Rubberhides Rugby Football Club

© Brecht. R. 2009.  Imvubu 21: 2, 4-5 & 8.

Today, the rugby players of Breidbach play for Brumbies Rugby Football Club. That was not always the case. In the past, the coloured people of King William's Town were represented in several teams, one of which was Rubberhides Rugby Football Club. Rubberhides was established in 1921 when the need for a rugby team arose in the coloured community in King William's Town and Breidbach. The necessity among Breidbach men for the establishment of such a club was further enhanced because Shamrocks Rugby Football Club, which was established in 1913, catered mostly for men from Leightonville and Schornville.

The majority of coloured men in King William's Town were employees at the well-known King Tanning and Kaffrarian Boots, later known as Border Footwear. TheRUBBERHIDES men working at King Tanning under the guidance of 'Oom' Tieks W. Cramford, 'Oom' Hunk Kleinhans, 'Oom Boere' S.N. Thompson, 'Oom' Lallies H. Meyers and others established the Rubberhides Rugby Club. Legend has it that Rubberhides and Shamrocks organized a play-off match to determine which of the two teams could use the colour red on their jersey, a fact many elders of the two clubs still dispute today. Some still argue that it was unlikely for both clubs to agree to such a play-off because Shamrocks were established in 1913 and were using this colour on their jerseys thirteen years before Rubberhides were formed. Whether such an arrangement did occur and who the eventual winner of the apparent play-off was, one can only speculate about the outcome of such an event and to the authenticity of such a rumour. The name Rubberhides was derived from a very strong hide, a kind of hide that was difficult to tan or soften for commercial use, at King Tanning, where the majority of the team's players worked.

Players were mainly recruited from the three major leather factories in King William's Town, with King Tanning supplying the bulk of the players. The club's green and red badge and motto were two recognizable symbols wherever the team went. The former consisted of two overlapping brown rugby boots with a ball in the centre and below which was the motto,  'IN UNITATE VIRES', 'In Unity Is Strength' or 'Eendrag Maak Mag', as Afrikaners say.  The latter pays tribute to the Rubberhides rugged playing ability, perseverance and team spirit when donning their jerseys. Games were eventually organized against local teams, like Shamrocks and Africans from Schornville, Swallows, Mother City and subsequently Black Lion from Zwelitsha, Lilly Whites, Home Defenders, Star of Hope and Head of Lions from Ginsberg and later on, Old Boys from Schornville. The old sports fields in Kolk Street, the first street as one enters Breidbach, were used for home games. 'Oom' Kenny Thompson vividly recalled how the loyal Rubberhides supporters under the guidance of 'Oom Man' L. Thompson, famous for using the phrases "Do is Do" and "Man is Man", would shout "Koelk toe Manne" as a gesture of encouragement to tired Rubberhides players to outgun their opponents. The Koelk was a popular picnic area near the Yellowwoods Bridge leading to Acorn Valley and it also referred to present day Kolk Street where the old field was situated. The spectators also played pranks on visiting teams and blocked off the only entrance to the notorious single lane Breidbach Bridge if Rubberhides were in the process of loosing a game. Opposing teams would then run through the Yellowwoods River towards town with the Rubberhides supporters in hot pursuit to the amusement of onlookers. The visitors' bus was sometimes only collected the next day. The club became notorious for their passionate supporters and the occasional clash with other visiting fans, for instance, Shamrocks. The healthy competition on the field was normally celebrated in the evening with a 'Langarmdans'.  In addition, the same players, who could not see eye to eye one week, would play together the next Saturday representing the King Team without harbouring any ill feelings towards each other.   

One must never forget that segregation or apartheid at the time prevented South Africans of different colours from associating with one another politically, socially, etc. That was also evident in sport since outstanding Rubberhides players at the time, like 'Oom Pop No Dol' Adams, 'Oom Soenk Makasoeza' Rooi, Eric 'Boeboe' Du Plooy, Willie 'Aspris' Martin, P. 'Hontaai' Kleinhans and Tommy Esterhuizen, to name a few, were selected to represent their province under the auspices of South African Rugby Union (SARU), while whites participated under SARB (South African Rugby Board), and blacks under SARA (South African Rugby Association). As a token of his contribution to sport, Tommy Esterhuizen was selected in 2008 by the Provincial Sport, Arts and Culture M.E.C, Noxolo Abraham-Ntantiso, as a sport ambassador to promote the Eastern Cape for the 2010 Soccer World Cup. A very good and humbling gesture by the government, but as 'Oom Attie Chandler' Brecht also said, he would have loved to play against their white counterparts in those days, even if it was just to make some comparisons.

