History of The Wanderers Club

A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE 

It is now 1982 and perhaps time for change …………….

  • The United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid launches the International Year of Mobilisation for Sanctions against South Africa
  • W. de Klerk, Minister of Mineral and Energy Affairs, is unanimously elected the new leader of the Transvaal National Party.

With tremendous political and sociological pressures affecting humanity in all parts of the globe, nothing could ever be expected to go on just as it had been, and this also applied to sporting clubs like the Wanderers as much as it did to every aspect of human activity.  Many of the changes in modern society were not always welcomed but inevitable and people therefore needed to become accustomed to them.   The way people handle change requires a good deal of level-headedness and smart leadership.  It is always strange, but true, that after time even the abnormal seems normal, the distasteful becomes acceptable and eccentricity becomes commonplace.

Meanwhile back at the Wanderers ……

The Wanderers Club has always prided itself on its long history, sporting traditions and the excellence and diversity of its amenities and it had good reason to feel that way.  The Club had over the years turned out many excellent sportsmen and proud club members who demonstrated the very best in human qualities.  Unfortunately for some the old ideas seemed to fade in a more materialistic and selfish age and club loyalty, sociability and mutual respect did not seem to be such highly esteemed qualities as they had in the past.

The strong stride towards paid sport and the growing dependency on sponsorships, together with the aims of ambitious young sportsmen to get as much as they could without having to take any responsibility, seemed to be the new standard and definitely not in tune with those old notions of club sport.

1982 presented the familiar scenario of careful club management in ever worsening financial conditions.  With the Club’s Centenary only seven years away, the Wanderers was still seen to be performing its vital function in providing sport and recreation to many thousands of men and women in Johannesburg and its surrounds.  The Club was also the nostalgic focus of many members living elsewhere in South Africa and overseas who, although no longer able to partake in its offerings, liked to preserve their sentimental links with their former sporting home.

Committees and members alike were beginning to wonder whether the Club would still be fulfilling its role as one of the leading sporting venues and the favourite meeting place of sportsmen when it turned 100 years old. Would the stadium still be standing or would it, due to the lack of crowd-drawing events, start to show signs of dereliction, or perhaps have been converted into a piece of real estate to be occupied by blocks of flats and offices?

Club sporting activities were now almost cut off from a world rife with blacklistings and death threats to any sports star who dared to even contemplate having a game with outcast South Africans.

Never before had the ever-deepening gloom surrounding South African sport reached such a low point as it did in the month of July 1982.   A cancelled hockey tour by a West German women’s team started the woes, followed by a disastrous soccer tour of English and Argentine stars and then the cherry on the cake was the renewed snub of South African cricket by the International Cricket Council which, regardless of the advances made in the multiracial sport in South Africa, continued to conform with government policy regarding the re-admittance of South Africa to that body.

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Once again South African sports lovers resigned themselves to the stark fact that they would be seeing few, if any, international sports rivalry at their sporting venues.  However, people were thankful for the irregular, occasionally illegally organised offerings which were reliant on vast grants by commercial sponsors. Clubs like Wanderers which were wholly geared to the promotion of sports entertainment for the public were left out of the equation.

Three years prior rumours had been circulating that the Wanderers Club was considering taking the first positive steps to introduce mixed racial membership.  As a result of this, at the 93rd Annual General Meeting, the usual meagre attendance was considerably boosted to three times its number and the atmosphere was decidedly electric.  Overwhelming support was given for the admission of all suitable persons, regardless of race, to sectional membership of the Club.

 

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At the time it was not possible to grant full membership to non-whites because of existing laws prohibiting them from taking full advantage of certain of the Club’s facilities.  The committee did however consult with members again to ascertain the general feeling of allowing non-whites to become full members should the restrictive laws be amended at some future time.

The Chairman at the time, Kelsey Stuart quoted from the Constitution as follows:

The Constitution of the Wanderers Club has never contained provisions excluding from membership persons belonging to any particular race group.  Accordingly, no constitutional amendments are required to enable us to welcome as full ordinary members persons of all colour groups”.

The Club President, Doug Roberts responded by saying that this was a tremendous move by the Wanderers – an historic occasion!

Tragically, Kelsey Stuart passed away suddenly on September 15th 1982 at the age of 52.  The news of his death sent a shock of disbelief throughout the Club as he was apparently fit and in full flight on a highly successful career.  He had been playing league tennis for Wanderers the previous weekend and had become distressed after a prolonged game.  He passed away three days later in his office.   He had been the motivating spirit regarding multiracial membership, and it was indeed a tragedy that he did not live long enough to see his actions rewarded.   

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Kelsey Stuart served as a key member of the Wanderers Parent committee for almost 20 years

For many people 1982 flew by so fast that they must have doubted the accuracy of their calendars, but this was put down to the usual abundance of happenings.  Wars and anarchy in many parts of the world continued and in the world of sport the general scene was no less gloomy and often merely a projection of world strife and turmoil.  In this traumatic climate, the South African sporting authorities had done wonders in keeping their various branches of sport alive and managed to retain the involvement of their stars who might otherwise fallen by the wayside through lack of international competition.  The way things were, professionalism had completely transcended patriotism and isolated South African sportsmen were reaping the benefits, which in turn created a population of sportsmen continually chasing the best money.  For the general sports fan, supporting a game had become largely an exercise in watching players strive for the biggest share of the sponsorship cake.

Unruly and violent crowds had been a tradition in soccer for many years and now it seemed that the gentlemanly game of cricket was also being contaminated by this scourge.  Two examples at the time were when the Australian touring team was chased off the field in Pakistan and a few weeks later when a boozed-up mob of pitch invaders started a brawl during the Australia versus England test march in Perth, resulting in serious injury to a player.

As the beginning of 1983 drew near, the world sports scene was one of creeping shadows and mottled sunshine.

To be continued ……/(19)