March 19-20th was a huge sporting weekend in the Mother City in 2016, for not only did sports fans have the Cape Town Cricket Sixes at the Green Point Cricket Club, but we also played host to the international Barclays Premier League (BPL) Live, an exciting fan park- and event-experience for football fanatics. Last year, BPL Live headed to India’s Mumbai but this year, the free, two–day event was held at a truly stunning venue in Camps Bay High’s sports field.
With former footballing legends like Peter Schmeichel, Robbie Fowler, as well as homegrown stars Lucas Radebe and Quinton Fortune, the coveted Barclays Premier League Trophy itself, interactive football games and even representatives and mascots from some of England’s biggest football sides – including Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City – this was a must for local, dedicated football fans, myself included.
Although I would have enjoyed attending the Cape Town Sixes, there was no chance of my missing this global football event and when I first heard about it in early February, I made quick work of registering online on the Barclays Premier League website (https://bpllive.com), which was an effortlessly easy process.
From the website, I had all the information I needed, including the knowledge that there would be free shuttles departing on both days, from several key areas in Cape Town, as well as several confirmed matches, and within moments my access code – necessary for entry to the shuttles and the fan park – had been texted to my smartphone.
Day One, held on Saturday 19th March, dawned chilly and partially overcast after some overnight showers, but by the time I reached the Grand Parade where the shuttle buses in my area were set to depart from at 11:00 a.m., the sun was beginning to show its bleary face and the humidity increased.
Although I arrived there early (around 10:15 a.m.) to make sure I could find the shuttles and board timeously, there was already a crowd of some thirty-odd fans eagerly waiting outside the first of the shuttles marked with the navy BPL ‘Grand Parade’ signs. Like myself, this group was decked out in football finery, with peak caps and silky soccer shirts that proudly boasted of their loyal support to (mainly) the three main red teams: Manchester United, Arsenal and my own team, Liverpool.
While we queued in the snaking metal barriers, I quietly watched as friends met up, listening to the light banter and football discussions around me, before we were each asked to present our codes to the official BPL staff, who were pleasant, helpful and organised throughout the entirety of the event, before having the underside of our left wrists stamped with a ‘GP’ for Grand Parade, to show that we had travelled with this particular set of shuttles and had already undergone some ‘checking’.
From the outset, it was made clear to us that food and drink (even water) was prohibited at the event and on the shuttles as well, although fans were free to eat and drink in the lines or before entering the venue itself. Food and beverage stalls were, however, provided at the venue so visitors were certainly well-provided.
After we had zigzagged back to the start of the line, my group boarded the first bus. The BPL staff and bus drivers kept us well-informed, assuring us when we did not leave at 11:00 a.m. on the dot (as scheduled) that we needed to wait a few minutes to ensure that there were not too many crowds arriving at the same time. We boarded the bus at about quarter to and left some five minutes behind schedule, although the traffic was famously backed up at upper Kloof Nek Road, we reached our destination, arriving roughly half an hour later.
Most of us passed the time by taking group photos or bemoaning the latest performances of our teams. I ended up at the back of the bus with a group of Chelsea guys, who were both courteous and fun, moving up so the ‘Liverpool lady’ had enough space and asking my take on the latest League standings and my team’s performances.
Even from that moment, it was clear to me that, although there was likely to be football banter and teasing amongst rival supporters (and there definitely was!), everyone was well-behaved overall and at no point did I notice any bad behaviour, unnecessary taunts or drunken slurs as could so easily have been the case. It was clear that as fans, we were all excited and the enjoyment of this event was the most important thing to us all. I was extremely impressed by this.
As we curled around the other side of Table Mountain, we were awarded with some pretty amazing, clear views of the breathtaking coastal stretch. With Camps Bay in sight, my Chelsea companions eagerly pointed out the imposing 118 square-metre screen out to me. Even from afar, I was struck by the beauty and location of our venue, which was in every way world-class.
