History of The Wanderers Club  

A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE 

The Wanderers Club Magazine (in print) ended in 1992 and therefore no further research can be done to replicate the monthly articles that have been appearing in our current electronic newsletter.  To this end, I thought it pertinent for a change in tactics and therefore the next few articles will focus on persons that have made a significant contribution to the Wanderers Club over the years, in a way that it would honour their memory.

In Memory of Victor Kent (1879-1955)

This month we honour Victor Kent for his contribution to the Wanderers Club and for being the longest-serving chairman ever in its history.

Victor Kent was the Wanderers Club Chairman from 1920-1952 and President from 1948 to the time of his death in 1955.  He had been a member of the Club since 1899, a Wanderers soccer captain in 1904 and a member of the parent committee for 44 years when he retired from the chairmanship.  Few men had a greater impact on the Club than he and few served it with greater devotion and distinction.

Many words have been written about Victor Kent, whose vision was probably the most important single factor in ensuring the survival of The Wanderers Club after the Second World War.  It was he who took upon himself the decision to purchase the land known as Kent Park in Illovo.

The fact that he as the chairman of The Wanderers Club made the commitment without consulting his fellow committee members gives an insight into his opinion of the farsightedness of the other members of that Committee at that time.

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Not only was he motivated to protect the future of The Wanderers Club by relocating to a safe haven, but he was also determined to provide a less physical sporting outlet for older members of the club by creating a golf course.  To this end he procured the services and expertise of his good friend Felix Oliver.  The task was daunting as there was insufficient ground and there was no natural source of water.

The only recourse was to build a narrow, tree lined, parkland layout and the course was created as it remains today.  Construction commenced in 1937 and the course was opened in 1939 with 10 playable holes.  In 1942 the remaining 8 holes were created.  Appropriately, Victor Kent was the first Chairman of the Wanderers Golf Club and Felix Oliver was the first Captain.

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The memorial stone laid by Victor Kent remains at the entrance to the modern clubhouse of the Main Club today

 Victor Kent was an unassuming, even unimposing businessman who had trained as a bookkeeper. His association with The Wanderers Club dated from January 1891 when an uncle had taken him to see W. W. Read’s English Cricket Team. He was then twelve years old and had frequently revisited the grounds on its grand occasions until, settling in Johannesburg, he became a member of its Soccer Club where he noted the disgraceful condition of the dressing rooms, stands, clubhouse and premises generally.  Money was needed to maintain and improve them but the Club’s finances were in a scandalous state. As its chairman, he in due course joined the General Committee in 1908 and as a member of its Grounds and Building Sub-Committee, was well trained in the Club’s financial constraints. He was an outstanding man of moral principles and if his personality lacked in passion, it was compensated by an extraordinary talent for conciliation.

Victor Kent was shrewd and business-like to the point of being commonplace but in his ability to conciliate opposing factions and to see a way through an apparent impasse, he showed remarkable leadership. Nor, despite his reasonable complaisance, was he averse to striking a firm attitude and adhering to it. He became chairman of the Wanderers Club when it most needed direction and the leadership he gave it was admirable. The Club could neither hold up its head nor develop with the ‘permanent floating debt’ which it had come to consider an inevitable torment. Kent considered its moral duty to lie in discharging its debt to its early supporters and framed its policy accordingly.

In September 1912 the Transvaal Cricket Union transferred its matches to Ellis Park and relations with the Rugby and Soccer Unions continued to be most unhappy.  The Rugby Football Union, which had enjoyed a lease to the Club’s disadvantage, continually contested its amendment in terms more favourable and eventually also took itself off to Ellis Park.  Its chairman delivered an unbridled attack on the Wanderers in the press and Kent was forced to reply at great length.

Apart from financial depression, Johannesburg was fast approaching transformation.  Every means was sought to obtain funds to maintain the hand-to-mouth existence to which the Club’s finances now committed it.  On Victor Kent, it made particular impression. There was an offer to resume the Sunday Concerts to raise much needed funds but at the time the Committee knew that with a famous Opera Company in town, nobody would be motivated to attend.

Mr Kent continually reiterated that the Wanderers was not a public entity but a private club for its members and therefore could only do what it could afford in the way of improvements to facilities.  This subsequently led to accusations of ignoring the claims of the common people.   The Club continued its policy of trying to reduce its standing debt and it was a difficult time for all.

For the next five years, in the face of hostility and public attack, Kent pursued his policy of reducing the Club’s debt, loyally supported by the Committees which continuously elected him to the chair.  A deepening depression crept into South Africa and by the early thirties, gripped it by the throat. It was a new world after the Great War and many of the old sayings seemed in danger of disappearing – one of which being ‘sportsmanship’.   Men no longer behaved like gentlemen in public or on the playing field. Bickering and squabbling were the order of the day among both individuals and organised bodies and the press had a field day with their attacks on all and sundry, and Kent had to face it all.

His duty was to turn the Wanderers into a money-making proposition while at the same time preserving amateurism in sport and encouraging the Club members to uphold its best spirit.  At first, he appeared to succeed in none.  As much as he was obliged to obtain the highest reasonable revenue from the lessees of the Club’s grounds, he was accused of turning it into a commercial venture and depriving the people of Johannesburg of facilities which they felt were rightfully theirs.

By 1952 Victor Kent had directed affairs from the chair for 33 years.  He had been a member of the Committee for 42 years and a club member for 52 years.  Increasingly frail, he had resigned his chairmanship in 1951 but had been persuaded to serve for a further year.   The Club commissioned Edward Roworth to paint his portrait and this was presented to him at a ceremonial farewell.  He graciously accepted the portrait and in turn presented it to the Club which hung it in a place of honour.  He was mentioned in the Club’s annual report that year as “The greatest single influence in the progress and development of the Club”.  Few members were old enough to gauge the full extent of his contribution or the foresight with which he had guaranteed the future of Wanderers by purchasing the Illovo property.

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Portrait of Victor Kent painted by Edward Roworth in 1952

Three years later he died.

The organisation which he had so long directed and shaped had taken a hazardous leap into the future and had set its course towards new horizons.

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