week off work whilst my best mate Thomas was visiting (we spent it watching 13 simultaneous games). 

Every waking moment I have had since then has been spent either working, or fretting over arrangements for our trip (flight confirmation only came through on Wednesday!)... I have also just barely found time to watch the footie!

The build up has been a lot tamer than I expected, as I have been so nervous about getting everything in place for our trip that I have not had a great chance to fully digest our prize.

Newsround, of all things, changed that last night. As I flicked channels, I caught their World Cup broadcast live from outside Soccer City Stadium, where the reporter noted that in three days time the place would be buzzing with 95,000 fans eager for the kickoff of the World Cup Final between Holland and Spain.

It was all I could do not to start shouting at the TV in glee!

My phone battery is fading as fast as the hype around Wayne Rooney and our train is nearly at Heathrow Airport, so I had better wrap things up; suffice to say I will have a LOT to talk about on here after Sunday, so check back next week.

To finish, I will go on record as backing Spain to win, as I have done at every tournament since my own nation of no-hopers last took part in 1998. I had a fiver on them at 4/1 before a ball was kicked, so hopefully I can collect that to round off what will be an absolutely perfect weekend.

I'm buoyed by the fact that Paul the octopus agrees with my pick... 

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Blog #5: South American dominance

Before a ball was kicked, stattos rolled out all the usual cliches; one of the favourites being that only South American teams have won the World Cup in tournaments hosted outwith Europe.

To me, it's as useless a statistic as "No team has won it six times." There is a very real chance that Brazil will, relegating this 'fact' to the history books.

In fact, I would have said it was ridiculous to suggest European teams would struggle simply because the tournie is in Africa, given our continent's dominance of the game. The European Champions League is the most popular and talented club format in the world, while teams like Spain, Germany and Holland are clearly a match for anyone. The last final was contested by two European teams.

However, results are all that truly matter in football and they don't lie. The 2006 finalists are having a torrid time, with France out and Italy held by New Zealand and Parguay.

England, down to a must-win final game. Germany, beaten by Serbia. Spain, just three points when you would have stuck your house on six.

Contrast that with the teams from South America and it proves this continent fairs better. They have collectively played out seven wins and two draws. No team from South America has been beaten in this tournament so far.

The only "blemishes" on this record? A draw against France for Uruguay, and Paraguay's 1-1 tie with Italy.

Argentina and Brazil have won all their games to date, a surprise to noone. What I have loved is watching the continent's other teams perform far beyond my expectations.

I almost feel sorry for Chile having to somehow steal a draw from Euro 2008 champions Spain to survive. They have had a fantastic tournament so far and if they were up against anyone but my boys from Espana, I would be rooting for them.

Paraguay and Uruguay do have my support, and both teams fully deserve to top their group. They have been the surprise package for me this year. Uruguay took seven points from a group with France, Mexico and hosts South Africa, while Paraguay sit nicely with four in the bag and New Zealand to play.

The likes of Alexis Sanches, Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez have done South America proud, and that's saying nothing of Mr Messi.

The Argentines have been brilliant so far. They count the best player in the world amongst their ranks, and as the tournament goes on it is starting to look like he will finally bring his Barcelona form to an Argentina shirt.

What's completely unfair is the likelihood that Argentina will also produce the world's next great - superbly talented Sergio Aguero recently had a son, Benjamin, with Diego Maradona's daughter. Wonder if he'll be any good with a ball...

You have to spare a thought for the African teams. They were never much fancied at this tournament, but to lump the continent's best hopes Ivory Coast in with Brazil and Portugal was harsh. Drogba's boys didn't have it any easier last time round - in 2006 they were paired up with Argentina and Holland.

As for Nigeria, they didn't stand a chance once they came up against the Argies. Poor Sani Kaita, the Nigerian midfielder sent off in their match against Greece, has received more than 1,000 death threats by email. Still, I'm sure it will be a welcome break from local bankers emailing him for help moving their millions...

As World Cup 2010 moves ever closer to a date with Soccer City on July 11th, noone is suggesting for a minute that Paraguay will be in the running. The final four teams will be a mixture of the usual, and you can be sure that the last two will be ranked in the world's top 10.

But what odds a Brazil v Argentina final?

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Blog #4: Logos through the years

The more I think about getting a World Cup tattoo, the stronger my desire to get one. Football is a massive part of my life, but moreover the tat would always remind me of the time that hundreds of my friends and family put their whole heart and soul into helping me achieve a lifelong dream. I'll never forget how amazing the support was.

