Fri, Jul 09, 2010 - Page 20 News List

2010 FIFA WORLD CUP: South African fan clocks up 17,000km and world record


Thulani Ngcobo will have traveled 17,000km, endured vitamin jabs to boost his sleep-deprived system and can no longer face a FIFA-sanctioned stadium hot dog, but on Sunday, the World Cup final will be the soccer fanatic’s 38th match after winning an uber-fan challenge’s grand prize that made him the Guinness World Records holder for most games watched at soccer’s biggest event.

“Everyone in the world would like to be me,” the 29-year-old asset controller from Pretoria said.

Guinness set the never-attempted record at 20 games — which Ngcobo passed on June 25, with a certificate handed over after post-match footage and witness forms confirmed his presence from the first to the final whistle.

The schedule was planned for months, with a car waiting outside stadiums as he galloped between host cities, one day clocking up 3,000km for four games in 48 hours.

A canceled flight once saw him arrive two minutes after kick-off, one of seven matches that didn’t count toward his record, which will stand officially at 31.

“I haven’t missed a game,” said Ngcobo, who snatched some sleep while traveling, but says he immediately revived once in stadiums. “This is a dream come true to me and it’s once in a lifetime. If something comes like this, you need to pull yourself up and you must make sure you do whatever that you can do to succeed.”

Ngcobo’s sponsored seat at Sunday’s final is worth more than his original World Cup budget of 2,000 rand (US$262), which he had set aside for 10 of the cheapest seats and 1,000 rand for ferrying between stadiums on minibus taxis.

Instead he got to soccer’s biggest showcase in grand style after winning the “Last Fan Standing” competition run by South African mobile giant and World Cup sponsor MTN, which picked up the tab for his transport, accommodation and top seats.

A die-hard supporter of the Bafana Bafana national side and Kaizer Chiefs, Ngcobo attends up to five matches a week during the season. His mobile phone ring tone is a soccer commentary and he met his girlfriend at a match.

Of the 32 competing teams, only Switzerland and Greece went unseen by Ngcobo, after they crashed out early.

Not having seen his three-year-old son for a month, he returns to work on Tuesday after taking 23 days of leave from his job at the government’s land reform department.

“I’m not rich, I’m just normal, but I managed to be in the Guinness [Book of] World Records. It’s all about taking chances,” Ngcobo said. “After this, I’ll really, really miss the World Cup.”

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