There, in the far corner near Clifton Beach, lay our destination, marked out even more clearly by the white tents, which were spread across the school sports field.
The shuttles parked across the road at Maiden’s Cove. As we maneuvered to a standstill, I couldn’t help snapping photos of that most glorious ocean vista, which I had not laid eyes on in over a year. We disembarked and were guided across the road by luminously dressed traffic guards before more BPL staff warmly welcomed us to the event.
There was a slight and decidedly steep upward climb, past a small Camps Bay conservation spot, before we joined up with the larger crowd of eager fans of all ages, lined up alongside huge BPL posters of the different teams, with fun facts sprawled across some memorable photos.
Members of the crowd were singing, cars drove by hooting and trailing team flags out their windows into the warm autumn air, as we snaked around to the end of the line where a security pat down (we were separated into two groups,women one side, men the other) and baggage check waited. There was a lot of food and drink confiscated at that point but it was quick and seamless and before long, I was curling up the last incline towards the main entrance, where the largest marquee with separate entrance points awaited.
We again twisted around more barriers, before BPL staff on hand directed us to separate stations. I approached mine and a lady once again asked for my access code, which she speedily tapped out onto a touch screen tablet. “Tamlyn?” she asked, as my name apparently registered on her screen. I smiled and nodded before she added, “Welcome to BPL Live. Have a good day.”
Passing out into the open field, which was encircled on every side by tents or interactive gaming stalls, I entered the BPL Live right on time, just after 12:00 p.m., which is when the event was scheduled to kick-off. There were already quite a few people inside, with more streaming in by the minute.
I made my way down the left-side of the field, past a giant navy blue igloo and picnic benches and made a beeline for the Liverpool tent, where my fellow LFC fans were already gathering. Every team tent, which I was really excited to see, already had considerable crowds lined up outside, eager to enter into their favourite team’s tent or learn more about a new team from the others.
I’d have felt a bit traitorous heading into any other team tent, although there were Manchester United, Crystal Palace, Arsenal, Everton, Chelsea, Manchester City, Swansea City AFC and Sunderland tents flanking Liverpool’s tent.
I glanced behind me at the mini-pitch, which I immediately assumed was for kiddies to play around on, and my eyes went wide, as I saw a man, dressed in a navy BPL sports outfit, kicking a ball around. Surely not, I thought, that can’t be Robbie Fowler, a real-life Liverpool Legend just casually standing around in the open without being (lovingly) mobbed by Liverpool fans. I looked at the other LFC fans, trying to ascertain if anyone else had noticed him, as I waited for unanimous confirmation.
Soon enough, a young girl pointed towards the mini-pitch, exclaiming as she did so: “There’s Robbie Fowler! Look, there’s Robbie Fowler.” After that, excited chatter rose up amongst our sea of Merseyside red as Liverpool fans admiringly gazed out upon their football idol.
It was a really simple, yet wonderful experience, and I have to confess that whenever Robbie Fowler appeared on stage or hopped back onto the mini-pitch throughout the day, I was there like a shot, somewhat awestruck by this man, who was so laid-back and unannounced, despite his global popularity as a former player and soccer personality.
Outside the LFC tent, you could sign a red silken banner, thereby sending your best wishes to Liverpool’s highly popular German coach, Jurgen Klopp (who, in one of the many video inserts played on the big screen throughout the day, said he’s heard South African fans are the best in the world. Indeed, we are…) or get a free Liverbird tattoo painted onto your skin. (I had mine painted on my right arm and wore it proudly throughout the day, as it lasted well.)
Once inside, you could pose in front of several notable backgrounds like the Anfield locker room, line up alongside the team’s current top eleven – like Philippe Coutinho – or pretend to touch that most hallowed ‘This is Anfield’ sign, which leads into the beloved Liverpool stadium.