So in my quest to find the design I want, I've been poring over old logos from past tournaments. This has been a big help, as I now know that I won't be using old logos from past tournaments!

Let's take a look at them:

Perhaps the World Cup wasn't the massive event in 1950 that it is now, but when I look at this poster I see an advert for a local five-a-sides tournament. I half expect to see '£50 a team' in the corner.

A foot kicking a ball? That's what you think the greatest spectacle in the world boils down to, Brazil? Frankly, I'm a little insulted.

This also gets marked down for featuring the worst sock I have ever seen. Primark wouldn't stock this at Christmas time. That's how bad it is.


Really, who designs these things?

Someone might have told the artist that they were to capture the greatest moment in Switzerland's history, the summer in which they hosted the biggest sporting event in the world. If I saw this from a distance, I'd think I was on the right road for the local hospital.

I see the elements they were going for - the Swiss flag, the football, and presumably the world behind it. Frankly the ball looks to be resting on the segments of a peeled orange. And I don't know about you, but when I think of the World Cup I think Brazil, Germany, Italy, goals, red cards, penalties. Fruit is not a huge association of mine.

Even crappier than the last.


Clearly, this is the best we have seen so far, but that is not saying a lot.

My first problem is with the font. I appreciate Microsoft Word wasn't readily available in 1958 but their 'FOOTBALL FUTBOL FUSSBALL' is literally the most boring thing I have ever seen on a poster. And I include the poster for my local church coffee morning in that.

Why just the three languages anyway? A bit RACIST of you Sweden!!

Good - the way they wrapped the flags of all competing countries around the ball.
Bad - being one of the countries that they tried to hide.

"Yeah, f you Mexico. We didn't think you would mind if we wrapped you around the ball, barely visible. Yugoslavia, on the other hand, they're good buddies of ours. Centre stage for their flag. In fact, while we're at it Mexico, we even care about you less than West Germany, who just over a decade ago were trying to blow us all up."


Obviously we are still a long way from being at the cups I remember. Chile 1962 isn't one I was around for but can some old footie buff clarify something for me.

Are we talking Chile, South America, or was the tournament held in Chile, Outer Space?

This logo has NASA written all over it. Was it a football event or a space program? Tripe.


A pet hate of mine is how obsessed the English media are with their own team during a tournament. Spain v Honduras? Opens with a fifteen minute segment on the England team, naturally.

Nice to know it's not a recent development though. What better way to sum up the global nature of the world's finest tournament than by putting all the flags of the competing nations? Oh wait, this isn't Sweden, this is England, where apparently the only competing team are, err, England.

While we're on the subject of 1966, the ball didn't cross the line.


I was all ready to rip another logo to pieces, then I saw this. What is there to say?!

Simplicity the key here for Mexico. I remember a few times at school we had visitors with a competition to design a logo or poster for something; I would suggest that school kids had created this but my mum and dad were still at school in 1970 and that would be a massive insult to their generation.

We seem to have also answered the question "When did bubble writing stop being cool?" with this logo. 1970, it would seem.

Oh, and f you right back Sweden - no flags, especially yours!


God, I don't even want to berate these. If I had something nice to say I would say it. The World Cup is one of my favourite things in life and I want to love its logos, but Jesus H Christ! What is this?!

I don't actually know what to say. Their idea of sprucing it up was to throw in some colour - olive green. It's harsh what people say about the Germans being dull, eh?

As for the design itself, simply stunning. A plain ball, with three elephant tusks in sight. That certainly seems to be the overbearing memory people I talk to have of West Germany 74, the elephants.


Just when I thought we weren't going to see one good logo, this comes along.

And bloody well confirms it!

FIFA, I dare not think how difficult it must be to organise one of these tournaments. I do get it. They cost literally millions, thousands of staff are involved and I cannot even imagine the level of organisation that must go into making things run smoothly.

But please, just find some way to set aside a little bit more time and money to invest into designing logos. I'm going crazy here.

I literally do not know what this is. A football and four blue...? Answers on a postcard.

Wait, are they hands?!


With the other logos, I only had to look for seconds and my fingers were running across the keyboard, spewing vitriol.

I have been staring at this for more than a minute and I actually don't know if I like it. Perhaps my mind is now so warped from looking at so many atrocities that this seems good by comparison, when any other day of the year I would hate it.

It is pretty bad. The Spanish flag appearing behind the ball is the best piece of design we have seen, although pretty poorly executed all the same.

