Please Release Me Let Me Go!

July 1970. The All Blacks were on tour. We had gone to Bethlehem – surely the only town in the world where a big sign saying FAKKELHOF welcomes you as you drive in? – to see them play. Bryan Williams, the first Maori allowed to play in South Africa (inconveniently fast, handsome and popular) scored two tries in his very first game in an All Black jersey.

Check the Bethlehem news: ‘en daar was rugby ook’ – with more coverage of the pomptroppies than the rugby!

We got klapped 43-9, so the rugby was just an afterthought! You can be sure there’d have been much more rugby coverage had we won!

Rugby writer Terry McLean said: (The) Paul Roos XV was, bluntly, a nothing team. Dannhauser and Fourie had good stances as locks in the scrummage. Lyell at No 8 had bags of pace which he used much too little and Burger, a hooker of some note, took a heel from Urlich, though he lost five in the process. But behind the scrum Froneman was an obsessive kicker and Kotze at fullback defended principally by making meaningful gestures from a distance.

And McLook said: I get heart burn (sooibrand) just reading remarks like this; it has always been one of the most irritating and frustrating things for me about South African rugby. As a provincial player you get one opportunity in your life to play against an international team so why would you waste the opportunity by constantly kicking the ball away. Secondly, it totally eludes me why selectors would pick individuals for a team if that individual does nothing else than kicking. If you want to kick a ball go play soccer.

Later the Silver Ferns played Free State (or Vrystaat) in Bloemfontein and my mate Jean Roux and I decided we needed to go and see that game as well. We hitch-hiked to Bloem, arrived in time and watched the game.

Hitch-hiking flip.jpg

Let’s conveniently forget the score. You know how those All Blacks are.

1970 Free State -All Blacks.jpg

After the game we realised it was getting dark and cold. We had made zero plans or arrangements, so we made our way to the pulley staasie, the cop shop, told our tale of need and were met with excited enthusiasm and hospitality. NOT. We were actually met with complete indifference and ignored. Eventually one konstabel saw us and asked, ‘Wat maak julle hier?’ and we told our tale again. He said nothing but fetched some keys and beckoned us to follow him. ‘There’s a ladies cell vacant,’ he muttered, letting us in and locking the door behind us.

Toilet in the corner with no cistern, no seat and a piece of wire protruding through a hole in the wall: the chain. Four mattresses with dirty grey blankets. Lots of graffiti, mostly scratched into the plaster. Yirr, some vieslike words! We slept tentatively, trying to hover above those mattresses, which were also vieslik, and woke early, eager to hit the road back to Harrismith. After waiting a while we started peering out of the tiny little peephole in the door, hoping someone would walk past. Then we called politely with our lips at the hole. Eventually we started shouting – to no avail. After what seemed like ages someone came to the door. Thank goodness!

‘Vaddafokgaanhieraan?’ he asked. ‘Please open up and let us out, we have to hitch-hike back to Harrismith,’ we said, eagerly. ‘Dink jy ek is vokken mal?’ came the voice and he walked off. We realised it was probably a new shift and no-one knew about our innocence! They were these ous:

SA police 1970

We had to bellow and yell and perform before we eventually could get someone to believe us and let us out.

And then:

Hitch-hiking

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

FAKKELHOF – doesn’t sound like welcome; sounds like go forth and multiply; literally Torch Court

‘en daar was rugby ook’ – oh, there was some rugby (after ooh’ing about all the ancillary pomp)

pomptroppies – drum majorettes

klapped – pasted; smacked

Wat maak julle hier? – what are you doing here?

vieslik – disgusting; sis

Vaddafokgaanhieraan? – Can I help you gentlemen?

Dink jy ek is vokken mal? – Do you think I’m gullible?

A Brief Encounter

I had skipped rugby in matric, then played seven games of high school American football in Oklahoma. When I got to Johannesburg I was ready to play rugby again, but as there was little sport at the Wits Tech, friend Glen Barker joined Wanderers club. He had a car, so I joined him and off we would go in the green 1969-ish Toyota Corona 1600 he inherited from his gran to the field in Corlett Drive for practice.

wanderers rugby2

I doubt there were 30 players among the under-21’s so we made the B side – probably by default; Opposition teams I remember were Oostelikes; Strathvaal; Diggers; Pirates; Rugged bliksems all.

At Strathvaal in the Wes Transvaal we played and lost and I was removing my boots at the side of the field when a senior coach asked me to please fill in for the senior 3rds – they were short. Their game had already started so I laced up and waited on the sideline for a gap. I ran on as a scrum formed and they got the ball. Moving up from inside centre I went to tackle my man and  – BOOM! was carried off on a stretcher.

Who knows what happened, but at about ten seconds it was the shortest game of any kind I’ve ever played! Those miners were built like brick shit houses and seemed to enjoy them some explosive contact!

The yellow & blue hoops of Strathvaal!

Strathvaal rugby

=========ooo000ooo=========

I played a short international soccer game too, once.