I perched down in front of the locker room background before insistently posing along my main man, Brazilian star, Philippe Coutinho, a firm favourite among Reds fans. Two kind Liverpool ladies took the photos for me and for once, I was relieved not to have to worry about approaching someone to take a photo of me or attempt a selfie.
After my arm was painted Liverpool red by another on-hands assistant (the Liverpool staff were great fun and oh-so-helpful), I happily posed for a photo with hands-down the most fun mascot (I am a little biased but he was certainly really engaging and interactive towards everyone, irrespective of team and age) of the BPL Live, Mighty Red, before receiving a hug from him and a signed autograph to boot. I also managed to land a red-and-yellow Mighty Red badge, whilst kids were lucky enough to receive red LFC wristbands and frighteningly lifelike Klopp or Coutinho masks.
After that, I spent time exploring the rest of the field, passing the ‘Test Your Skills’ enclosures where fans could test attributes like ‘accuracy’ and ‘power’ against the likes of Alan Shearer or David Beckham, before eventually entering the ABSA tent (accessible only to ABSA cardholders), after presenting my card.
I watched visitors spine a large game wheel before my own turn came to see if I could win any fun prizes. Well, turns out, luck was indeed on my side, as I gave it a good, ol’ spin and it stopped on ‘autographed memorabilia’, much to my quiet astonishment. I was ushered to one side and a staff member disappeared for a moment before he returned and presented me with a box marked ‘West Ham’.
He said it was a pity that it wasn’t my own team (later, an Arsenal fan, who had won a West Brom ball, approached me, hoping no doubt that I had won a signed Gunners’ ball) but I was still overjoyed to have won what, I could feel, was an autographed official BPL ball, signed by West Ham’s current side.
I also received a complimentary bottle of water and some sweets of my choosing and it was a pretty fun and entirely unexpected ‘score’. My treasured box did, however, hamper my movements somewhat, especially when it came to taking event photos and videos after that but I feel very fortunate to have won such a wonderful memento thanks to Barclays and ABSA. 🙂
Passing the ‘Visit Britain’ (where you could pose for a free photo) and Topps tents (which allowed you to face off against an opponent in a BPL-player inspired card game), I glanced over the Beverage and Food Zones on that end of the field before hurriedly making for the stage, where popular BPL presenter, John Dykes and Robbie Fowler were presently in discussion.
After that, I decided it was time for lunch and opted for the ‘Turkish Delights’ stall (I additionally had the option of ‘Kitchen Cowboys’ and their tasty-looking gourmet burgers). I ordered a steak shawrma (R60), which is best described as a kind of Turkish wrap.
It was stuffed to overflowing with steak and veggies and, although I enjoyed it, was really messy to eat and was perhaps a little on the doughy side. Still, it was very popular, the stall did good business and the service was slickly professional.
I went to eat in the mini-stand, set up thirty-odd metres or so in front of the 118-square metre screen, where we enjoyed watching team clips, player/manager interviews and even some fine freestyle dancing from the Cape Town Freestylers, who could certainly pull off some fancy tricks with a football and who built up quite a large following over the course of the weekend.
From about 13:00 p.m. onwards, the crowds really started streaming into the fan park and the atmosphere sizzled with excitement as the sun beat down upon us, blessing us with a wonderfully balmy and decidedly warm autumn day, which was a relief after the bad weather that had previously been predicted.
After lunch, I headed to the other side of the field, passing the Good Hope FM, Supersport (where a fun BPL knowledge quiz was on the go) and interactive Nike ‘stalls’, as well as the two other Food Zones, which sold pizza and foot-long Frankfurters respectively, before I joined the queue to enter the ‘Trophy Zone’, where I was fortunate enough to see the prestigious Barclays Premier League Trophy up close and personal, as it shone and rotated in the tent’s dark centre.
I gave the ‘Club Zone’ and ‘Screening Zone’ a miss and went down to join the crowds gathering near the stage, where I stood alongside a sea of red Man United supporters, who appeared captivated as they watched Quinton Fortune speaking to John Dykes.
