stadium brawl

Three and a Half Rugby Games or Caught in the Crossfire

Saturday 7th April 2016 – off to the chaos at Hobie Beach to watch the Wobbly Goblin swim and cycle, and Pudding the Pirate run in the Corporate Iron Man.

This event is a scaled down (one tenth the distance) of the actual Iron Man event which followed on Sunday. They did very well and we all enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the Boardwalk, very welcome!

One hundred thousand spectators were expected for the real deal; a trip to Joubertina in the Langkloof for a quiet Sunday lunch might have seemed a more attractive proposition for some.

Then home to prepare for the next adventure, a trip to Despatch Rugby Club to watch MKC ref the First Reserves against Suburban’s team.

We got to the large concrete stand, covered by an extensive roof designed to keep out rain, which I’m sure it does on those rare occasions when rain finds Despatch; it is also cleverly designed to allow the hot autumn sun to flood the seating area in such a way that spectators either bake like potatoes, or retreat into the upper south-westerly corner’s ever diminishing shade.

There is a much more attractive area next to the stadium where club members hang out; it also has a bar.

On this occasion, the right hand side of the stadium was occupied by Suburban supporters, inhabitants of the so-called Northern Areas of Port Elizabeth, a gangster ridden part of town where over 100 people have been murdered during the last two years; unemployment, the drug trade, and the shocking state of education are probably key factors driving this situation; as you can imagine, anger simmers not far below the surface of ordinary citizens’ skins. Now add the availability of liquor at the stadium. Petrol on the fire. Of this more later.

When the second team game finished, the Suburban players formed a tunnel and clapped both teams onto the field. A nice touch.

The first reserve game started and I climbed the concrete mountain and found what shade I could; I must admit it was a great vantage point to view the game, which was of excellent quality.

Watching a son play rugby is different to watching him referee the game. Suddenly you are forced to follow the play more closely and to question the ref’s decisions; I must admit my knowledge of the rules has improved substantially. I now realize how little the average spectator knows about the finer points of rugby.

Apart from a yellow card for a high tackle and red card for a deliberate punch to the head, which left the Despatch outfit depleted but still in control, the game was exciting to watch, and the ref handled it very well.

That game finished at about 15h30, the hot sun ensured a steady flow of grog into the visiting crowd, and the first teams ran onto the field. Our lad and the referee from the second team game acted as touch judges.

Despatch has an excellent first side, and the visitors were no match for them; this of course, did not please the visiting spectators; in particular, one gent wearing glasses and slip-slops and a blue shirt caught my eye. He very deliberately set about provoking a club official trying to maintain order at the entrance to the fenced-off playing area. He also chirped at the referee, and was obviously intent on causing trouble.

Half time came and this guy disappeared into the crowd, where no doubt he had several more beers.

The one-sided game had been enlivened by a yellow card given to a Suburban player for calling an opponent a “boer”. Now that might not sound like much, but the referee – incidentally a coloured man – said “if this white player had called you a “kaffir” he could be prosecuted and jailed; why should you be allowed to get away with calling him names in an offensive manner? Off you go!” Another nice touch.

Once the second half got going, our friend of the blue shirt reappeared and set about his evil task of provoking the security official, who had meantime moved to the juncture of the main stand and the members’ area.

With about six minutes remaining in the game, all hell broke out. Blue shirt and his mates engaged in battle with the security guy and his friends. Suburban supporters rushed down the stands two large steps at a time to join the fray; empty bottles flew overhead and around my ears and exploded in showers of glass in the battle area.

I was in no man’s land, observing with amazement the speed at which Suburban reinforcements rushed headlong down the stadium with no regard to life and limb. On the field, the referee had called off the game and players and officials looked on in astonishment at the battle across the fence.

Meanwhile, our lad the linesman was frantically searching the stands for signs of his aged father; he was much aggrieved to see me laughing at the fun; I was summonsed onto the field to the relatively safely of 30 burly players. This took time, as I descended slowly down the large steps, holding onto the rail, in case I tumbled to the bottom.

As the battle subsided, the players from both sides went into one joint huddle; the Suburban supporters rapidly left the stadium, no doubt fully aware that the Despatch police were on the way.

I reflected upon the thin line that separates Love and Hate in South Africa; on one side of the fence, coloured people fighting with Afrikaners; on the other, the same race groups in a huddle together after ninety minutes of bashing each other with great enthusiasm on the rugby field.

It was quite relaxing in the Nelson Mandela Stadium – definitely the best looking stadium in the country – where the Kings hosted the Bulls; very civilized, in fact. No brawling, no flying bottles, no exploding glass grenades; probably quite boring for certain segments of the population.

My friend Andy from Chintsa had come to stay as he was due to watch his son tackle the real Ironman; when old friends get together after a long time, and aqua vitae is to hand, time flies; I think he got to bed at 02h30 and had to be up before 06h00 to get to the beach front! Dutiful father!

Sunday dawned, mostly windless. The forecast was for 15 knots south east at 17h00. The Redhouse Yacht Club authorities dictated that the race to the Islands would take place, but would start late to allow the tide to flow sufficiently to at least cover the prawn holes.

So off I went to set the convoluted course required for the Island Cup. We got tangled up in only one fisherman’s line and managed to extricate ourselves without harm; I really didn’t want any more flying bottles!

Racing at RYC is dictated by the infamous bridge crew; I researched collective nouns for old ducks; the best I could find to describe this lot is a Badling of Ducks. Considering that they open the wine as soon as they arrive (say Midday) if not before, and the race actually started at about five minutes to four, you can imagine the devastation caused to those aged, well punished livers after four hours of steady toping!

The evidence was there to see; boats were told to leave at four minute intervals, in groups to which skippers were allocated on the same basis that South Africa political parties allocate people to their proportional representatives lists – in other words, following a logic beyond the ken of sailors or voters.

Flags went up and down with the usual noise, and amazingly enough the confused fleet set off more or less in the intended order, against the rapidly flowing tide and a light to medium south easterly.

Racing was really interesting, and many decades of guile in navigating the River in these conditions found yours truly ahead of the fleet – but only just because the two centenarians in their very fast and overpriced Finns were quite confident of catching the Laser.

I got to within about 30 metres of the weather mark and the dwindling breeze dropped to nothing. Peace descended; silence reigned; I observed the bank sliding forward; I was going backwards with the tide.

The RYC rescue boat hove into view and told us the race had been abandoned; we turned for home and began the long drift upstream; meanwhile, the rescue boat crew picked up the marks and then covered themselves in glory by missing the now flooded main channel and motoring up the Chatty River by mistake.

As the old poem says “The sun went down and the stars came out far over the summer sea…”. In fact, drifting at sunset on the River is an experience not to be missed. A camera would have been in order.

And the tide was due to turn at 19h00. The rescue boat eventually turned up, aided by two other boats from the Village, and in due course we all got towed home, our tails between our legs.

And there wasn’t a tot of grog left in the Club House!

Categories: Close to Home

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