The ‘Birdies’ to celebrate Swifts Rugby Club’s 125th year

2016-01-28 06:00

“BIRDIES” from across the country will once again flock to Uitenhage to attend the Swifts Rugby Club’s annual reunion and memorial service at the beginning of February.

Cicil Hayward, one of the organisers, hopes this year will be even a more jubilant gathering than last year’s event when nearly a 100 guests and members from as far as Cape Town and East London attended.

It is the 125th annual celebration of a sports club, which not only was the heart and soul of Uitenhage, but a one-of-a-kind with a rich history. “Swifts is the only rugby club in South Africa, which was founded by a Reverend and where many a professional rugby player started his career,” says Hayward.

During 1890, Reverend Charles Jecks of St Katharine’s Anglican Church in Market Street, Uitenhage, selected a team of youngsters from the church choir and entered them in a local rugby league. At first they were known as the St Katherine’s choir rugby team, but by 1891 it was officially named the Swifts Rugby and Football Club.

One of the oldest living members is Buck Coates, who is in his 90s and living in Port Elizabeth. He played hoo-ker and was President of Swifts for a number of years.

“During 1975, Buck managed quite an exciting rugby tour to the then Rhodesia. We all flew up and won four of our five games against the neighbouring country. We actually toured every second year.”

There was the “Sinner Side” and the “Ouman-span” and excellent players like Springboks FR Myburgh and Carel Fourie. Ray Griesel was one of the Swifts players with the most games played for the Eastern Province side and Fanie Cloete nearly played 99 games for EP.

Other bright sparks included Dirk Albertyn, Ian Krain, captain Raymond Anderson, Tom Spence, Norman Beckett, Monkey Biljon, Sonny Knoetze, Cicil Hayward who at 43 still played for Swifts, and the legendary full-back Len Kaleen to name a few. Kaleen later played professional rugby for Australian and England clubs.

Another interesting event connected to Swifts, was when Michael Killian’s son, Michael Jr, who played for the Golden Lions Super Rugby team, taught his fellow team mates the Swifts anthem song.

Save the date: Sunday, February 7

The annual Swifts Rugby Club memorial service will be held at St Katharine’s Church at 11:15 for 11:30 on Sunday, February 7. Afterwards there will be a gathering in the parish hall for tea and cake.

Following these proceedings, fires will be lit at the Uitenhage Cricket Club (opposite Uitenhage Indoor Sports Centre) for a bring-and-braai and reunion.

All old Swifts members, supporters and their families are welcome to attend. Attendance should please be confirmed for catering purposes by contacting one of the organisers: Cicil Hayward - 041 922 7936; Fred Minty - 072 515 8646; Dirk Albertyn - 041 966 1680 or John Millson - 041 583 1773.

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