Not long thereafter, to my left, I noticed a small, impromptu crowd forming, twittering with tangible excitement, as they posed for photographs with an extremely affable and fun John Dykes whilst Mighty Red playfully entertained a group of kids nearby. I glanced at an Arsenal fan standing behind me as we lined up outside the popular ‘Creamy Tops‘ pink-and-white ice-cream/milkshake combie, and seeing his signed shirt, asked him if he knew where the ‘Signing Zone’ was. (I had spent the best part of twenty minutes previously scouring the field for it…)
“Oh, I am sorry, I don’t know. I just saw John Dykes earlier and asked him to sign my shirt.” Glancing back at the charismatic and witty presenter, it wasn’t hard for me to see why. I was sorely tempted to go over myself and politely ask him to sign my own shirt but I hadn’t thought to pack a permanent marker pen in and I wasn’t sure if he had one on-hand himself so I left it, feeling a tinge of regret.
After I had ordered a large ‘English Toffee’ milkshake (R25; it wasn’t really large but it tasted good, though I do think it was overpriced and not my best purchase decision) from Creamy Tops, I plunked myself down onto the neatly manicured lawn in front of the stage in the midst of some keen Gunners supporters, who were taking the mickey out of the match build-up as they listened to the panel on stage, which included local sports presenter Neil Andrews, John Dykes and co., who were discussing the upcoming matches, with particular focus being given to the first of the day’s live matches, Everton vs Arsenal and the later Chelsea vs West Ham match.
Once the team’s mascots had been welcomed on stage (the young Toffee Lady was extremely cute and the crowd immediately “ahhh-ed”, whilst Arsenal’s dinosaur mascot, Gunnersaurus, was quite lustily cheered onto the stage), it was time to see which supporters could best sing their team’s songs. Each set of supporters got two tries but as there were very few, if any, Everton supporters present, naturally Arsenal’s lot ‘won’.
I personally gasped in amused indignation when time-old rivals Everton’s song lyrics flashed across the screen as a recorded songster boomed out of the loud speakers, singing two particular lines from their song: “We don’t care what the red side say, what the heck do we care.” It was further evidence of the intense rivalry and pointed banter that exists between BPL teams and their eternally loyal fans.
The match kicked off at 14:45 and for a time, I enjoyed watching the live action, especially among the fervent Arsenal fans, who were egging their team on with a running commentary and fist punches, then I hurriedly went off in search of the signing zone again, as I knew Robbie Fowler was due to be signing autographs from 15:00 p.m. to 15:30 before Peter Schmeichel.
Each of the former players would be given one half-an-hour slot on both days. Fans could receive signed autographs and take one photo with former local and international ‘Football Legends’ like: Robbie Fowler, Peter Schmeichel, Lucas Radebe, Graham Stuart, Mark Bright, Kevin Ball, Shaun Goater, Paul Dickov and Jason McTeer.
Personally, I would have liked to have met Robbie Fowler, Lucas Radebe and even Peter Schmeichel (as my dad and oldest brother are avid United supporters and his name had come up a few times in our house) but sadly, I had little success in that regard.
After asking three staff members and a few fans where the ‘Signing Zone’ lay, I was getting desperate, trying to track down Mr Fowler and that once-in-a-lifetime autograph moment. I joined ranks with a father and his two grown children but by the time we had finally been directed to the right place (a very obscure small podium with a white table behind the mini-pitch) and made to join the queue of Reds fans, we were told the line for Robbie Fowler had been cut by two very apologetic female staff members.
I walked off in faint disappointment, as the father began to get very upset. When it was suggested he come back tomorrow, he said, “I can’t come back tomorrow. We’re only here today,” and I felt really bad for him and his kids because I at least stood a chance the next day, as I was set to return with a good friend (and loyal Manchester City fan) but for them, there would be no second-chances. In hindsight, we both probably left it too late but I had spent most of the morning and early afternoon trying to locate the place so it was definitely not for want of trying.
