It’s 1978 and The Wanderers Club is Ninety Years Old!  Some other noteworthy events during that year:

  1. The Atomic Energy Corporation builds South Africa’s first nuclear weapon device
  1. South Korea ends diplomatic relations with South Africa it established in 1961, in protest of apartheid

The Wanderers Club’s colours are black, gold and red to symbolise a progression from darkness through fire into light.  The Club’s 90th celebrations were due to be held in October 1978 and preparations had been in hand for several months before this date.  But, alas, as members were preparing themselves for the various festivities, the club underwent a major fire.  The blaze started in the kitchen in the early hours of Sunday 30 July, apparently caused by an explosion of gas in one of the stoves, and this quickly spread to the caretaker’s flat upstairs and the roof overhead.

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The Club restaurant on Sunday, July 30, 1978, after the early morning fire, when it was “All hands on deck” in the cleaning-up operations.

There was considerable damage, most of which was caused from the water poured into the building by firefighters.  The resultant damage was estimated at R100 000, excluding the cost of the consequent demolition and breakages in movable property.  

Soon after the fire the temperatures soared indicating that Spring was on its way and anniversary celebrations could begin.  Proceedings kicked off with a glittering formal dress anniversary banquet in the ballroom, where the then Minister of Sport proposed a toast to the Wanderers Club, which he referred to as a “Pride of the Nation”.

90th Anniversary Celebrations

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A miniature headgear in the clubhouse foyer            Brass bands on the No.1 Oval during

as a reminder of the link between the Club               the anniversary celebrations

and the mining town which grew together


In the days that followed there was a cocktail party for the sub-club committees, a discotheque in the gymnasium, an anniversary dance with 300 people attending, brass and pipe bands, trampolinists, karate displays, police dogs on the No.1 Oval, a soccer tournament, golf day, bridge drive and a cricket match.  It was a wonderful tribute to a Grand Old Club on its 90th birthday.

As the Wanderers Club entered its tenth decade, the isolation of South African sport by the international community was already well underway and the effect of the banishment was biting even more deeply into the fabric of South Africa’s domestic and international sporting structures.

Since the disappearance of test match cricket in 1970, interprovincial competition had become the only stage for South Africa’s exiled stars to display their talents to their many loyal supporters.  Almost half of the Springbok team pursued careers overseas, especially Australia.  Among the sad consequences of this worsening situation was that the test match image of the Wanderers Stadium was drastically reduced and due to its high maintenance costs, it became an insatiable liability.  There was also the relentless inflation and deepening depression due to the falling off in income from sporting events and functions at the Club.  This in turn made the Club even more reliant on subscription income, which the committee found necessary to increase substantially each year.

With the barriers rising more and more against South Africa’s participation in international sport, the Wanderers Club at the end of the 70s was facing a bleak future and most of the time the huge multi-tiered stands at the Stadium stood empty as a lamenting testimony to South Africa’s sport isolation.

Once again, the financial woes and worries about the Stadium came under consideration resulting in an eventual announcement that the committee decided to give the other two parties to the Stadium agreement, namely the Transvaal Cricket Council and the Johannesburg City Council, five years’ notice of termination of the lease.  Discussion between the three parties to the stadium agreement got underway soon after the notice of termination was served. The Stadium had in the past proved its worth as the country’s premier cricket venue, it was world-famous and had demonstrated on many occasions its importance in the finances of big cricket in South Africa. It was a tremendous contributor in the mass entertainment of Johannesburg’s sport-loving public and the thought of it not being there any longer for this purpose was daunting.

The 90th AGM might have been thought as boring but for those who did bother to turn up a pleasant evening was spent in support of the parent committee.  The only significant issue under discussion was the Club’s application for an “international” permit which would enable the Club to sell liquor and meals to people of colour without having to obtain a special permit to do so, something not easily achieved in those days.  Also, for the first time, the sporting sub-clubs were empowered to raise funds directly from their sporting members by way of levies.  This move had become necessary due to increasing affiliation and registration fees levied by the different sporting bodies and the committee felt that these additional burdens should be borne by those members who were directly involved in leagues and competitions organised by the various associations.  Sub-club levies expanded with inflation and were used to cover a wide variety of expenses including maintenance, upgrades and special projects thus taking the pressure off the general club funds.

The Wanderers Club was rapidly approaching its 100th birthday, which was due on 18 August 1988. However, it was not the only club bracing itself for celebrations as Pirates in Greenside (also turning 100) and Old Edwardians in Lower Houghton (turning 80) would also be indulging in festive activities of their own.  The Pirates in Greenside has throughout its existence been amongst the Wanderers Club’s main rivals in many sports, notably, rugby and cricket and the two clubs would not pass the opportunity to outdo each other.

Let the Celebrations begin …………….

To be continued … /(17)