This never gets old: Lining up for waitlisted media match tickets.
It's like tag team wrestling but instead of just two or four grappling and hamming, it's hundreds pushing and shoving in front of whichever harried FIFA punching bag drew the short straw back of house and is giving these out. This is my fifth World Cup, and as always it's a blessing and a privilege to be here, but coming back to this scene after four years away is like meeting an old frien – jerk.
“Gentlemen, please! We are not animals!” said punching bag du jour Allain LeBlang to the collection of international press. Frankly, animals are far more polite. They don't swear, and they smell better.
Quick primer on how this works: Way back in the winter all accredited media submitted their preferred first-round games. We all waited nervously and Christmas arrived in April with the news that we were confirmed golden for some media tickets, waitlisted, sweaty chopped liver for the rest. In the former case, you arrive on match day, stroll over to the ticket desk and a friendly attendant – they're all friendly here, typical of South Africa – hands you your pass. The rest start milling around about two hours before game time, the moaning and the WWE stuff starting almost immediately. One hour before and the bell rings for today's free for all.
One day in St-Etienne 12 years ago, the same LeBlang had enough. The shoving had led to fistfights, and after the same “We are not animals” routine, he abruptly went into a back room and in full view, lit a cigarette and turned his back on the mob, which only got louder.
Saturday in Johannesburg was a first for me. In five World Cups, I've been on dozens of waitlists. This one, I never got a ticket. I did take a peek into the stadium, but with no seat, went back after a few minutes to watch on TV. An hour later, LeBlang was still explaining to the last few shutouts that he had none left. The man has an apparently inexhaustible supply of patience, taking hits and spittle in any language and bouncing back up like one of those blow-up Bozo dolls.
“This is ridiculous,” said Sun Media colleague Mike Zeisberger as it all kicked off. (Mike actually got his hands on a ticket. I ended up three jerking, twitching, foaming at the mouth bodies short of LeBlang when the supply in his hands ran out).
No Mike. This is normal.