After rugby turned professional in 1995, Club Rugby’s relegation to the bottom rung of the rugby ladder started.
False Bay, like so many clubs, suffered a drain of player talent.
The Club then experienced a dip in fortunes before their next purple patch under the guidance of Henry Monk, who had taken the SLB title in 1999 to qualify for the SLA the following year.
In 2003 the Club was relegated to SLC and Brendon Fogarty took over the rein.
A call from Doc Jones started the ball rolling.
"Would you come and coach the False Bay First Team?", he said, catching me by surprise. Whilst very happy at UCT coaching the u20A side, a challenge and the honour of coaching the First Team at False Bay was enough motivation to move across. My research revealed some revered coaches had done time at the Bay, notably Basil Bey and Nick Mallet. Basil assured me I would love the club and indeed the people, players, supporters and the die-hard administrators!
The late Darryl Sim and Mike Kros eased me into the job, acting as sounding boards and above all embracing the style we wanted to play. I tried calling most of the players, sounding them out on their availability and commitment to getting the Bay back up. Calvin Rich's words "Coach I am back, I was part of the team that got us relegated, I want to fix it and get us back".
This was most encouraging!
After my second session at the club, Chris Hewetson, club hard-man/hooker/flank sidled up to me and said, "Coach, we want to get "drilled" (edited) at practice. Make it tough with a little less talking". It was good advice. We had to make some minor technical adjustments to players skills set and playing style but it was all on board.
Coaching at club level (3rd division) teaches one so much. Flanks need to be coaxed into playing lock, centers moved to wing, slow wings moved to flank, short locks to prop and being able to work around real men's day job schedules or the real life issues of South Africans. "Sorry Coach, I need to do a late shift due a late shipment", or "Coach I am running late. The trains are delayed/taxi strike". All a reminder of the real World. These realities teach one to think on the move and ensure that one has a battery of games that do not require a specific positions to complete a practice session. The positive may well be that one develops open play as there is less time or manpower for set piece drill!
The sudden passing of Darryl Sim had a galvanizing effect on the club. He was much loved by so many, a good guy, a heart of gold and a dam fine coach! The motivation to honour him, coupled with the committee's efforts, allow us to start well and we started to claw our way back up.
The league saw us travel across the suburbs of Cape Town. Goodwood, Mitchell Plain, Eerste River, Kraaifontein, Franshoek, Gordon's Bay, Pniel, and as far as Paarl to the tough Dal Josefat Stadium. It was one of my saddest days to see our club President, a doyen of the club game and someone who has done so much for people of all walks of life and backgrounds, being verbally abused. If only the perpetrators knew the man and had not judged him!
There were close games, lucky wins, some hard-fought (clean and dirty) encounters, all of which saw us end second on the table and take advantage of the two-up-two-down system. In any successful campaign, there will always be a bit of luck; a referee's decision that goes your way; a puff of wind that lifts a last minute penalty over the cross bar; and a massive amount of hard work.
Such was that year.
The team (at risk of offending through exclusion):
Brendan and Brian Chaston: big men who scrummed well. Brendan skilful and Brian the grafter. Good men.
Shaun Greeff: a blond prop.
Bokkem Harmse: a hard player who gave 100%. He never shirked in what is a tough position to play.
Chris Locket: A great line out option, mobile and skilful.
Jonathan Stephenson: A number 8 moved to lock for the benefit of the team
Chris Hewetson: A hard, uncompromising player who lead from the front
Alan Morris: quality loose forward
Neil Ritchie: Lineout specialist
Donoven Vallender: tall, lanky wing
Donovan Pretorius: a running flyhalf
Noel Meyer: a tough hooker
Andrew Grootboom: Wow, what a tackler! Close to the ground, a fearless forager for the ball. A good man to have in any team. A lovely man.
Bradley Marshall: Skilful, ran great lines and very fit.
Tyrone Esterhuizen: a quality eighthman
Kippi Bardien: crisp service
Heinz Punt: good big 9
Frans Boshoff: Yster! A team man; hard and driven; expected all to give of their best, all the time!! Very fit!
Marc Davids: His class very apparent (even when returning from Scotland a little overweight). Ran great lines, tough to tackle on the switch back. Great team man
Heath Wrigley: Silky skills, classy player
Calvin Rich: Fit. Ran hard and kicked for poles. Tough, an endurance horse rider.
Alastair Payne: 'Spider'. The Slap-chips of club rugby. Long strides, very fast
Jonathan Denton: Good player. Fast.
My mind fails me I wish I was like Gert Smal - notes on every session and match in fine detail and neat handwriting. Whilst on Gert we should never underestimate the role he played in getting us to where we are. A World Cup wining coach sitting on a Tuesday night watching our practice. I nervously went up to him and asked if he would help. And help he did! He added a steel to the team, with his technical nous and a lineout set up that was near impossible to contest. A rugby man to his core, kind and gentle yet rated by the NZ Cavillers as pound for pound the best loose forward in the World. Gary Knight discovered that he also had a great right hook.
There were so many characters.
There's Gerry the New Zealander who was always ready for a chat and with an encouraging word.
Jean Clark, was a legendary supporter; always ready with a kiss and hug.
Linda (Gerry the Kiwi's wife), the lady who ran the tuck shop, a free coffee and toasted cheese for each home game.
Inus Bokwe, our Groundsman (and Life Member), we always chatted, a key cog in the Bay machine.
Mike Kros I wonder if any have given so much (please not a criticism of anybody). Those early days we chatted 3 to 4 times a day, selected, digested and regurgitated teams, plotted and planned. A good man to have in your corner, not one to be crossed, no pun intended.
Marc Davids always keen for a half/half or buffalo, I was regularly the target of his beady eye.
Louis de Waal, his time keeping and record of penalties, his gentlemanly manners.
Jon Harris always a positive word on the props!
Super League B
Justin van Winkel was magnificent, a true warrior. He set the standard from day one, a standard he maintained right until his very last game and now insists on it from the players he coaches!
Going up to SLB saw some good players come back. Neil Ritchie, Mo Barendse, Jason Botha and some new men like JJ de Villiers, Damian Stander, William Essau and Khwezi Mqomboti to mention a few.
SLB meant less hostile away fixtures but they were more challenging. We had worked hard on embracing our opposition, drinks after matches, staying for formalities and I think in many ways the word got out Bay men are good men, hard but fair and enjoy a beer after a game.
"Inch by inch" was the catchphrase in those early days, made famous by Al Pacino in the movie Any Given Sunday. Kevin Musikanth brought a new level of intensity, a new vision and a cut throat approach to the game. This new brand coupled with some good signings saw the Bay return to SLA.
I often think back to those early days, good days. Thank you Doc Jones for the call, thank you to the committee for backing me, thank you to the players for allowing me to coach and above all thank you to my family for allowing me to pursue a passion.
Most importantly False Bay has become a home for all, that was always the dream.