It is everybody’s dream around the world to watch reigning English and European champions, Manchester United, in action.
It is arguably the most popular team in the world and everybody wants to be associated with it.
For the past two weeks, the team was in South Africa for the Vodacom Challenge tournament that took place in four cities, namely Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Pretoria.
The tournament, which was eventually won by Manchester United, involved two of South Africa’s most popular teams, Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs.
Immediately after jetting into South Africa at OR Tambo International Airport on July 18th, we took a two-hour flight to Cape Town, where we were met by tourism officials.
On arrival, we had to rush to Newlands Stadium for Manchester United and Kaiser Chiefs’ pre-match conference.
The press conference turned into Cristiano Ronaldo’s affair concerning his reported intention to move to Spanish giants, Real Madrid.
Despite being bombarded with questions on Ronaldo, Ferguson made it clear that Ronaldo was still their player with four years remaining on his contract.
After the conference, it was time to watch Manchester United at training and it was like a big game, looking at the attendance of the Cape people.
Surprisingly, only photographers were allowed inside the field of play while journalists were barred for something which was said to be security reasons.
The following day, July 19th, was the date for the game and Newlands Stadium was painted red with team colours and memorabilia. It was shocking to see many South Africans backing Manchester United at the expense of the local team.
Manchester United brought all their regular team players, including non-regulars of Chris Eagles and reserve goalkeeper, Tomasz Kuszczak.
Chiefs also brought several of their new signings, like Valery Nahayo, Reneilwe Letsholonyane (formerly of Jomo Cosmos) and Jose Torrelba acquired from rivals, Mamelodi Sundowns.
Chiefs showed no respect for the European champions as they tormented them from all corners and it was not surprising for them to get a goal via Ghanaian international, Jonathan Quartey.
Manchester United equalised midway into the second half through Eagles.
The player that caught the Manchester United coach’s attention was Chiefs’ goalie, Itumeleng Khune.
Khune made many brilliant saves that denied Manchester United victory. Khune is even touted as South Africa’s best ever goalkeeper after Hans Vonk.
At the age of 21, he is seen as destined for greater things because he can go for another 21 years.
After the game, all roads led to Durban where Manchester United would be locking horns with Orlando Pirates on July 22.
Since the game was three days away, SATAB took us around the Mother City, as Cape Town is affectionately branded. We visited several tourism attraction areas that included Robben Island, where the former South African President was imprisoned for 27 years. The island is about 30 minutes away from Cape Town by boat. We had the chance to get inside Mandela’s former cell.
Tour guides at the island are former prisoners who shed tears when they narrated the ordeals of the apartheid era. Photographs of former prisoners are splashed around the island and the one that grabbed my attention was that of Michael Dingake, the former BNF Vice President and former Member of Parliament for Gaborone Central.
Dingake spent a substantial number of years at Robben Island and was one of the few foreigners inside the prison.
Other places included Green Point Stadium, which will host some of the 2010 World Cup games.
From Cape Town, it was off to another coastal city, Durban, which takes about an hour and half by flight. We had to attend yet another press conference and then visited the new Moses Mabhitta Stadium, which is still under construction and will also be hosting some of the 2010 World Cup games.
We also toured Beverley Hills, a traditional Zulu heritage centre which attracts many tourists from around the world.
Just like in Cape Town, July 23 was no different in Durban as Manchester United still commanded a huge following at the expense of Orlando Pirates.
Manchester edged past Pirates by a solitary goal, courtesy of Lee Martin.
What could be noted from both games was the high level of organisation. Everybody who had a ticket was guaranteed a seat and even the media centre in the stadium is of high quality and journalists do not have to scramble for places.
The only problem was that most people waited until the last hour before the game, thus causing unnecessary congestion.
Two days latter, it was off to the friendly city of Port Elizabeth where local sides Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs battled it out at Eastern Provincial Rugby Union (EPRU) Stadium, with the winner playing Manchester United on March 26 at Loftus Stadium in Pretoria.
The EPRU Stadium was packed to the brim and there was a clear sign that the inhabitants of the area were hungry for Premier League action.
Until only this year when Bay United got promotion, the city last had a Premier League team, Michaou Warriors, in 1998.
Chiefs beat Pirates 2-0 with goals from Kaizer Motaung Junior and Jose Torrelba.
Chiefs set a final date with Manchester United. And, as usual, there was a pre-press briefing by officials from both Chiefs and Manchester United the day before the game.
Ferguson took the opportunity to blast the media over the Ronaldo saga. He went to the extent of calling it ‘crazy’ for blowing the issue out of proportion.
Like in the previous press conferences, he insisted that Ronaldo is Manchester United property.
Despite the high presence of security, Ferguson did not mind to mingle with whoever was around the press room and those fortunate enough even posed for photos with him.
Ferguson even urged the security to loosen up a little so that he could sign autographs.
In the finals in Pretoria, the game was not that electrifying like the previous ones. Analysts predicted that Chiefs were tired from the Pirates game.
Manchester, on the other hand, hammered South African giants 4-0, mainly using the youngsters. In addition, Manchester was playing basic football that Chiefs battled to contain.
The game was all about finding space. Some of the youngsters that Manchester United introduced were Danny Simpson, Craig Cathcart, Rodrigo Posseebon, Lee Martin and Fraizer Campbell.
After the game it was back to Botswana where the contentious issue is about the next Botswana Football Association general assembly, which will be held on August 9.
The assembly will vote for the new executive committee but the eagerly awaited one is the election of the president of the BFA, which pits sitting BFA president, Philip Makgalemele, against the former BFA president, David Fani.