A History of Derby Day

Part 1

A History of Derby Day: Part 1

Friendships born on the field of athletic strife are the real gold of competition. Awards become corroded, friends gather no dust –  Jessie Owens

This imaginary incident was painted by Justus Andre Spruyt who died tragically in 1973 at the age of 38 before the painting was finished. He was a member of both Villager and Hamilton clubs. The painting now hangs at the top of the stairs on the B Field entrance.

The Early Days: The Birth of the Twins

It is 1875, the year of the birth of the twins, the Villager and Hamilton clubs, the first-born of rugby Union in South Africa. Hamilton’s was, as it is today, in Sea Point. Villagers, as today, in the Southern Suburbs. Travel between the two clubs was via horse drawn train, tramway or a horse drawn carriage, today’s version of Call a Cab. There are those who still to this day challenge the date of the foundation of the Villager Club, probabilities lean towards the fact Villagers was first formed as a rugby club in 1875, for it was early in midwinter of 1876 that the first match between the two clubs was played under the new code. Details to authenticate this are unavailable as there were no newspaper reports, or survivors left to tell the tale.

The Cape Times was only founded in 1876 and one of the early issues contained a description of the first reported match between the time-honoured and friendly rivals, Villagers and Hamilton’s on July 1st 1876. To all accounts and purposes the match was not, by any means, a successful performance. As to the result of the match, with neither side getting a goal and touch-downs not counted, it ended in a draw with no points being scored.

It was the year 1883 when it was felt that there was a need for a controlling body and it marked the formation of the Western Province Rugby Football Union, who organised the first official competition which was called the Grand Challenge, this has survived till today as the SLA. The banking account of the Union was opened and an amusing story by Jack Heyneman, an administrator with the Union, reads as follows:

“A Villager Hamilton match was about to be played on the Green Point Common and Heyneman thought what a fantastic opportunity to raise some necessary funds to bolster the new Union. He asked the Mayor of Cape Town whether he could rope off the ground and charge an entrance fee, to which the Mayor replied he could not as it was public ground. Unperturbed, Heyneman hired some soldiers from the Cape Town Castle and a policeman as security and roped off the ground with a solitary entrance. The gatekeeper was instructed to charge one shilling for adults and a sixpence for kids, which they all paid willingly. Hence the birth of gate money was spawned. Hamilton’s went on to dominate the Grand Challenge Cup from 1883 to 1890, Villagers first success being in 1884 and 1888.

In July 1881, in what would be the equivalent of today’s Derby Day, Hamilton’s beat Villagers by five tries to one and, in the following season, the margin was four tries to nil. In 1885, in what was described as a “rather peculiar incident”, Villagers scored two “protested” tries to a try – and the match was thereupon declared to be a draw.

A notable milestone was the playing of the hundredth match between Villagers and Hamilton’s on August 6 1921. A description of the match:

“Villagers have played such sterling rugby lately that they were expected to win by a comfortable margin. But the occasion appeared to inspire Hamilton’s and even the most ardent Villager supporter felt that they were unlucky to lose by the small margin of two points. There were periods of the game where Hamilton’s appeared well on top and they gave the Dirty Whites defence no respite. They were superior in both the scrums and the loose. Where Villagers had a decided advantage was the ability of their backs to find long range touches. Boyes, Blanckenberg and Wentmore changed defence into attack with a single kick. The speed at which the game was played, speaks for the keenness and condition of the men of both sides. The final whistle went with the supporters of both sides in a fever of excitement!”

One of the greatest days in the history of both Club’s was the Jubilee match played at Newlands on May 2 1925, to mark the 50th birthday of both clubs. The occasion had the extra historical value of its being attended by the then Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, and then, the Duke of Windsor. The match started at 16h30 and, after the players had been presented to the Prince, Hamilton’s scored a 12-4 victory.

P.S.T Jones wrote at the time of the Jubilee:

“But it is not of cup-winning records that one desires to be reminded, when looking into the history of an organisation such as Villagers. Rather let us dwell on the record of the club as the embodiment of all that is glorious in relation to its sporting spirit. It cannot be denied that throughout its history, Villager Football Club has stood for clean, honest rugby of the very highest standard. When one calls to mind the players who have been associated with this club during its time of honoured existence, one is not surprised to find that this is so. Some of these fellows played their rugby on the old Camp Ground or on Green Point Common, the HQ of the rival organisation Hamilton’s. Battling in those early days against the Hamilton brigades represented by the Versfelds, the McLeods, the Andersons and the Berranges, these heroes of the past produced titanic struggles fit for the gods.

Did you know? Villager FC and Hamiltons combined during WWII!

The advent of World War II found both clubs struggling to field even a first team. It was decided that both clubs form an arrangement and combine for the duration of the hostilities. The playing kit was the Hamilton jersey and the Villager shorts and socks. It was reported in the 1944 issue that the Hamilton-Villager arrangement was working very well with members from both clubs on the committee. Brookside was the home base venue. With the ending of the war in 1945 both clubs elected to part ways and re-enter the Union competitions under their own club names in 1946. In a report from 1945 “ We are proud to feel that the two oldest rugby clubs in the country have been able to stand together in times of need and there is confidence that, in future, the two will assist one another, wherever possible, to take, once again, leading roles in the rugby world of the Western Province”

Centenary Year: 1975

March 1975, the centenary year celebration for both clubs. The pivot was the day at Newlands and Brookside when eight teams met at the various grounds. The big match at 16h00 on Saturday March 22, was between the first teams and it turned out to be a runaway victory for Villagers winning 34-0. Certainly, the 1925 defeat was fully avenged! Hamilton’s took their defeat with the same spirit in which they enjoyed their success a half century before. An article by Neville Leck in the Cape Times:

“Magnificently led by Morne Du Plessis and Piet Geldenhys, the lighter Villager pack all but annihilated the Hamilton’s heavyweights. Their grasp, in this rain lashed forward battle, was so absolute that it is no surprise that their side was able to run in eight tries to completely crush their luckless, but game, opponents”

The Old Crocks A side on the day boasted six Springboks in its mix – Wilson, Hopwood, Gainsford, Stewart, Neethling and Van Zyl. This however did not prevent them from losing 4-0 on the day!

Villagers hosted a cocktail party and Hamilton’s a dinner party on the same night. Dr. Danie Craven, SARU Board President was invited to both. Attending the Villager function Dr. Craven was presented with a Villager Centenary tie which he promptly put on. On arriving at the Hamilton’s dinner, Hamilton’s were distraught that he had arrived with the Villager tie on and promptly supplied him with a Hamilton’s Centenary tie to put on. In a quandary Dr. Craven then suggested he wear both and spent the rest of the evening wearing them much to the laughter of everyone.

The ball at the City Hall coincided with the Cape Town Festival Banquet at the Castle, and the Mayor of Cape Town left his guests during the course of the evening to join the over 600 people at the Villager-Hamilton event.

The history between both the clubs is synonymous with the history of rugby within South Africa and the Western Cape. It has been built up on friendships, mutual respect and the unwavering belief in the value that rugby brings to the peoples of our country. Irrespective of the wins or the losses the history of the Villager-Hamilton Derby Day continues and will continue for as long as both clubs breathe and exist. When the teams run onto the pitch, the ghosts of players past, don their respective kits and march into battle alongside them, rejoicing in the fact that they are not forgotten and live on through us.

The next chapter of history between 1976 and 2013 will follow later this week. Below are random articles found from past Derby Days including 1935 and 1975.