Rugby Free State u/13 Champs

It was quite a year. I had shot up, my balls had dropped, and I became the tallest blonde in the team. Coenie Meyer was the only other one, but he was a stocky centre and I was a lanky lock in the serious half of the team, the half that did the hard work and won the ball – only for the frivolous half to donate it to the opposition, starting the whole process all over again! Us bum-sniffers suffered while the pretty-boy backs got all the glory. Before this hormonal reshuffling, rugby had not been I.

But truth be told, our real strength lay in an outstanding flyhalf called De Wet Ras; and in great teamwork, determined tackling and a fierce desire to do well by ‘Sir’ – as we called Bruce Humphries, our tennis-playing coach.

We were coached by a bespectacled tennis champ called Bruce who inspired us to give our all. His sidekick Ben backed him up and supported us – a kind soul was Ben Marais. We beat all-comers and moved on to play against bigger teams. We drew one game against Bethlehem Voortrekker 0-0, our ‘winning’ De Wet Ras drop kick sailing high directly above the right upright, so the ref did not award it. We beat them 8-3 in a re-match.

We were the Harrismith under thirteen team of 1967, playing in bright orange, looking for all the world like mangoes complete with little green leaves on top and some black spots below!

HarrismithU13Rugby cropped_2.jpg

At the end of the season we were unbeaten and happy.

But then we read in the newspaper, the Engelse koerant, The Friend of Bloemfontein:

Free State u/13 Champs: 140 points for and 0 against!

And they weren’t talking about us – it was an u/13 team from Virginia. We thought: Free State Champs? Like Hell! We also thought: Where the hell is Virginia? That doesn’t sound like an egte Free State dorp.

Bruce Humphries phoned them and challenged them to come and play us. ‘No, we’re Free State Champs,’ they said, ‘Can’t you read? You’ll have to come to us!’

Off we went to Virginia in Bruce’s new 1966 white Ford Cortina and Giel du Toit’s tweede-hands black Mercedes 190 – about 1959, and Ben Marais’ blue VW Beetle, undetermined vintage.

Cars Harrismith_2

There we watched their second team play Saaiplaas, a little mining village team with an egte Free State dorp name. We cheered Saaiplaas on and exhorted them to victory! I can still hear our hooker Skottie Meyer shouting mockingly – he was full of nonsense like that, onse Skottie – “Thlaaiplaath!! Thlaiplaath!!” They beat the Virginia seconds 3-0, handing them their first defeat of the season.

Our turn next, and the Saaiplaas boys did their best to be heard above the din of the enthusiastic local Virginia supporters. It was a tight match but we had the edge, our left wing Krugertjie being stopped inches from the left corner flag and our right wing Krugertjie pulled down inches from the right corner flag. Yep, identical twins, find them in the pic. The difference at the final whistle was a De Wet Ras drop goal from near the halfway line. 3-0 to us to complete a bad day for ex-Free State Champs Virginia. Which they pronounced Fuh-Jean-Yah.

What’s Next?
Now Bruce Humphries had the Free State’s biggest fish in his sights: Grey College Bloemfontein. No, they didn’t really think they’d want to play us, thank you; and anyway they were off on a tour to Natal that week, thank  you. ‘Well’, said Bruce ‘You can’t get back from Natal without passing through Harrismith, and you wouldn’t really sneak past us with your tails between your legs, would you?’

So the game was on! That day the pawiljoen at the park was packed with our enthusiastic supporters and cars ringed the field. Our followers’ numbers had grown as the season progressed and excitement at our unbeaten tag increased. No Grey College team had ever played in this little outpost of the British Empire (yes, we were that, once!) before.

Another tough game ensued, but a try just left of the posts by the tallest blonde in our team was the difference: We beat them 8-3, all the other points being scored by our points machine and tactical general De Wet! Die Dapper Generaal De Wet!

What a year!

see: Not that Generaal De Wet.

Beating the Rest
When it came to selecting an Eastern Free State team, the other schools introduced a twist: Not only did you have to be under thirteen, you also had to be in primary school! This excluded a few of our boys, who were in Std 6 (Grade 8). Only four of our team were chosen. So we challenged them to a game. Bruce told them it would do them good to have a warm-up game against the rest of us before they went to the capital of the province, Bloemfontein, to play in a tournament. Having been chosen as reserve, I was lucky: I could still play for ‘us’! Plus we ‘innocently’ added Gabba Coetzee to boost our depleted team – with their knowledge and permission. He was in Std 6 and just too old to actually be under thirteen. He was a legendary machine of an eighth man! An Iron Man, actually. His shot put record stands to this day, nearly fifty years later.

Ho Hum! 17-0

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On the LEFT: Bruce Humphries (coach); On the RIGHT: Ben Marais (assistant coach)

All Heads Left to Right: Dana Moore, Attie Labuschagne, Leon Fluffy Crawley, De Wet Ras, Redge Jelliman, Skottie Meyer, Hendrik Conradie, Hansie Jooste, Irené Tuffy Joubert, Coenie Meyer, Peter Koos Swanepoel, Kruger, Kobus Odendaal, Kruger, Max Wessels

– I wonder what that trophy is that De Wet is holding? I cannot remember what that trophy might have been for.  ‘Handsome Vrystaters Floating-on-Air’ Trophy maybe?