They seem to have decided upon a circular design with flags, tried to make it work and ran out of time to change tack. So what we have is a bunch of flags arranged into a poor circle, each crappily overlapping the next.

One of the better efforts though. Feel mildly proud, Spain, like a toddler who managed to get most of their pee in the potty.


Goddamnit, I was willing to give me and Mexico another try.

Throwing in a couple of globes and adding red and green into the mix does not improve matters.

Sixteen years - obviously not enough time to learn your lesson.


See me after class, Italy.


I feel bad for the US. They are an easy target after all, and with this design they do not deserve to be mocked. Yes, not fantastic and perhaps a bit simple, but the best we have seen. It's in the United States, it's a football tournament, this logo conveys all those things and does not provoke any great deal of rage in me.

But don't think I've forgotten, America. This is the first tournament I remember and even just seven years old, I knew you for the fools you are.

Yes, I remember. America's idea of a World Cup mascot? That international symbol of global football, the dog.

This is why the world laughs at you. We finally say "Look, okay, host the tournament. You don't know anything about football - and it is football, not soccer - but give it a bash. Fair play, we all deserve a shot."

And what do you do? You give us a dog wearing a football kit. You can't see it, but I'm shaking my head at you.

What's worse is, that year's Sega Mega Drive game - imaginatively named "World Cup USA '94" - is almost unplayable. Where any normal footie game would have menu options like 'Single player', 'Two player' and '5-min game' or '10-min game', USA '94 took the bizarre step of representing these options with this idiot of a dog in a variety of poses.

So children had to navigate their way around Dog, Two Dogs, Dog With Whistle, Dog With Offside Flag, Dog Standing With A Television, Dog Tying His Shoelace until eventually finding themselves at kick-off. I daresay some never did, and were just endlessly lost in menu after menu of dogs in stupid poses.

Anyway, back to the logo. You did good, America.


What a relief. I have literally nothing bad to say about this. A nice design with no football dogs, horrible socks or hastily-arranged flag circles in sight.

Good effort.


Am I starting to see things?!

This is absolutely wonderful. Spot on. It is everything I could ever want in a World Cup logo. Simple yet so effective. I look at this and I think - "Oh cool, the World Cup's on"

Not "Which way to the hospital?" or "Argh! Elephants!"

I love it.


Listen, I feel bad. I shouldn't have said those things - I know I shouldn't have mentioned the war, and I know olive green isn't the worst colour in the world. It could have been brown. I'm sorry.

I have been harsh on you Germany, but you do not help yourself.

I mean, what is this monstrosity?! Where do I start? Do I point out that you have three horribly-designed laughing faces which have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH FOOTBALL?!

Or, even more shockingly, that you have ripped off the Korea Japan logo from the last tournament and thought we wouldn't notice?! We're not talking Brazil 1950 here, this was literally the last World Cup before yours, you dolts!

You have reached a new low.


We're finally here. I can stop, at long last.

I don't like this one bit. This is without question the worst drawing of a player going for an overhead kick I have ever seen, and I've seen my fair share. Peter Crouch looks more graceful when attempting the overheady.

But I'm finished. I give this a decent mark just because it's the last one. Thank the Lord that is over.


Maybe a tattoo isn't such a good idea.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Blog #3: Shining stars

Now that the 2010 edition of the greatest tournament on Earth is more than a week old, we can start to dissect its stars. Who has lived up to their hotly tipped billing? And who has been embarrassed on a worldwide stage?

Having picked Calamity James for last night's drab 0-0 draw with Algeria, it appears Fabio Capello may not give Rob Green another chance to show the world what he can do. That said, I'm not sure what there is to show... This is the man who stood between the sticks for West Ham in a season where they finished 17th, just barely out of the drop zone. Impressive!

Algeria, on the other hand, have proven they have their own stars. Gerrard's statement that this was their "World Cup Final" was condescending nonsense from Liverpool's favourite bar brawler, and David James then went on to imply that the Algerians put 11 men behind the ball. Far from it!

I thought the African team did themselves proud with a reasonable attacking effort against the team ranked 8th in the world. The game confirmed for me that I was right to tip one of their stars to shine, namely 'MAGIC' BOUGHERRA.

Long gone are the days that the Scottish Premier League could boast a huge list of world-class talents such as Rene Gattuso (now a Champions League and World Cup winner), Brian Laudrup, Henrik Larsson, Paolo Di Canio, Mikel Arteta, Frank De Boer, Roy Keane, Van Bronckhorst...

