Die hard ‘Birdies’ to celebrate rugby club’s 126th year

The annual Swifts Rugby Club memorial service and reunion will be held at St Katharine’s Church in Uitenhage on Sunday, February 5. Here are some of the first team players captured during a previous reunion. At the back from left are Barend Olifant, Brian McNicol, Ian Krain, Cicil Hayward and Peter “Monkey” Biljon. In front are John Millson, Hennie Oosthuizen and Steven MacDonald.             Photo: SUPPLIED
The annual Swifts Rugby Club memorial service and reunion will be held at St Katharine’s Church in Uitenhage on Sunday, February 5. Here are some of the first team players captured during a previous reunion. At the back from left are Barend Olifant, Brian McNicol, Ian Krain, Cicil Hayward and Peter “Monkey” Biljon. In front are John Millson, Hennie Oosthuizen and Steven MacDonald. Photo: SUPPLIED

SWIFTS Rugby Club is a real die hard club. Not only is it the only rugby club in South Africa which was founded by a Priest, but most probably also the only club being celebrated long after its activities stopped during 1991.

“Birdies” as often referred to Swift rugby players, will flock to Uitenhage on February 5 to attend the annual Swifts Rugby Club memorial service and reunion at St Katharine’s Church.

“It is remarkable that the feeling of camaraderie is still so strong,” said Cicil Hayward, one of the die hard Swifts rugby players and an organiser of the reunion.

Coats as goal posts

During 1891, Reverend Charles Bloomer Jecks of St Katharine’s Anglican Church in Uitenhage, selected a team of youngsters from the church choir and entered them in the local junior rugby league.

At first they were called the “Choir Rugby Team” but within the same year, the team resulted in the establishment of Swifts Rugby Football Club.

During the first games, there were no goal posts and coats were apparently placed on the field to mark the post positions. Whenever there was a kick, the referee had to decide if it was high enough to count as points.

Popularity of the game

Came World War I (1914-1918) the club was dormant as 86 Swifts players volunteered for duty with 14 of these men never to return. As soon as the war ended, Swift players took to the rugby field, playing to raise funds for Red Cross and other organisations with an interest in humanitarian services.

In between the two World Wars, many Swifts players were selected for Eastern Province teams. During 1935 the entire Swifts back line played for the province.

The Swifts’ first team in 1962 played 18 consecutive games without being beaten. They then lost to Parks and again played another 16 unbeaten games with only 1 drawn.

“Uitenhage would never have been the same if it was not for Swifts. The club meant a lot to the town; not only to those loving sport, but also to local businesses,” said Hayward.

“In those days Swifts was the place where business deals were made. Local business supported the club big time and it was a popular club where prominent business people mingled.”

Something similar was mentioned in the Swifts Rugby Club centenary album: “The local Chamber of Commerce invariably closed shops on Saturday afternoons when Swifts played the Crusader team.”

A typical match during 1921 was reported in the then local press as: “Everyone in Uitenhage talked football and nothing else seemed to matter but this great rugby game. The crowd numbered over 4 700 and there were 94 cars. There could not have been many people left in town. They came in donkey carts, motor cars, cabs and ‘shanks pony’. There was a huge invasion from the Bay. 836 Bayonians came up by train.”

Save the date: Sunday,

February 5

The annual Swifts Rugby Club memorial service will be held at St Katharine’s Church at 11am for 11:30am on Sunday, February 5. Afterwards there will be a gathering in the parish hall for treats and tea.

Different to all the previous reunions, there will be no braai to follow the service, but attendees are most welcome to join in camaraderie at Uitenhage Cricket Club (opposite Uitenhage Indoor Sports Centre) for refreshments.

Enquiries:

All old Swifts members, supporters and their families are welcome to attend. There are no tickets and no fees, but attendance should be confirmed for catering purposes.

Enquiries: Cicil Hayward 041 922 7936; Dirk Albertyn 041 966 1680 or John Millson 041 583 1773.

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