OLD GOLD CORNER
LOOKING BACK ON THE PAST
One Crisis after Another (or was it just history repeating itself once again?)
TRIUMPHS AND TROUBLES (1905-1911)
Although there were no unique crises for the Club during these years, it did, however, face some especially troubling times …
Once again the committee strived to uphold the good name of The Wanderers, as it was the one stable factor written about by spirited committee members who frequently made rash decisions, only to reverse them at the following meeting.
During this time committees imposed severe disciplinary action against those who were unable to sustain the moral tone of the Club, with some members being expelled should their actions be felt worthy of such punishment. Transfer of membership to a friend was deemed a serious offence (still happens today!) and entailed heavy penalties, resulting in some members resigning their membership only to re-apply after what they deemed a suitable period. Unfortunately, during this time there was evident discrimination against certain community groups who applied for membership only to be denied with no reason ever being given. Women were also discriminated against with regards to voting and access to facilities. They were allowed to play certain games but only at limited times. At no time were women permitted to introduce a guest. Shortly thereafter the committee relented and women were allowed to be accompanied by a male guest and in 1912 the South African Olympic Committee brought pressure on the Club to admit persons of colour.
There were problems administering a huge public sporting area as this encouraged drunkenness. Also pick-pocketing was rife, resulting in the arrest of one of the Club’s Honorary members who was caught in the act of going through the pockets of visiting teams’ clothing in the change rooms!
Sporting activities at this time took a peculiar turn; tennis courts were overcrowded but other sporting pursuits failed. Many sports fell by the wayside due to lack of interest or the incompetence of the sporting organisers, and the Club now entered a crucial period of its existence. The Municipality refused to reduce its rateable valuation, imposing higher taxation. In addition, many alternative venues became available to people who previously patronised the Wanderers. The situation was further exacerbated with the opening of The Carlton Hotel in Eloff Street, which became a preferred venue for balls and banquets and also deprived the Wanderers of revenue.
To make things even worse a number of citizens, irritated by the over-crowding of the tennis courts, decided to form the Country Club at Auckland Park, which in turn presented even further competition.
Charges were levied for the use of the Wanderers Club premises and a guarantee was demanded from all who leased them as damages often occurred. Whatever difficulties the Club was facing, it managed to retain its attraction as the place to be in Johannesburg and people still flocked to the Sunday concerts featuring the regimental bands from the Imperial and South African forces. Many famous performers graced the stage of the Wanderers Hall. Due to the ventilation in the hall being notoriously inefficient, all doors and windows were opened, and during one particular performance an entire pack of dogs trotted in, sitting themselves in front of the stage to take advantage of the breeze! Pigeons also roosted in the rafters, some entering the Hall through gaps in the roof, and they would flutter around performers while they were singing or playing, which resulted in much laughter from the audience! To make matters even worse, the whole incident was recorded by renowned journalist, Hedley Chilvers.
In spite of all the difficulties, the Club remained aware of its responsibilities. All was not well within its structure, and clashes often occurred when new and younger men began to dominate in the Committee, and the very existence of the Club was once again under threat. With Johannesburg sinking into new depths of depression the Wanderers now had even more serious problems to face.
Year after year during the 1890’s locusts swarmed to Johannesburg, crippling everything and even affecting transport to the town. The Star newspaper reported at the time that locusts were everywhere, lining the walls of buildings and streets making it difficult to walk. Those trodden on or squashed by vehicles rotted in the streets making the stench unbearable to visitors and residents alike. The following year, just as the Club was getting ready for the Christmas festivities, another cloud of locusts arrived, this time half a mile wide and many miles in length, darkening the skies after the traditional Highveld storms. Very little of the Wanderers gardens, so enjoyed by members, were left following the locust plague.
Elections were held in 1907 and the Transvaal gained its own Government, but conditions remained deplorable. Unemployment was rife and a miners’ strike was also threatening. Troops were deployed in the streets attempting to suppress the strike, and in 1913-14 there was a near-revolution as economic depression strangled the country. Permanent bad debt plagued the Club, and at one stage it even considered going into liquidation and realising its assets.
The Club’s caterers became bankrupt and owed the Club a substantial amount of money. When the liquor license was eventually granted in 1907 the Club elected to undertake its own catering after appointing a manager chosen from 91 applicants.
Johannesburg began to spread far beyond the nearby suburbs and became increasingly remote from its largest source of membership. The Railways had blocked all entrances from the town side and threatened the playing fields area with the expansion of a station. This all resulted in heavy competition in the town. Furthermore, the Municipality refused to allow the new electric trams’ route to include the Club. Thus, no tram tracks were ever laid along the surrounding streets, despite a relentless campaign to the Municipality to do so.
The Wanderers soccer and rugby teams threatened to move to Ellis Park. Sadly, the Sunday concerts, which had always been a regular income provider, had to be cancelled due to lack of attendance, as travel had now become more accessible with people preferring to go to Orange Grove and other country venues.
The Club remained poor during this time and could neither repay the debenture holders nor bonuses to the staff. It was, however, realised that more would need to be spent in order to make money for the Club, and considerable work was proposed to improve facilities. Membership figures were falling at this time, reaching an all-time low of 1,220 in 1909. Many members were defaulted for not paying subscriptions. Those who stayed complained that they had less benefits than the non-paying public. Revenue dwindled to a trickle, facilities were falling apart and there was no money to pay for repairs.
Moves were made to consolidate the Club’s tradition and in April 1910 it was suggested that a Club badge or crest be created, and a competition was held by members to come up with a suitable design. Thirty one designs were received and on 1 September 1910 the winner, Mr Arthur Ruben, was announced.
The design consisted of a Charioteer, the design of which had been copied from one of the medals awarded at the Olympic Games. Members wore the badge with pride, and it was soon recognised throughout the world. In the 10 years since its revival, the Club had regained its unique identity.
However, the country was plagued with economic and political dangers, optimism soon faded, and dark days were on the horizon for the Union. The Wanderers fought its own battle for existence and once again actively shared in the historic events that affected the entire country.
To be continued…../5