I was persuaded to visit South Africa by good friend Steve Turnock. Having spent time playing cricket in Melbourne, Australia, I was proof that very ordinary cricketers could travel and fulfil their dreams. However, playing success had eluded me. Steve had on my first visit to Melbourne arranged for me to meet a contact of his who would help me settle in and find a club to play for. Again, for my stay in Durban, Steve had put me in touch with someone who would look after me on my short six-week adventure. There is maybe a separate story here, but to pay for my trip to South Africa I took a job, lasting for eight weeks over the Christmas period, at Saxby Bros Ltd. Here I worked on the factory floor making pork pies.
On the 16th January 1994 I landed at Durban International Airport. I handed a scrap of paper with an address of a cricket ground to a taxi driver. Within an hour I was meeting my new mate Neil Johnson, and after a shower was enjoying my first of many cold Castle Lagers. Neil as it turned out was a good cricketer, and through him, I made many friends and a wife.
Having only been in Durban a couple of days Neil had arranged a night out with some cricketing friends of his. He would not be coming but had arranged a lift for me. All he said was “be outside the house and Macca would pick me up” And as planned a car pulled up at the arranged time and the driver’s window went down. It never occurred to me that Macca would be, West Indian cricketing legend, Malcolm Marshall. That night, in the company of other cricketers including Shaun Pollock, we played pool, ate mixed grill and had a few beers.
I attended my first game at Kingsmead on February 3rd. Steve, was in South Africa on business, so we were spending a few days together. We were invited to the King Sports suite where we would be looked after, like kings, with complimentary food and drinks. I was learning quickly how hospitable South Africans could be. My second experience would be with new friends sitting on the Kingsmead grass bank, known as Castle Corner. This was a rowdy affair involving beer and biltong. Someone in our group proved how accurate they could throw when they launched a small orange that struck one of the players, fielding in front of us, on the back of his neck. Luckily for us the incident only came with a warning, not instant eviction from the ground.
Since that first visit, I have spent many happy days at Kingsmead Cricket Ground. Neil moved from successful player to the commentary box. When Australia toured South Africa in 2009, he invited myself and my two brothers-in-law to a day watching Test cricket. Towards the end of that day Neil called me. The conversation went something like this: “Howzit, our cameramen have picked you up a few times on TV, have you been drinking?” Me, “we have only had a couple, why?” Neil: “Looks like you have had more than a couple? But if you are sober, come and join us in the commentary box at the end of play”. Before being welcomed into the box, we each ate a boerewos roll to sober up. After all, we did not want to make fools of ourselves. Who knew that commentary boxes had a fridge full of cold beer? The people we met shall remain nameless. On being introduced to a co-commentator of Neil, Callum and Brett my in-laws, soon progressed from banter to neck lock and noogies. (rubbing the head with knuckles) Other commentators and staff made their excuses not to join us and exited sharply. When only the four of us were left and three of us were dizzy from spinning on the commentators stools, Neil asked, “How are you getting home?” Bugger! Jenny, Callums wife had been sitting in the car in the car park for hours waiting for us! We were then made an offer, negotiated it and left. Neil suggested giving us six beers as an incentive to leave. We settled for twelve as home was nearly three-hour drive away. (Sorry Neil) (Sorry Jenny!)
I have taken two friends from England to the cricket in Durban. The first being AJP back in 2012 where we watched England beat South Africa in a great Test match. Last year, 2020, I was there with Knux for a one day international and twenty-twenty international. The first was a wash out and the second was awash with beer. Waking at the hotel the day after the twenty-twenty with a slight hangover, I had a mass of missed calls and messages on my phone. One video message showed me in the crowd dancing with a blonde lady. The lady in question was with her husband and son, who would not join her in her attempt to get onto ‘dance cam’ and the live TV coverage. I am no dancer, but on the other side of the world who would ever see me.
I am also a big rugby fan and Durban has the magnificent Kings Park Stadium: home to the Sharks. A huge thank you here goes to Callum’s father-in-law, Richard, who has treated us to many home games using his season tickets. Rugby here is a day out. Richard’s car park pass has meant we have spent many hours, pre- and post-match, enjoying a braai and cool drinks sitting right next to the car. These days out can be particularly tiring, and I have found myself missing the whole journey home due to sleep.
Back in 2012 I was lucky enough to see England play South Africa at Kings Park in a Test match. I was basing myself in Durban for the weekend and the plan was to meet a group of family and friends at the ground who were travelling down by minibus. The first message from the bus came about noon to say they were running late. I was already at the ground so purely to kill time I wandered from bar to bar. In one bar I thought I recognised someone, but I have had that feeling before when travelling. I always put it down to thinking about home when away from it. After a few minutes it was clear I did know the man across the bar from me. What are the odds of meeting an old friend, who I played club rugby with, who had flown to Durban to watch his son make his England debut!? That night Ivan got to see his son Jonathan run out on debut against the mighty Springboks.
Eventually the minibus arrived, around three hours late, and it was clear the occupants had been partying on board. I am not sure what happened to our match tickets as we ended up sitting as high as I have been in any stadium. The long steep hike to our seats meant that everyone carried additional supplies. Like Ivan, I got to see his son make his debut, however at altitude it was a little blurry. After the game we headed to a corporate box owned by a well-known fast-food chain. One of our group, Bernard, knew a highflyer from the chain and we entered the box. Within minutes we were handed plates and were at the self-serve buffet. After a feast we thanked our hosts and left. On our way out we met the highflyer. Turns out he was a temporary waiter for the day earning some cash to pay for his studies.
In the early hours of the following morning, I headed back to my hotel, I know when I have had enough. I said goodnight to those who I could find. Two had been missing for some time, feared drunk and lost. Four more were exceptionally tired and were asleep in the minibus awaiting its departure. Happy daze.