However, in amongst the dross and journeymen who make up today's Scottish teams, one of the few gems in recent seasons has been Rangers' Bougherra. On the strength of his first two WC performances, the Gers have about as much chance of keeping him this summer as they do of beating Barcelona to Cesc Fabregas' signature.

The fate of England's Group C is far from sealed after the second lot of games; any team can still climb their way out of it. What is more than likely is that the team placed second will face Germany in the round of sixteen, who should still win Group D despite a shock 1-0 defeat to Serbia.

The Germans have their own young star in MESUT OZIL. At only 21, and earning his corn at Werder Bremen, it's unlikely that many fans had heard of the talented playmaker before a ball was kicked this summer. I've read enough about him to know he's one to watch, but the German demolition of the Aussies last Sunday was the first chance I've had to see him play - and I thought he ran the show. How long until Man City gobble him up for a bargain £150 million?

Ozil's hero is apparently Zinedine Zidane, which should tell you something about his style of play. Another favourite of mine who draws comparisons with the great Zizou is YOANN GOURCUFF of Bordeux, who plays for the French. Or, as the case may be, doesn't...

The skillful youngster has been limited to just 75 minutes in a Blues shirt, in the terrible 0-0 draw with Uruguay. He spent Thursday's game against Mexico warming the bench, and for that reason I've subbed him out of my fantasy football team - I'd still tip him to shine if he gets game time, as anyone who can do this is one to watch!

Another player you may not have heard of who could earn you dream team points this month is Hamburger SV winger ELJERO ELIA of Holland. The only reason I know of the tricky 23 year old is because he dumped Scotland out of qualifying with his goal in the 1-0 win at Hampden. When the Dutch subbed him into the game against Denmark, I instantly remembered the name and was blown away by what an instant impact he had.

His tricky play set up Dirk Kuyt (or Sloth as I like to call him) for their second goal.

I also reckoned Real Madrid forward GONZALO HIGUAIN would show he is amongst the world's best (indeed, I picked him over Messi for said fantasy footie team!) That prediction is looking spot-on now, so of course putting him on as Top Scorer is one bet I didn't think to make... Hindsight, a wonderful thing.

Other players I'd like to see more of are ANGEL DI MARIA (Argentina), KEISUKE HONDA (Japan), MICHAEL BASTOS (Brazil) and ALEXIS SANCHEZ (Chile).

Of course, every World Cup is preceded by talk of what players will make a name for themselves. One of my favourite aspects of the tournament is seeing who lives up to the hype as the games roll on. So many fail, but those who don't may just be the one with their hands on that coveted trophy come July...

Friday, 18 June 2010

Blog #2: The tournament springs into life...

While nothing any team can do on the road to Soccer City will in any way dampen my enthusiasm for my trip to the World Cup Final, I'm not blinkered enough by my excitement to deny that it has been a very poor start to the tournament.

Teams like Switzerland, North Korea and New Zealand do not exactly make you dive for the remote in anticipation, and the brand of football some of these teams have brought to the competition is frankly shocking. Walter Smith may have guided Rangers to a UEFA Cup Final with similar tactics, but that cannot justify any team stepping out onto the pitch to do a Mourinho, i.e. "parking the bus"

Perhaps I'm biased as these teams are in South Africa while Scotland's players are off lazing about in the sun somewhere in Europe.

My already-ridiculous enthusiasm will certainly go up another gear if the tournament comes to life, and all signs since Wednesday morning suggest it will. Is it coincidence that this is when I found out I was going?!

The Honduras v Chile game, I'm told, had some decent attacking football on display by the Chileans. I couldn't possibly comment as while the television was on, I had just checked my inbox and was jumping around like a loon, completely crazed at the news I was going to South Africa for the Final.

Spain v Switzerland, for which I had taken the day off work, was a fantastic spectacle. While the result didn't go the way I had hoped - I always root for Spain, a simply phenomenal attacking side with my favourite player in the world, Andres Iniesta - any game in which one team has 22 shots on goal is wonderful entertainment. As Del Bosque remarked after the game, the Swiss did not deserve their win at all, but that's football!

At night, hosts South Africa put on a show as only Bafana Bafana can, and their magnificent fans brought the stadium to life until their hopes were dashed with the award of a penalty. A personal highlight of the tournament has to be the sub keeper who came on and stood in Diego Forlan's face, grinning, to distract him from the task at hand. He failed, but a funny sight nonetheless!

So for me Wednesday was the real start of the tournament, coming off the back of the excellent Brazil 2 - 1 North Korea game as it did. Thursday saw Argentina deliver South Korea a masterclass in attacking football (whilst showing how potentially weak at the back Maradona's Argies are) and Mexico providing another massive shock with a highly deserved victory over France.