This was perhaps my only slight criticism of the event as it was a common complaint amongst disappointed fans. I think in future it should be a more prominent area and possibly that perhaps each star could have set aside two thirty-minute slots per day just to give more fans a fair chance at meeting and greeting their idols.
After a brief retreat back to the lawn, I decided to head to the front of the podium where a mixed batch of fans had gathered to watch Fowler signing. Although we could not lean against the protective fencing that enclosed him in, we were allowed to take photos and videos up close.
I was one of the lucky few whose patience and determination paid off, as I hung around right until he was done (he left some ten minutes after he was scheduled to and I am sure it would have been the same with Peter Schmeichel, who was set to appear next) and once he got up, pre-signed autographed photos were handed out to those of us waiting below.
I reached out a hand along with the others and uttered a slightly frantic ‘Please’ to the strict but efficient staff member controlling the signings up front. She passed me one, which I gratefully accepted and immediately clutched to my chest atop my autographed ball.
Although there was still a considerable crowd of mixed fans enjoying the live match, which was proving to be a great one if you were an Arsenal supporter or even a more neutral viewer like myself, I stuck around to get some photos of Peter Schmeichel and yet again, managed to extend a hopeful hand and be rewarded with yet another signed photo, this time signed by the former Manchester United Great.
One kind gesture by the lady controlling the signings was to take a shirt back and have Schmeichel sign it after a desperate father, who was quite frantic, said that he had only signed one of his two shirts and that he had two kids who would be expecting an autographed shirt. I could imagine the disappointment that the unlucky child would feel and my heart sank a bit for him until she said, “I’ll see what I can do,” and took the shirt from him over the protective fence.
Whether Schmeichel had been aware of the slight, emotionally-charged drama at hand, I cannot say, for he kept his face perfectly neutral and serene as he carried on signing and posing for photos, but I have a feeling he was listening all the same and I felt a surge of gratitude towards both him and the staff member who made a very important exception (I am sure there were other instances with Schmeichel and the other legends throughout the signing process as well) and saved a young family from devastation.
It sounds trivial, perhaps but it is moments like this that I most watch out for at such events and that inevitably make the greatest impression upon me; they are priceless and memorable because of their human touch and are the most enjoyable to write about afterwards…
After that, I made my way over to the side of the mini-pitch to once again quietly ‘stalk’ Robbie Fowler. I watched a LFC staff member guiding youngsters and offering them footballing insights (though they were all extremely knowledgeable and answered impressively when questioned on useful tactics and the like) as just behind them, Fowler was keeping himself occupied, playing around with a spare football and taking close-range shots as if he were back practising at Melwood and not entertaining fans in sunny Cape Town, with Lion’s Head and Table Mountain both looming in the distance or perhaps even reliving penalty experiences from the past.
Whatever he was imagining, I enjoyed watching him easily kick the ball into the net, as I protectively tucked his and Schmeichel’s autographed photos into my box, and was once again reminded of how lucky local football fans were on this particular weekend.
As we snaked past my beloved Clifton, with the sun shimmering silver upon the ocean, and made our way safely and steadily back into the Mother City, I couldn’t help but feel like I was one of the really lucky ones, who had experienced a supremely world-class, international event in one of my country’s most world-class cities… Only one thing was on my pleasantly weary mind at that point and that was: coming back for Day 2 and a repeat of all the footballing fun!
I’ll be covering Day 2 in a separate event review and giving a more detailed breakdown of the event and my ultimate rating of it, but it goes without saying that Day One of BPL Live was in every way worthy of a firm 10/10 rating.
For more info on BPL Live and/or the Barclays Premier Leagure, please find them on social media using the following links (or check out https://bpllive.com):
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Please note: All views, opinions and images used in this post are my own and in no way reflect upon any other fan/visitor, BPL Live staff member or institution other than myself.