100 Years of Springbok Support
(Written by Lucas in 2006 for Fifteen Magazine)
South African rugby is celebrating the centenary of the Springbok emblem. The leaping antelope has become synonymous with 100 years of fierce tradition that stirs tremendous passion amongst supporters of Springbok rugby.
Paul Roos could not have imagined that an inspired declaration in 1906 that his team would simply be known as ‘Springbokken’ would develop into one of the world’s strongest sporting brands. In the last 100 years there have been magnificent moments responsible for some of the best sporting memories for followers of the green and gold.
Ask any Springbok supporter a favourite memory or moment and inevitably it is defined into three categories; tests, players or personal contact or sometime all three together. These memories or moments are also defined by time and certainly by rivalry; there is pre-war and post war x 2, there is pre isolation and post isolation, there is amateur and professional and then there is the famous Springbok / All Black rivalry.
With the advent of the professional era and test rugby on a yearly basis, some of the great feats of the past have become slightly blurred yet they were the reasons why most of us today are so passionate about the game. They defined the Springbok tradition and set a lofty standard unmatched by any other in the amateur game.
There are nobody left that will remember Paul Roos from 1906 or even Boy Morkel in the first series in New Zealand (1921) and maybe the oldest supporters will remember Danie Craven, Flip Nel and Boy Louw’s heroic feats from the unconquerable 1937 Springboks in New Zealand - the so called best team to ever leave the shores of the famous rugby country. Most memories will probably start past World War II.
In 1949 an all new Springbok team with zero test caps between them defeated the All Blacks 4-0 in what is so far the only white wash ever to be suffered by that great rugby nation. Hennie Muller’s bryl creamed hair, focused face and intense eyes in one of Springbok rugby’s most famous photos (before the Murrayfield massacre in 1951) reminds supporters what it meant to represent their country. Muller was the epitome of Springbok commitment and rumour had it that the Scots were ‘lucky’ to get 0 that day!
And so the memories become stronger, the 60’s produced some of the Springbok’s best ever individuals; Du Preez, Hopwood, Gainsford, Ellis and H.O. but not always the best results and in the seventies, the world sporting isolation began to take its toll. Many supporters today grew up on a diet of minimal test rugby, it was a rare and very privileged occasion to witness a test and one generally had to travel and be one of the lucky few who sat at the famous grounds like Loftus, Newlands, Ellis Park and Kings Park for a first account. The rest listened to radio and famous voices like Gerhard Viviers describing every bounce of the ball in beautiful baritone tones that sometimes fluctuated to alt depending on the crisis of the situation.
With the advent of television, rugby and the Springboks was transmitted into our living rooms. For the first time, voices from far New Zealand became a picture all be it the muddy and tumultuous one of the 1981 tour. This was test rugby at its best and the circumstances surrounding this famous three test series shaped many a supporter’s passion for the Springboks. These were men under enormous personal pressure and yet it meant a great deal more for them to represent their country for and against the Springboks than politics or money.
Modern rugby was born right after one of the watershed moments in Springbok rugby. Looking back, the Rugby World Cup triumph in 1995 will define an era of Springbok supporters. The momentous occasion brought Springbok rugby closer to the majority of people in South Africa and invoked the kind of passion seldom seen before. In the 100 years of history there was no greater moment than Francois Pienaar receiving the trophy from Nelson Mandela wearing the blond Afrikaner’s no6 jersey. Many of our current Springbok supporters were born or re-born that famous day in June.
The last 10 years have seen significant changes to the game of rugby; it is now a professional sport with a huge infrastructure and massive support world wide. The Springbok has held its own with the other great rugby nations and even though there has been and there will be some trying times ahead, the supporters of the country, team and game is amongst the most passionate around.
Memories and great moments are created every time the Springboks play, every time a Springbok stop and talks to a supporter, signs a cap or a ball and every time a gathering of people watch a game no matter how far from the actual play. And that is the crux of being both a Springbok player and a Springbok supporter. The one cannot exist without the other and this relationship has become even more important in this modern era.
We salute 100 years of Springbok rugby but we also salute 100 years of the most passionate supporters any player or country can wish for. Long may it continue!