.

We got word that Bruce Humphries passed away in about 2011. 
Go Well Sir!  We'll never forget that 1967 rugby season. We soared high and grew our self-esteem that year. Thank you!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Playing in the Snow

1973, on my way back from the States, I fly to New York on a Monday in December and ask for a flight to Johannesburg via London.

‘Sorry you can’t. Your ticket is non-transferable, and the next SAA flight is via Rio on Friday’. The old man had paid for my ticket on his shiny new Barclaycard and had put it over 12 months, so one last payment was still outstanding.

Ooh shit, four days in NY with no money. Well, about $19. I got a $25 a month allowance in Apache from the Rotary club. Seventeen South African Diederiks Ront it was back then. And sixty cents. R1 was worth $1.42 – how times have changed if you’re reading this in 2020!

I put my suitcase in a locker, put a quarter in the slot and take the key.

Hop on a bus to Grand Central Station in Manhattan to look for the SAA office / kantoor. ‘That’ll be $2’ says the bus conductor.

At the SAA office / kantoor I get, ‘Sorry, can’t help’. Hey asseblief man! ‘OK, we’ll try’.

Back to JFK airport and sleep on the floor. The damn benches spitefully have armrests for each seat so you can’t lie down on them. Fitful sleep on the hard floor broken by a huge sit-on vacuum and polish machine that roars up to me at 3am. ‘Move along there’, says the cleaner driving the vengeful beast.

Tuesday I do the same locker-bus-SAA office run, but now I’m rather peckish so I stroll around Manhattan looking for something cheap to eat. I find a burger for $3. Not cheap in ’73, but that includes as much beer as you can drink, so I think OK. Big glasses, though, so I could only drink two. Then I wander the Manhattan streets with a nice beer buzz going. Going up the Empire State building was an amazing experience.

800px-Empire_State_Building_(aerial_view)

Wednesday I do the same locker-bus-SAA-hamburger-with-beers run but this time when I go into SAA at the end of the day they tell me ‘Good News, you’re free to go!’ To celebrate I book into the YMCA without my suitcase so I can have a shower. ‘That’ll be $11’ for the smallest room I have ever slept in: Just barely bigger than a small single bed.

Thursday I’m squeaky clean on the bus back to JFK. My ticket is now ‘transferable’ and I take the first plane to London: Air India. I grab a discarded newspaper lying on a bench on my way to board. It’s a jumbo jet – my first!

Air India 1973.jpg

Settling into my seat I read: “Air India has just been voted ‘Worst Airline in the World’ – Again”. Their cabin crew is on strike so admin staff are ‘standing in for them’ – by doing nothing. A delightful Irish lass is sitting next to me. Much older – she was probably all of thirty – she feels sorry for me so buys me a Pommy cold pork pie on the way out of Heathrow. Tastiest pie ever.

I’m on my way to meet a connection Don Inglis who once lived in Harrismith and is now in London for a year, so he knows the place. Turns out he has a rugby match playing for some Saffer team against the London Irish, so we scurry around Buck House circle and somewhere else where someone lived or died or married someone, and head off to near Wimbledon for the game. Five rugby okes are squeezed into his little Austin something, and we’re reading a map. I’ve been there one hour and I’m saying ‘Left, I think.’ At the ground the players huddle in a cold shed to change and notice they’re a couple of boerkies short can I play? Sure, I say, but only half the first half, then I have to catch a tube to Heathrow.

Rugby in London_2

Thank goodness (it’s sleeting outside) Don says rather don’t risk missing your flight. So they run out onto the mud with one blade of grass every ten yards without me and start puffing out steam and shoving some fat Irish blokes around.

Between scrums Don shouts out which tubes and buses I should catch and I leave before the halftime whistle to head south after a year in foreign climes. I’m very much looking forward to getting home now.

Once in the air the SAA koffie poppie gives me lip when I order a third beer so I’m feeling at home while still thousands of kays away.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Diederiks Ront – SA currency; Our finance minister’s name was Diederiks

office / kantoor – office / office

asseblief – puh-leez!

Saffer – South African

boerkies – South Africans

koffie poppie – SAA air hostess

~~~oo0oo~~~

The old man’s Barclaycard was brand new. Maybe he was persuaded to get one by a glass of sherry and a blonde?

barclaycard_launch

I recently (2019) packed some clothes for my 90yr-old Mom as she was going to stay in a home for the aged for a while. Get my suitcase down from on top of my cupboard, she said. It was the suitcase I had parked in the JFK locker 46 years ago! And it was probably old when she loaned it to me!

From: Box 123 Harrismith – To: Box 307 Apache OK 73006

~~~oo0oo~~~