Hockey is the reason we find ourselves on this Dutch adventure and hockey is where it all began…
Meeting the man of my dreams, literally, began as a first year student and avid hockey player when, at my first SAU (South African Universities) hockey tournament in Cape Town, I was fortuitously introduced to one of the giants of South African hockey in the 1980’s, one Charlie Pereira.
As was the case at SAU tournaments in those days, the social side of the event was often more of a draw-card than the sport itself, though that being said, the standard of hockey was very high and competition was fierce. It was at one of the legendary social events that the introduction took place: thoroughly awe-struck to be in the company of this hockey hero, I stammered a shy hello to my older team mate’s vague introduction/name-drop, and that was it, nothing more exciting and nothing more expected since he was a national team member and senior student at a university in another province.
Fast-forward around 8 years and having checked the newspapers for his name each time that the SA Men’s team was announced, usually for a rebel tour under the team name “The Saints” since South Africa in the 1980’s was under international sanctions and was not permitted to officially tour under the Springbok name as no one was prepared to associate with the “vile racist apartheid regimen” which was the government of the day. It came to pass that a social 7-a-side hockey tournament was scheduled in a tiny farming community in the KZN Midlands which I was asked to play in as one of the teams was short of numbers. These 7-a-side tournaments were to the rural Midlands something of an SAU to students: fierce competition between the farming communities and exceptionally sociable social interaction off the scrubby country hockey fields to maintain the balance.
Having just ended our club hockey league in Pietermaritzburg where I was living at the time, I was somewhat reluctant to play in this 2 day social tournament way out in the Creighton valley but I was persuaded by my distant cousin to do so if he arranged a lift & accommodation for me.
I duly met my lift and made my way to the Creighton sports club where the hastily mown cricket oval had been turned into a few small hockey fields using white-wash-lime as field markers and wattle poles as goal posts with hay bales as backboards – the motley crew of happy hackers were all tournament ready in some vague form of team uniform, mostly what was begged, borrowed or stolen from others in the cars parked around the oval!
The day progressed with wins & losses, the odd injury incurred from an inexpertly wielded hockey stick or from a wrenched ankle going over on the uneven pitch (no such thing as artificial turf in those days and especially not in those rural communities!) and so to the first evening where the beers flowed, the meat sizzled on the braai grills and the music thumped loudly indicating that the party was a great success – there is something special about the music from the 70’s & 80’s, right?
Since I was an “outsider/field-filler”, after taking a shower, I gravitated toward the bar counter behind which an old childhood friend was filling his time slot and we got chatting. The clubhouse filled up and there were teams gathered in groups enjoying the fines that were being called on teammates for various antics that had not been missed during the day’s play.
Whilst I was holding up the bar with my beer mug filled with water as I was and still am, something of a lightweight when it comes to the consumption of alcohol, I heard my name being called. I whipped my head around towards the far end of the room where a group of men were gathered, most of whom I’d never seen in my life before, but for 2 of them: 1 being the husband of one of the local Creighton ladies and the other being my hockey hero!
Imagine my surprise at seeing a famous face in this remote place, completely out of context but I recognized him instantly and even greater surprise when he gestured for me to come on over! Since the majority of the group were men whom I did not know, I was a little awkward but my curiosity got the better of me and I walked over and in a most unsophisticated manner, I stuck my hand out and asked: “Charlie Pereira, what are you doing here?!” to which he replied with the humility that I had no prior knowledge of: “How do you know my name?”
The rest, as they say in the classics, is history with a tremendous amount of hockey involved!