by Ian Syson
I just found this piece in the Sydney Morning Herald from 1933. It’s both interesting and poignant I think. It tends to back up those who are skeptical about the possibility of footy taking root in South Africa — though I guess we live in very different times. The final point about the rules is telling also.
I’ve cut the first part of the article but if anyone wants me to I can post it.
The Sydney Morning Herald Wednesday 9 August 1933
A. R. B PALMER
. . . After the Boer War there was a fairly large Australian community in the Cape, as well as In Durban and the Transvaal. Many of us had not previously seen either Rugby or Soccer. We formed an Australian Football Association. I have the minute book before me as I write.
Our ground was on historic Green Point Common, then cleared of its tents and khaki thrones. No smooth swarded billiard table like the arenas of Sydney and Melbourne, but a rough and pebblv space enclosed by a boundary line of our own marking. We erected our own goal posts. Most of us sprigged our own boots. They were quite as comfort- able and effective as the modern factory article.
Our guernseys were sleeveless, of canvas, with lace-up fronts, Though they bore no numbers, every player took pride in being properly uni- formed. We played our matches to constant cheering. That was because the Australian community, including many Rugby exiles from New South Wales and Queensland, were there to encourage us, and to barrack. But, though admission was free to the world, our following was restricted. We made no converts among the Rugby-educated Afrikanders.
The association used to hold its meetings in a hotel in Long-street, Capetown. At the conclusion of business it was the custom to have a “bob-in.” The change, from the first round that is, went to the association funds.
There is a minute relating to the purchase of two sets of guernseys. The colours resembled those of Essendon and Geelong; we already had Carlton and Collingwood on show. The secretary was empowered to buy them in accordance with sample submitted at 3/11 each! They were as durable as they were presentable.
Until 1905 we battled against the forces of “ignorance.” The loyal Australian community was diminishing, some returning to their native land, others wearing past the age of athletic conflict. We had 38 stout players in our last season, fully paid as to subscription. Enough for two teams? Yes, and more. With one match a Saturday, we continued to conduct a competition.
The heaviest tax was on the ingenuity of our publicity officer. The Capetown papers generously gave us space. His task was to see that when Brown, Jones, and Robinson excelled it was for Federals. A description of Gumnuts’ win habitually eulogised the deeds of Smith. Williams, and Anderson. During the season every player was honourably mentioned, and none appeared for more than one club.
The association disbanded through lack of recruits. The younger members drifted mainly to Rugby clubs. Nowhere in the world could they have found harder or better schools. Genuinely I prefer Rugby, but when I hear the Australian game vilified by those who have not made the slightest study of its objects and teachings, my mind travels back to those splendid comrades of adolescence, and I smile.
On those in control depends the maintenance of any pastime. There is an ever-present urge to alter rules, but It is a mistake to think that all change is progress, and there is too big a tendency to pander to the unenlightened public. From the secretary of the Victorian League we secured in Capetown a copy of the rules of 30 years ago. One would not recognise them in the handbook now issued by the National Council.