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2010's unlikely star

Simon Austin | 12:01 UK time, Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Zurich, 15 May 2004: The destination of the 2010 World Cup has been revealed and the icons of modern South Africa are celebrating.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, president Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela are enveloped by hugs and congratulations on stage at Fifa's headquarters.

In the middle of the throng is Gary Mabbutt who, for those not in the know, must look like a gatecrasher at the party.

The former Spurs defender had played an important role in helping Africa win its first World Cup though and now, with exactly a year to go to the start of the competition, is busier than ever.

(Left to right): Danny Jordaan, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela celebrate being awarded the 2010 World CupTournament chief Danny Jordaan told me: "Gary has been working with us for the last eight years and has done a great job. I describe vision as seeing victory before it is achieved and Gary was one of the people who had the vision to see a World Cup in South Africa.

"We greatly value his continued involvement, working with foreign media and developing the team bases in South Africa."

So how did Mabbutt, who is synonymous with Spurs and the holder of 16 England caps, become so heavily involved with South Africa's World Cup?

"I suppose it all started with a pre-season tour to Swaziland in 1984 and a day trip to the Kruger National Park in South Africa," the 47-year-old tells me.

"It was absolutely incredible, the true animals' kingdom and was unlike anywhere I'd been before.

"The world could have been at war and I would have known nothing about it."

When Mabbutt married his wife Kathy, a South African he had met in London, their wedding was held in the Kruger Park.

Towards the end of his career Mabbutt was asked to work on development programmes in the South African townships by the Football Association. He was delighted to put his summers to such good use.Gary Mabbutt with fellow 2010 ambassadors Gary Bailey, John Smit and Lucas Radebe

"I went to Soweto, Guguletu, Umlazi and Alexandra and it was an incredible experience," he remembers. "These are very deprived areas where people have such a hard life, but there was so much passion for life and for football there. The work was very rewarding."

It was on one of these trips that Mabbutt met Jordaan for the first time, and the pair hit it off immediately. "Danny is a Spurs fan, so we got off to a good start," he says.

"He is a lovely guy who has shown incredible determination to first win the World Cup and then to make sure it will be a success."

Jordaan first asked his friend to be an ambassador for South Africa's 2006 World Cup bid, but the defender said he couldn't because England were also in the running.

When South Africa lost the 2006 bid in controversial circumstances, they vowed to go for 2010 and Jordaan turned once again to the Englishman. This time Mabbutt "jumped at the chance" to get involved.

And he vividly remembers the day the country was awarded the competition.

"I was sat in the front row of the hall at Fifa's HQ with the rest of the bid team," he says. "When the result was announced we leapt up and ran onto the stage.

"The first person I came to was the Arch and we gave each other a big hug."

The Arch?

"Sorry, Archbishop Desmond Tutu," he laughs. "A few years earlier I'd asked him what I should call him and he just said 'call me the Arch'."

Mabbutt felt hugely privileged to spend time with Mandela during the two days in Zurich.

"He is one of my all-time icons and South Africa is the country it is thanks to him. He was totally conciliatory when he came out of prison and I have so much respect for him."

It was only when he returned to his hotel after the result had been announced that Mabbutt truly realised the magnitude of what had happened.

"There was a big screen on the wall of the hotel foyer and they were piping back pictures of the celebrations in South Africa," he remembers. "It was very, very moving. I had worked in the townships and realised what a difference the World Cup could make to the country and to the continent.

"The World Cup can change perceptions of the country and the continent," he continues.

"I have encountered a lot of 'Afro pessimism' as I've travelled around the world and this will be the opportunity to change all that. The World Cup will be the biggest free advert the country could hope for.

"There will be lots of other benefits - the regeneration of deprived areas, encouraging international businesses to return to the country and enticing foreign fans back for future holidays.

Mabbutt is convinced the country will be able to stage a successful World Cup.
"This will be an efficient World Cup, despite what preconceptions people may have," he says. "The stadiums are ahead of schedule, thousands of tickets have been sold and the infrastructure is in place.

"But it will also be a carnival. In fact it will be the most passionate festival of football the world has ever seen."

What about South Africa's crime problem, which has worried Fifa in the past? "It is a problem but it can get overstated," Mabbutt insists. "The organisers and the government have done everything possible to ensure the safety of the teams, officials and supporters."

He then impressively reels off a list of facts and figures to support his claim.

"They are training 40,000 new policeman just for the World Cup, there are new helicopters, radio-controlled unmanned vehicles and 60,000 CCTV cameras in the host cities.

"Remember there are about seven million visitors to the country every year and the vast majority have no problems at all.

"I'll also tell you a story which my wife likes to remind me of. When I first went to work in the townships I decided it would be best to leave my Rolex watch - a treasured possession - at home in England.

"The first day I got back, I proudly put it back on and went out for a drive. I stopped at lights in Shepherd's Bush, was mugged and the watch was taken."

Mabbutt is grateful that such a fulfilling project has filled the gap left when he retired from football. "A lot of players find it difficult to adjust to life after football, but I've been lucky to be involved with South Africa's World Cup."