French excluded, is there a football fan in the world rooting for "Les Bleus"? After their scandalous qualification at the expense of the Irish, I can't wait to see them dumped out! Henry can stick his hand in the air and give us all a wave on his way home...

With Mexico and Switzerland nabbing wins against Top 10 teams and Brazil conceding a shocker to North Korea, as well as the surprising amount of drab 0-0 and 1-0 games, it highlights just how difficult this tournament has been to predict. To say this World Cup has been tough on gamblers is an understatement... I haven't seen a coupon burst this badly since the BBC's slow-motion HD shot of Frank Ribery.

My Germany/Holland/Italy accumulator was ruined by those pesky Paraguayans (is that a word?) and the sneaky Swiss stomped all over my Brazil/Spain/Argentina treble. I give up!

While I would like some combination of those three teams - Brazil, their rivals Argentina and the Euro 2008 champions Spain - in the final, I won't dare predict who will make it to the last game come 11th July. I've lost enough money at Ladbrokes this summer!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Blog #1: Thank you!

#1 on the list of sentences I never thought I would say: I'm going to South Africa for the World Cup Final.

I won an all expenses paid trip to the World Cup Final in a Hyundai contest run through Facebook, where contestants campaigned for votes after submitting a video that explained "What Would You Trade?" to be there (in my case, my collection of football shirts)

I'm quite sure everyone and their cat knows this already, as I won by pestering friends, family and strangers into submission for their votes.

It is now days since I won, and I have come to terms with it about as well as if you had told me my mum captained the World Cup winning England side of 1966.

The whole thing (the trip that is, not Bobby Moore being my mother) is so unimaginable that I won't be able to fully believe it is happening until the referee blows his whistle to call time on the tournament, and Gökhan Inler holds the golden trophy aloft for Switzerland.

Okay, maybe a Swiss win is going too far, but in a week where I booked a seat in Soccer City, anything is possible!

In fact, the morning after winning, I did genuinely roll over in bed and ask my wife: "Was it all a dream?!"

As a means to update the hundreds of wonderful, amazing friends who sent me on my once-in-a-lifetime trip, I thought I'd start this little blog, World Cup Trumpet. And I mean that in the Scottish sense - "Hoa you, ya trumpet!" - rather than the African, sound-of-a-50-foot bee trumpet.

Speaking of, first thing on the list of what to pack for the plane to Johannesburg must be an empty suitcase for the huge number of vuvezelas I have been asked to bring back! If Scottish Premier League grounds reverberate with the sounds of buzzing horns next season, you know who to blame.

Down to business, and before I can start blogging on the World Cup tournament and Final itself, I should really just start by putting into context how much this means to me, for anyone who doesn't know me that well.

My dad is all too aware how big this is for me. The man who has been by my side at a miserable, wet or snow-covered Rugby Park so many times over the years; the guy who echoes my touchline abuse at Scottish juniors games week in, week out; who bought me season tickets and football strips every August for my birthday (which is in November, by the way); and who once decorated my room with Kilmarnock FC curtains, bed sheets, alarm clocks and memorabilia.

He summed the enormity of it all up on Wednesday night when he said: "Noone deserves it more than you. You are truly the saddest, most obsessive football fan I know."

Maybe if I was Brazilian with an Old Trafford season ticket, the chance to see 22 of the world's best players fight for the ultimate glory would seem less special. I don't know. What I do realise is that as a guy who has grown up standing with two hundred or so fans at derelict juniors grounds, suffering yet another 11th-placed finish with the mighty Killie, or crying into my scarf at the end of another close-but-no-cigar Scottish qualifying effort, this will truly be the only chance I get to bask in the glory of International football heaven.

I was all too aware of this from the second that I opened that winning email, and my reaction was taken from the same page as the infamous "Nintendo 64 kid." The World Cup hasn't provoked tears like mine since Gazza in 1990.

All I can say is a massive "Thank you!" to everyone who took the time to vote and harass their friends, work colleagues or pets into doing the same. The response was like nothing I have ever seen and really made me appreciate what an amazing bunch of friends and family I have been blessed with.

It means so much to me that I already have plans to commemorate the whole thing with a tattoo. Hopefully this one will be a better success than my first ink, the Biffy Clyro 'b' symbol, which everyone has mistaken for the logo.

So, keep checking back for more updates from the World Cup Trumpet and once again... Thank you!