After watching the 2006 World Cup in Germany on television, brothers Dave and Kevin Hamel decided that they were going to attend the next one in South Africa.
“And we had decided that we were going even if we didn’t get tickets. We wanted to go for the experience,” said Kevin, age 36.
“It looked like a good time. So we started putting money away [to save up],” said Bangor’s David Hamel, 34.
They did get tickets and, in fact, they will get to watch the United States in its opener June 12 against England in one of the marquee matchups in pool play. They will play in Rustenburg, South Africa. The Hamels also have tickets to a game between Denmark and the Netherlands in Johannesburg two days later.
Kevin Hamel, who lives in Old Town, pointed out that the game between England, ranked eighth in the world by FIFA, and the U.S., ranked 14th, is the matchup of the two highest-ranked teams to face each other in pool play.
Kevin Hamel will be going to his third World Cup and his brother will be attending his second. Kevin Hamel went to Italy in 1990 and watched Austria beat the U.S. 2-1.
The brothers, who were teammates at the University of Maine-Presque Isle, went to Foxboro Stadium in 1994 and saw Italy rally to beat Nigeria 2-1 in overtime in the Round of 16.
They have the same impression of watching a live World Cup soccer game.
“The most amazing thing is the speed,” said Dave. “I’ve never seen anything that fast. On TV, the field looks huge and it looks like the players are going in slow motion. It’s the same size pitch we play on. I couldn’t get over how fast it was.”
“The skill is phenomenal,” said Kevin. “When you watch the play away from the ball, you see how much everyone is running and moving. It’s like chess. Everybody is thinking so far ahead.”
But the two soccer games are going to be just part of the experience.
They will be going on a safari, visiting an amusement park built on a diamond mine, going to a casino and taking a ride on a zipline, which is an aerial ropeslide.
“It’s two miles long and you can go 100 miles an hour,” said David.
Kevin said they will also have a “tribal” experience.
“It’s an all-day event in which you get a taste of how the tribes lived,” he said. “It was designed for local South Africans to keep in touch with their roots. They feed you and show you what their rites of passage are.”
“Every day is mapped out. There are so many cultural places,” said David.
They have been surveying the Internet to get a feel for the country and David pointed out that they have met someone online who has befriended them and will show them around. They will also stay with her and her family.
“We were emailing people and trying to find places to stay. Her name is Leila and she is a 36-year-old single mother of two boys. She is originally from Brazil and speaks five languages,” said David. “Her 12-year-old son is really into music like Kevin and her 10-year-old is really into sports like me.”
David said they will have to be careful because the violent crime in South Africa is “very bad.”
They will enjoy sharing the experience with the fans they will encounter.
“We will be seeing different cultures who are very passionate about the game, much more than we are in this country,” said Kevin. “They live, eat and breathe soccer.”
“I’m sure we’ll find plenty of pickup games,” said David Hamel.
The brothers said there will be plenty of Americans in South Africa.
“The most tickets sold have been to Americans,” said Kevin. “But they’ve also returned the most. I think once people learned about the airfares and how much it would cost to get over there, they decided they couldn’t afford it.”
The Hamels will fly from Bangor to New York and then to South Africa. The airfare will run each of them approximately $1,900.
They figure the trip will cost each of them $3,000.
They feel the United States has a legitimate shot to advance past the pool play round into the Round of 16. Algeria and Slovenia are the other teams in their group. They said the loss of speedy striker Charlie Davies, who was badly injured in a car accident, will hurt the U.S.
“I think we can hang with England. I don’t think we’ll get blown out. But it will take our best day and their worst day to beat them,” said David.
“Their strength is offense and ours is defense,” said David. “Hopefully, Landon Donovan and [Clint] Dempsey can score some counterattack goals.”
They can’t wait to get going.
“The cultural education we’re going to get is going to be great,” said David.
“To have 32 nations all congregate in one place will make for an unbelievable experience,” said Kevin.