I suspect his love affair with South Africa, and football in the country, will continue long after the World Cup has finished.


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  • 1. At 08:08am on 11 Jun 2009, Adam Wakefield wrote:

    As a South African, the day we were awarded the World Cup was one of celebration. While not quite as effusive as when we won the Rugby World Cups in 1995 and 2007, but close (though others might say it was the other way round). Either way, it's going to be a great tournament and even though there have been problems, when the opening ceremony begins at what was the old FNB Stadium (now Soccer City), the world will enjoy a great tournament.

    Thabo Mbeki by the way wasn't prime minister. He was president. We don't make use of a PM in SA.

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  • 2. At 08:39am on 11 Jun 2009, Macca wrote:

    It is great that South Africa have opportunity to host the World Cup and they'll do a grand job.

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  • 3. At 09:24am on 11 Jun 2009, Jwm367t wrote:

    I'm South African, currently at university and have already purchased my tickets for the world cup. Many of my friends are jealous as they all looking forward to this event. About 2 years ago there was still some doubt but now just about everyone is sure we can do it. Also the team is doing much better than it has in recent times, hoping for goodresult at Confederations cup which I also have tickets for. can't wait!

    PS Thabo Mbeki was President, not Prime Minister, we haven't had a PM for about 60 years now!

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  • 4. At 09:53am on 11 Jun 2009, Simon Austin wrote:

    #1 and #3...that's been changed...sorry

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  • 5. At 10:47am on 11 Jun 2009, emiatss wrote:

    It should be an absoloutely fantastic tournament, as it always is with a World Cup. I got tickets to a few games and I can't wait, even though I'm surprised its been three years since the last one. Spain would wish the tournament started this year, so I'm plugging for Maradona and Messi to lead the Argies to glory, though England will give a good show, possibly semi-finalists if key players stay fit.

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  • 6. At 11:20am on 11 Jun 2009, mightymuk wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 7. At 1:00pm on 11 Jun 2009, leetaylor7 wrote:

    Gary Mabbutt is a legend!!

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  • 8. At 1:03pm on 11 Jun 2009, GretnaPat wrote:

    I think England have a genuine chance next year. Eveyrone always gets over-exicted and thinks they'll win it, but why not this time around? They team are probably good enough, or they will be by then. Plus, am I right in saying this time of the year is winter in SA? Surely that will help England's players?

    Anyway, regardless of how England perform, I can't wait. I love the world cup.

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  • 9. At 4:10pm on 11 Jun 2009, tables47 wrote:

    As an American who studied in South Africa for the past few months, 2010 seemed to provide a shining light for the country. Amidst the numerous problems within the country I hope that 2010 can deliver on its promises.We're all rooting for you, South Africa.

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  • 10. At 4:43pm on 11 Jun 2009, spurfanindia wrote:

    The presence of Gary mabutt makes me proud about spurs..!COYS..

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  • 11. At 5:06pm on 11 Jun 2009, Donmos wrote:

    South Africa will spice up the World Cup... Germany was Great, but we'll bring the African flair to this shebang... It will truely be a Carnival... And abt safety... We have hosted a number of all sorts of tournaments. I'm happy to see that the Afro pessimism has subsided! Bring it on...

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  • 12. At 6:20pm on 11 Jun 2009, beanabeaner wrote:

    pure class as a player and as a man.

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  • 13. At 7:39pm on 11 Jun 2009, The Earl of Suffolk wrote:


    Great player, great man.

    My all time favourite Spurs player.


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  • 14. At 9:29pm on 11 Jun 2009, bald-in-guelph wrote:

    I think that this will be a great World Cup. There are always going to be critics ahead of time, but I think that South Africa will make a great success of it, and best of luck to them. Time that the tournament was in Africa!

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  • 15. At 07:38am on 12 Jun 2009, Xavierneville wrote:

    As a footballing nut for most of my life, the event of the World Cup in SA simply has not got my pulse racing. At the stage in life were I have a good job and could afford a trip to an event like this, not even the inclination.
    I just feel SA 2010 will be beset by problems and it's not the country or any potential violence although there will be some impact from a European attendance I suspect. FIFA has got the ticketing so massively wrong and they will report tickets sales but we will see many games not sold out. The whole reason to give SA the event was to use the vibrancy of the country to lift up an increasingly corperate event. FIFA should look at the way Rugby Union served up a super world event without compromising the event or the country......

    Only an amazing tournament will save FIFA

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  • 16. At 09:28am on 12 Jun 2009, Redman wrote:

    1 year to go !

    Does anyone know what time matches will kick off in the UK?

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  • 17. At 09:29am on 12 Jun 2009, mphozez wrote:

    This goes to show the world that the World Cup,which we are going to host in 2010, is not just a South African World Cup, we are making it African World Cup, We are making it Worldwide World Cup. Everyone is invited to the party.

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  • 18. At 09:59am on 12 Jun 2009, jakebrother wrote:

    Being of similar longitudes, South Africa runs either at GMT or +1; so no middle of the night alarms!!

