Land of Our Fathers


 

Sunday 11 July 2010: 3 years 10 months on . . .

Tonight, at Soccer City in Johannesburg, the Netherlands plays against Spain in the final of the 2010 South Africa FIFA World Cup ®. The winner of the match tonight will take over from Italy – sent home in the early rounds – as the undisputed World Football Champions. They will wear the crown until the next World Cup takes place in Brazil in 2014.

Millions of people worldwide will focus their attention on South Africa tonight. They will join the thousands of international tourists that have streamed into our country over the last five weeks. It is difficult now to picture the world we came from in the Old South Africa.

Exactly twenty-five years ago, in July 1985, we arrived in Amsterdam by bus from Calais in France. We being the 21 people making up the first overseas 1985 Grey High School Cricket Touring Party to UK and Holland – 15 boys and 6 teachers.

It was the height of apartheid South Africa, and the townships were burning. South Africans were not welcome in most parts of the world and crossing boarders was a cumbersome task. South African tourists found it difficult to travel and international sports tours were out of the question!

But, somehow, we managed to pull it off. Not welcomed abroad as teams are nowadays, but all very clandestinely – even the cricket equipment had to be hidden away amongst the ordinary luggage. After all, this was publicly no more than a sightseeing tour to Europe! Forget about the fact that wherever we went in the UK discreet plain-clothes officers of the Intelligence Agency accompanied us, just in case something went wrong and protestors upset our tour along the way. It sounds all very James Bond style now!

And, up until our arrival in Amsterdam, everything had gone absolutely smoothly.

We had acquired a VW Golf, which had been the prize in our fundraising competition and for which we had sold tickets for months prior to the tour. VW also gave us a fleet of multi-coloured Smartie Golfs that we had to drive to Johannesburg from Uitenhage at the start of our tour. And, after spending one night in Johannesburg, we had left from Jan Smuts International Airport (now Oliver Tambo International) aboard our Luxavia flight headed for Luxembourg via Nairobi and Cairo.

In those days, Luxavia was a front airline company for SAA that was allowed to use African airspace and overfly the African soil that we now so publicly boast about to the world. SAA had to fly over the Atlantic, around the continent, in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge!

But, as South Africans, we were kept in the “holding pub” when we landed in Nairobi, and, in Cairo, we were not allowed to leave the plane. From Luxembourg, we had flown onto London Heathrow where we joined our coach and coach driver.

We travelled and played mainly in the south and southeastern corner of England – as far north as Northamptonshire and down to Hove and Brighton. And we won some and lost some.

In between the matches, we did the tourist thing! London, Lords, the castles and palaces, the pubs and even, to the disgust of some, the Theatre – Evita  and Don’t Cry for me Argentina – all in Spanish! And, on the Sunday of the Wimbledon Tournament, we watched Boris Becker beat our very own South African Kevin Curren in the Men’s Final. (For some or other reason, Wimbledon seemed to escape the harsh South African boycotts of those days.)

But, on the day we left Dover via ferry to Calais and by coach through France and Belgium to Amsterdam, a storm broke around our heads. Klaas de Jonge, a Dutch activist wanted by the South African Police, had gone into hiding in the Dutch Embassy in Pretoria. The police are not allowed to enter diplomatic premises and this set up a standoff between the SAP and the Dutch Embassy staff, and an international furore.

The effect on our touring party was the cancellation of the matches by the schools we were scheduled to play against in Amsterdam. And so we had a few days there with nothing to do – each has a story to tell of how they managed to occupy their time educationally during those days!

I don’t remember much Orange but I do recall us painting the town and the lights Red!

And, of course, what goes on tour stays on tour!

We coached back to Luxembourg from Amsterdam. I remember it was 14 July, Bastille Day, when we headed back for Johannesburg. It was also Dickie’s birthday and because of that he was allowed to sit in the cockpit when we landed in Cairo. (But definitely not touch Egyptian soil!) Now you can touch the soil but definitely not sit in the cockpit!

As a youngster, those lands were just the subjects of stories. I remember, from my childhood, the story of the little Dutch boy who prevented catastrophe by keeping his thumb in the hole in the dyke, and then there was the rhyme about the King of Spain’s daughter came to visit me.

 

What a different world it is that our children are growing up in. Now they are not just stories – in the last month not only the King’s daughter has come to visit us, but the Kings too, and the Queens, and the Presidents, and the people, and Paris and Leonardo and my neighbours and not even my neighbours . . .

And, tonight, will it be Spain that will say to her South American Spanish offspring Don’t Cry for me Argentina or will it be the Netherlands saying it to her South African Dutch offspring?

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