top of page

THE GAMES WE PLAYED.  9. Yesterday’s soccer player     [7min read]  

The main game in my early years was soccer.

Like cricket, it was a pastime that I learned on the tarred soccer field outside 44 Dale Street, Lansdowne.

Street soccer caused more damage to our feet than any other street game we played.  Many a bloodied big toe tip resulted from skin scraped off on the road surface.

I never knew a road warrior who ran off home for repairs.  We stuck the bleeding toe in the nearest available sand patch on our unpaved pavements.  The injured would hobble back to do duty as goalkeepers.  Agony awaited them at home when over-diligent mothers applied Iodine to the wound.  The pain of the wound sterilising process meant that many never reported their injuries once they were at home.  Yes, we survived to tell the tale.

Times were tough, and often only one kid in the street owned a football.  It meant that the ball was only available when the ball owner came out to play.  The rest would use a scuffed up tennis ball until the real ball, and its owner emerged to join the fray.

The quality of those old leather balls varied.  The cheap ones scuffed easily, the stitching came loose and the lace to hold in the inner rubber bladder quickly wore through on the hard road surfaces we played on.  Most times the ball used was too soft.  It was a bit of a hassle to have to pump the old balls using the tubular extension from the inner bladder and then have to tie it tight before tucking the extension back inside the leather cover.  The protective lace then had to be tightened again.  The modern balls are so much easier to pump up, AND they retain their shape.

The more expensive balls were a rare item in our street.  They had a better quality leather which was thicker.  They held their shape better.  A diligent, proud ball owner would polish the ball with dubbin which also offered some waterproofing which was more needed when we played on grass.

We had no playing park in our suburb – there was one playground two suburbs away in Athlone. It meant that we played on one of two grass patches on Die Boer se Veld [aka The White Farmers Field], though we never knew who owned the field].

<—  Like age, suburbia has encroached on the playing field of my youth on the left side.  The mowed area of today, on the right, was where a large growth of wattle bush had taken over the vacant land of yesteryear.  Several pine trees grew there and provided our winter firewood when they were blown down in the winter storms.

Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak are visible in the background – this was the view I grew up with as a youngster.

The playing area was an informal field large enough for a full-sized soccer field, but the grass there was never mowed.  The larger of the two fields had the grass sufficiently flattened by the many feet that converged on the area to play their ball games – soccer, rugby and cricket depending on the season.  Goal posts were a rock or a brick or two with an item or two of clothing from overheated players.  Exposed pine tree roots ran down one side of the field where a concrete cricket pitch had been laid down by another generation of  enthusiasts.  Such was the nature of sporting facilities in many Black areas.

We drooled over the sportsfields at the White senior school on the other side of the Boer se Veld.  They had rugby, soccer AND hockey fields visible in the distance through the diamond mesh wire fence.

We sometimes used a smaller field where the grass was longer because not many of the neighbourhood kids played there.  This field was closer to home, and I managed to join a group who sometimes played there until the owner of the ball refused to allow me to join them.  He was a good striker with good ball dribbling skills and somewhat lorded it over his pals who were not as good.  His gripe with me was that I was a solid defender who often outmuscled him off the ball and made him look rather ordinary.  This was despite the fact that he wore boots and I was a fearless barefoot warrior as were most of the kids on our street.

At school, my fifty-yard kicks, before metrication, meant that I was a fullback in the parlance of those days.  Our school grounds, at both my primary and senior school days, were too small for a single soccer field.  I was good enough to represent the local school board in the Western Province School championships.  We were the Claremont-Wynberg branch, and William Herbert Sportsfield was our home ground.  When I had no bus fare, which was common, I often walked to Wynberg from my school in Claremont then walked home to Lansdowne.  There were no parent-taxi services in those days!  Once I started senior school, I proudly cycled to all our after-school matches.

One game stands out in my mind from those Board matches we played.  We were taken by bus to a game in Simonstown.  Coloured school playing fields ranged from the okay to the diabolical.  Well, imagine my horror when we had to play on a gravel field!  We lost that match because nearly half of our team could not afford soccer boots.  My feet were in shreds by the end of the game.  There were no slide tackles on that surface!

Of course, there were other injuries.  I had an infected haematoma on the front of my shin that was drained under ethyl chloride spray to freeze the skin.  DR Gool did not want me to watch the whole process.  He thought I was afraid, but the nascent doctor was just curious about the entire process.

A worse injury resulted from playing on a gravel strip that was part of the playground at Clareinch Primary School.  I fell onto the base of a broken glass bottle which penetrated my knee.  My dad was called to take me to Groote Schuur Hospital where the knee was explored and cleaned up before suturing.  I did not appreciate my father scolding me on our way home; that glass bottle should never have been there in a somewhat neglected school playing field which was devoid of any grass.

Many years later I was to train and then work at GSH as a specialist radiologist.  Brian Kies and I were two of the first persons of colour to be able to do so in 1975.  Trainees in other specialities were allowed after many more years.

There were many joys from my soccer days.  I played the game hard and don’t think I ever scored a goal.  It was a team game, but in those days, a fullback hardly ever crossed the halfway line.  The best part was the camaraderie, as is the case with all team sports.  In many ways, my life was fulfilling and also lucky because I escaped the worst that apartheid dished out to most of the people in the country.

My rugby days will follow in a later blog.


bottom of page