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  • 19. At 10:43am on 12 Jun 2009, Coups22 wrote:

    Excellent blog. Can't wait for the World Cup 2010 and delighted South Africa will get some positive coverage for a change.

    I went on holiday there a few years ago and had an absolutely amazing time! While the regeneration that will come with the World Cup is much needed, hopefully a balance will be struck preventing over-commercialisation of a country which is full of natural beauty.

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  • 20. At 11:34am on 12 Jun 2009, Ferdinand wrote:

    Yes, crime is everywhere but when I visited Cape Town (one of the safer places in SA) I felt more vulnerable than anywhere I'd ever been.

    Of special note to visitors: the city has an unusual "dual centre". The old city centre, around the cathedral, is separated from the new centre, focused on the waterfront, by a sort of no-man's-land which is occupied by a number of noisy gangs of locals - not a place to walk through at night.

    Oh and in the (good) hotel I stayed in, a lady had her handbag stolen from her table while she ate breakfast!

    Other than that it was a great city to visit (Table Mountain etc) and a trip to Robbens Island - home to Nelson Mandela's prison for many years - is a must.

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  • 21. At 12:48pm on 12 Jun 2009, PaxtonPat wrote:

    Gary Mabbutt, football legend. Arise, Sir Gary!

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  • 22. At 1:16pm on 12 Jun 2009, Storm of Swords wrote:

    16. At 09:28am on 12 Jun 2009, Steveo77 wrote:

    1 year to go !

    Does anyone know what time matches will kick off in the UK?


    There won't be any matches played in UK, it's being held in South Africa.

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  • 23. At 5:33pm on 12 Jun 2009, bluegeefur wrote:

    Have always admired and respected Gary and enjoyed reading this article.I was lead to believe however,that the stadia was behind schedule and running over budget and street crime was going to prove a mega headache.
    Am pretty sure though that " The Arch " would not tell any lies so I take it as a done deal all will be well next summer.

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  • 24. At 7:54pm on 12 Jun 2009, Donmos wrote:

    It think it's unfair to keep harping on about Crime in SA as the only thing that country produces. We have a warm people that is more willing to welcome ppl to its shores for the Confed and the World Cup next year. Millions of people visit South Africa yearly and very few incident do happen to them. Let's focus on what this World Cup will bring to this country! Like one of the commentators on this Blog does say, maybe this World Cup will help the wretched money men of Fifa to save the World Cup from Corporates. And just to be a sporting event again... I've lived in SA all my life, and as unequal society as it, it's amazing that ppl that find hope in it's Future and do believe in a better life for them. This World Cup does that.

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  • 25. At 08:24am on 13 Jun 2009, swazi_travel wrote:

    1984...Gary's initial visit was a long long time ago. I wonder what he'd think about Swaziland today.

    The Kingdom is REALLY looking forward to the World Cup and its spill-over effect on the entire region. Only 4 hours from Durban, 3.5 hours from Johannesburg and 1 hour from Nelspruit - Swaziland is right in the South African armpit...and for once that armspit is smelling like roses.

    Responsible Travel - Swaziland

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  • 26. At 2:52pm on 13 Jun 2009, Binda1986 wrote:

    For those who love Gary Mabbutt, his facebook appreciation page

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  • 27. At 9:06pm on 13 Jun 2009, GasheadWes wrote:

    Gary Mabbutt is a true gent and was a great player. A Bristol Rovers legend too!

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  • 28. At 5:23pm on 15 Jun 2009, dell666 wrote:

    Hi All

    I have enjoyed the opening matches of the Tournament.
    I must mention though as most of my football friends have mentioned this, it was part of the tea time conversation earlier today in the office.

    The noise from the "trumpet" players in the crowd is actually very annoying while watching the matches on TV, now while one totally respects the fans for their endeavor, I personally did turn down the sound on the TV as I found this "racket" very annoying, but was more surprised by the fact that so many people had also commented on it today by way of conversation.
    I would hate to think that this "racket" would be detrimental to the viewing experience of the World Cup itself.

    So what do the people think on this, did anyone else find this "racket" annoying ?
    Maybe introducing some big bass drums or something to that effect would help.......

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  • 29. At 01:35am on 16 Jun 2009, argentina2010 wrote:

    Following on from the comment above....

    When I first this 'swarm of angry bees stuck in a box' sound, I was praying it was just confined to that particular stadium, now I can see that it is in all the grounds.

    Now, as a true lover of the world game, especially how the game is played all around the world, I really found this noise to really distract from the enjoyment of the matches, even the commentators mentioned the fact that after a while the noise is very irritating. Maybe the noise isn't so bad live, but through the TV it makes me want hit the mute button.

    I am all for the crowds getting involved, and music at the games, but this is just relentless noise, there is no rhythm to it, like the Brazilian samba drums, or the tunes played by the British supporters, this is just pure noise.

    Sorry for going off topic, I really hope something is done about it, as it would pretty much destroy the world cup as a spectacle if this carries on.

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  • 30. At 7:26pm on 19 Jun 2009, ianwrightorbendtner wrote:


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