Rugby players at the time did not wear sophisticated rugby gear as is the case nowadays. According to 'Oom Pop', they only wore the club's jersey, socks, shorts and boots with the occasional scrum cap. 'Oom' Adam Lottering, the captain of the 1970s team, was renowned for wearing a scrum cap, an accessory which was quite unusual at the time. Their boots did not have the present-day studs, but had leather strip 'stud bars', which were glued to the bottom of the boot for traction and hastily assembled at any of the factories. Shoulder pads were also unheard of, testimony to the hard rugby played in those days. King Tanning later sponsored the King Tanning Cup, the third trophy on the right in the photograph, as a floating trophy for future tournaments. Furthermore, Rubberhides played games under the SARU banner, as far as Mthatha, Aliwal North, East London, Grahamstown and Queenstown stamping their authority wherever they went. According to 'Oom' Willie Martin, a typical example of their ruggedness, despite their small stature, was demonstrated when Rubberhides played against Universals from East London and one of the local female supporters sarcastically asked before the game, "Wat soek dié klein kjinners hieso?" After Rubberhides gave the supposedly unbeatable team a good hiding, the lady was heard saying afterwards; "Jong, ma' ek het gedink dié kjinners kan nie rugby speel nie (sic)". 'Oom' Soenk en Aspris formed a formidable centre combination with 'Oom' Pop at fullback, the latter converting many tries and penalties from anywhere on the field to the detriment of opposing teams. On another occasion against Eagles from Queenstown, 'Oom' Willie, after returning from a first-half injury, asked 'Oom' Soenk or 'Qekesi', as he was also fondly known, to pass him the ball. He took the ball and scored a try under the post only to re-affirm his nickname, 'Aspris', which his peers bestowed on him for his ability to score at will, after he had predicted the try before a game. The accompanying photograph adds credibility to Rubberhides many achievements, because they won the 1964 Border Champion of Champions Competition by beating Ramblers of East London in the final. According to 'Oom' Desmond Allison another highlight of Rubberhides of the late 70s and early 80s was when they drew with Wallabies of Port Elizabeth, which included many SARU Springboks, like Dougie Allison, Desmond Kramer, Sammy Stride, Grantham Jansen, Julies, etc.    

As a young boy growing up in Breidbach, I will never forget icons like Hontaai Kleinhans on his guitar, and later on Cedric Matthews on his accordion, leading supporters in singing the clubs' favourite songs:

"Obey your captain, my boys (x3),

The Rubberhides will never give in.

Don't be down-hearted, my boys (x3)."

"My mother sent me to buy a jersey,

A rugby jersey, to play for Rubberhides.

Here we are, here we are,

Here we are again (x3)."

Visiting teams like Hands and Hearts of Cape Town and Elderodians of Johannesburg, the team of the former SARU president Brian Van Rooyen, were intimidated by the passionate vocal local supporters whenever they visited King for the annual club tournaments, adding to the already electric atmosphere prevailing at the sports field.

If we do not write down oral history before the people who possess it pass on, local treasures, such as Rubberhides, will be forgotten forever. The team was eventually disbanded after the amalgamation of Shamrocks, Old Boys and Rubberhides to form King Brumbies Rugby Club. I salute all the Rubberhides players who have come and gone, leaving behind memories and legacies of their exploits on and off the field.


Interviews with 'Oom' Pop Adams, 'Oom' Willem Adams, 'Oom' Desmond Allison, 'Oom' Attie Brecht, Bennet Cramford, 'Oom' Bailey Fourie, 'Oom' Harold Free, 'Oom' Sheba Malgas, 'Oom' Willie Martin, Brian Osteridge, Francois Rooi (pictures), 'Oom' Kenny Thompson (badge) and 'Oom' Sammy Thompson.