No other sport makes me crazy like rugby…as in gyrating around a pub (full of England supporters) doing victory dances at the mere sniff of a point one minute and then lying on the floor (very literally) begging Willie le Roux not to drop the ball the next.
It started in 1995. I was 13. It was the Rugby World Cup – my mom was always like, “What team are we?” (I remember her shouting for Australia in the opening game – mommm!) but sensing the occasion she took us to the Shell Garage in Kensington to collect rugby tazzos. My brothers and I had them all; the gold Springbok was like the holy grail or Arthur’s sword, holding vast mythological power. And then The Coke Cans (capitalised in emphasis of importance). Remember those? Each can had one player representing each of the RWC’s participating teams emblazoned on the side, blaspheming the purity of Coca Cola’s signature red – we were never allowed to drink Coke in my house (“It will rot your teeth” – mom quote) except when South Africa hosted the World Cup. Screw dental hygiene – there are rugby players on the coke cans! We trawled garages to find the teams missing from our collection. And I am being quite literal here. (So treasured were these tin mementos that my mom packed them into a suitcase twenty-five years later on visiting trip to London). We watched the games and went to Eastgate to meet the players; I have an autographed rugby ball with five Springbok signatures.
We won. And the country went mad…a good kind of mad. I remember parades and hooting and joy, extreme joy. I didn’t understand much about our fraught history (that came later) but I do know that ‘unity’ became something tangible – if only for a moment.
Thereafter, I had rugby posters on my wall and bought photos of my favourite players from Bruma Flea Market. I even took them on holiday with me (hashtag obsessed). We lived in a thatch house and I remember the small veld next door catching fire and, convinced our house was going to burn down, I scrambled to detach the rugby posters from my wall. I wasn’t going to take my cat or my Bible or my Deputy Head Girl badge; nope – my rugby posters.
My passion didn’t die with ’95. It was exacerbated by exposure. My school friend and I painted our faces in provincial colours – me: red and white for Transvaal, her: black and white for Natal – and sat in the stands screaming for our opposing teams, never caring that we were not on the same side. I watched SA versus Wales at Ellis Park and remember thinking that, even from a distance, Kobus Wisse was the biggest dude I had ever seen in my life. I couldn’t miss a game. And do you know, my mom taught James Dalton’s once-upon-a-time girlfriend…
As the story goes…we were in Woolworths in Eastgate one day and a very pretty blonde lady stopped to chat to my mom. I looked up and there was James. James Dalton. Fellow Jeppe kid. Wielder of THE emblem. Practically hyperventilating (me, not James) while my mom and her ex-pupil chatted about life in and after school, I was completely stunned (like, mouth open and no words coming out, total weirdo, kind of stunned) that a real life Springbok stood a mere foot away from me. The convo ended, James and his blonde left and my mom looked at me…still hyperventilating I managed to splutter “Mom! That was James Dalton!” She looked at me blankly and replied: “Who? That bald-headed thug?” Mommm…
Now, I am many miles and years away from the girl who collected tazzos, swooned at a bald-headed thug and smuggled James Small in a suitcase travelling from Jo’burg to Durban. And yet…there’s something about the game but not just the game; there’s something about the Springbok. Something so South African that no matter what part of the world you’re in; it reminds you of home. Not the xenophobia or the violence or the tragedy…but the people; the memories, the smiles and the friendships, the dry grass in winter and the warmth of the sun at Christmas. That distinctly South African down-to-earthness that is proudly home-grown. That.
So now, in 2019, I pass the Springboks on to my five children. Born and bred in England, they will support the Springboks on Saturday. Why? Because they are South African. Not by birth. But in spirit. And isn’t that what the Springbok is all about? – Heart. A great big one.
Dear Springboks, thank you for your heart. Win or lose, you’re the bomb. xAndrea