Fond memories of a former sports journalist

Languishing in splendid isolation together with the rest of humanity has had me reflecting on some of my own little newspaper career memories here on the Border.

As a young man, I arrived at the Daily Dispatch in March 1962 as a qualified newspaper compositor en route to the Cape Times, just stopping off to earn some petrol money before moving on.

Fifty-eight years later, and I’m still here!

I found a beautiful English wife, now as South African as biltong, who gave me three wonderful sons; I worked for a fantastic company and boss, and I wouldn’t have changed it for all the gold in the world.

Of that time, I have devoted about 35 years of part-time endeavour to following and recording the triumphs and traumas and the heroics and heartbreaks of Border sport.

It has been a great ride.

I was so privileged to be associated with extravagant talent in all aspects of Border sport which is too often, alas, not recognised in the national scheme of things.

The great Border sportsman Buster Farrer once told me if you live on the Border, you have to be twice as good as anyone else to gain national recognition.

Off the field it has been a ball as well. So many sporting memories crowd in and, with your permission, I would like share a few with you.

Remember the intimidating Ted Allen?

When I arrived here, I expressed an interest in sports reporting and Percy Owen, later to take over from Border legend Sandy Johnston as sports editor of the Dispatch, took me on as a correspondent.He was bureau chief of sport on the Border for the Weekend Post and Herald in Port Elizabeth at the time, a position I was to assume many years later.

The first job Percy assigned me was covering a swimming gala down at the Orient Pool where I had my first brush with the formidable Mr Allen, a headmaster by profession who had a fearsome and widespread reputation of being rude, demanding and overbearing.

Ted, then retired from teaching, was the thoroughly bilingual sports stringer for a number of weekend publications and knew his sport.

Anyway, I heard this voice shouting: “Boy, boy! Come here.”

I looked up from my programme and found he was beckoning me.

“Yes,” he said, “take this to the Post Office immediately.”

He then handing me a telegraph form on which his gala report was written.

I put him right but where he got the notion I was a copy boy, I don’t know!

The more I became involved in local sport, the more I heard of the dictatorial manner of this former school teacher.

But I’ll tell you this, he certainly had the respect of Border sport and served it well.

Ted Allen had a heart of gold though and over the years I earned his respect too, and we became firm friends.

One day he summoned me to his house, handed me his portfolio of contacts and his cellphone and made me bureau chief of sport for the PE papers.

A week or two later, the now gravely ailing Border legend asked me to drive him from the house he had lived in for more than 50 years to the care home on the Quigney he was to occupy for the short time before his death.

Poignantly, he asked me to drive him via the Old Selbornian Club for the last time. A truly unforgettable Border personality.

I remember an occasion in Queenstown when I got a call from Percy Owen, by then sports editor of the Dispatch, asking me to cover a Sports Pienaar Trophy match between Border and Eastern Free State in Ficksburg.

LOOKING BACK: Former Dispatch editor Percy Owen Picture: DAILY DISPATCH

In those days, the Border rugby team had to fly to Jo’burg, then to Bloemfontein and then take a coach to far-flung places like Ficksburg.

We won a hard-fought match in which in which Dirkie Scott, one of a string of classy Border flyhalfs, played a major part.

By that time I was streetwise as to the antics of travelling Border rugby sides and after this game, kept well out of the way of after-match celebrations.

After a couple of hours had elapsed, who should saunter into the hotel bar but Tollie le Roux, the burly Swifts and Border prop.

“Come on Charles, join us for a drink,” he said. “There are only a few of us left.”

I fell for it and followed Tollie into the function room where I was swiftly hoisted onto a table, de-trousered, handed a quart of beer while the assembled players sang the age-old sporting “down-down” song while being urged not to write nonsense in Monday’s paper!

And, oh my goodness, something else I will never forget: It was when the French were in town for a match against Border or some representative side and we had all gathered at the Holiday Inn after the match. After a while the journos covering the game left for the station pub opposite the Dispatch building where we had a couple more, and I happened to take the winning ticket for a lovely fresh shad.

It was getting late and I cunningly figured: “Ah, my get-out-of-jail card for the wife.”

Well they dropped me off at home and I sauntered up the drive-way with my fish, convinced I’d be pardoned.

At the time we had my Mom staying with us. I knocked on the front door which was duly opened.

“Ta-rah,” I gurgled, holding out my peace offering.

People who know Naomi, then a pony-tailed little red-head, know she is a fiery two bricks and a tickey high no-nonsense character.

She snatched the “catch of the day,” by the tail and whacked me across the face with it.

And prodding my chest with her forefinger, she let me have it: “Your supper has been in the oven for two-and-a-half-hours!” she roared.

And from the back, the refined voice of my elderly mother: “Hit him again dear!”

Needless to say I was put to bed with no supper!

The lives of rugby scribes are indeed fraught with danger!

I had recently been appointed editor of the Daily Representative in Queenstown, then a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Dispatch.

Queenstown (Komani) at the time had powerful teams at both rugby and cricket and participated in the Border premier league.

The problem, to my mind at least, was the cricket pitch at the Sandringham Sports Club where inter-town matches were played. Strong teams from East London seemed to have little trouble running up scores of 500 runs on that pitch.

So to make my point that the pitch was dead, I placed a composite picture of the strip in photograph of a coffin with the applicable story and ran it on the front page.

Well, it caused quite a furore.

How dare I insult the groundsman who put hours and hours of work into preparing and watering the wicket every week, was the running theme.

“Pops” Littleford, a well- loved Queenstonian, was the honorary groundsman in question. It took months before Pops would speak to me again!

The other incident taught me you don’t mess with platteland rugby.In my warped wisdom, I decided I would select a best Swifts side of the last 20 years.

My mistake, I discovered when that particular edition hit the streets, was to put the powerful former Border captain and lock forward Eric van der Vyver on the flank.

The first call I got was from a highly irate Sandy Greig, father of the former England cricket captain, Tony, and from whom I had taken over the editorship of The Rep. The former wing commander in the RAF’s bomber command, and a man who had flown 19 sorties over Nazi Germany before he was 21, was apoplectic with rage.

“You put the best lock Swifts have ever had on the flank? Are you out of your mind?”

All day, similar calls came in and I was lucky not to have been tarred and feathered and run out of town.

I do hope your memories in these trying times bring you as much joy as mine have.


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