THE DURBAN WANDERERS RUGBY CLUB - WHERE GREAT RUGBY ADMINISTRATORS AND PLAYERS BECAME PART OF A GREAT KWAZULU NATAL LEGACY IN A CELEBRATION OF MORE THAN A HUNDRED YEARS OF HISTORY
The Durban Wanderers Rugby Club was founded on a hot summer day in late February of 1903 but other records suggest it was in late December of 1902. The first official record does however refer to a list of formidable founder members concluding the business of the day on that late February afternoon way back in 1903.
The list of founder members of the 104 year old club was indeed an impressive group of gentlemen who were among some of the great pioneers of the fledgling colonial city of Durban and included Hardy Johnston, K. Mc Donald, Alec Wilson, Ramsay Rae and of course the well-renowned businessman of the day, Ken Mowat, after which Mowat Park was later named.
Like many clubs in those days, they ran headlong into trouble and within three years of their doors being open players were already looking to move to better known clubs like the Durban Old Colonials and the Durban Rugby Club (later to become Berea Rovers). Although almost fading into oblivion, they somehow managed to survive and grow into quite a force.
The resuscitation of the club after the First Great War was a long and tedious affair, but with stalwarts like Ken Mowat still around, magnificent work was done rebuilding the club. Other members such as R.A. Easton and J.T. Oliff joined Mowat, revitalising the waning club and by 1924, Wanderers was one of the big forces in club rugby in KZN.
By 1929 they were one of the strongest clubs in the province and made it to the final of the Murray Cup Knockout competition only to be narrowly beaten by Maritzburg Collegians. They did however win the Natal Senior League (now the Premier Division) that year together with the Junior League.
Winning the Senior League in 1929 gave the club the necessary spark to go forward and achieve even greater heights in the years to come and by 1931 they were on a roll. Under one of the most successful club coaches of that era, the legendary Bob Clarke, they won most of the silverware on offer after winning the Natal Senior League, the Inter-City League and the Wylie Cup competitions in that 1931 season.
Added to this their junior sides also performed way beyond expectations rounding of one of their most memorable seasons in their then relatively short history. One would have to say a lot of the credit would had to have gone their then secretary R.O.S. Kettle who was to be long remembered as one of the great servants of the club game.
Another member of the well known Mowat family C. J. Mowat was now President of Wanderers and a huge source of inspiration to the now fast growing club. Their revival had been quite remarkable thanks to these many dedicated administrators in their midst.
When the club celebrated its golden jubilee in 1953, Bob Easton, one of their early pioneers, was still around and in his eighties and recalled how the club had originally been founded. It appears that a group of young men made a habit of gathering outside the then City Hall which is now the main Post Office to discuss the sport of rugby football, which was at that stage becoming one of the fastest growing sports in the country. One afternoon they decided that they should stop the talking and do something about it and so the seed was sewn.
Ken Mowat was one of those young men and he, together with Dickie Prince, Alec Wilson and B.J. Cook, made the decision to choose a ground for the games to begin. They identified a plot of land near the market, erected some bamboo poles and so the foundation was laid and Wanderers was born.
They later moved to the lower end of Mc Donald Road near Sydney Road, which was a bit of a problem in those days because when the tide came in, the lower end of the Wanderers pitch would be under water. They carried on regardless for many years like that until they eventually were given grounds in Montclair.
When one goes back in time one has to give recognition to those pioneering administrators of the club and names like H.E. Holms the well known secretary between 1907 and 1909 played a huge role in paving the way for the club, which ultimately led to their remarkable growth and success going into 30's and 40's.
There have been some famous rugby players such as the Springbok utility back W.E. "Klondyke" Raaff who played for South Africa out of Griquas before moving to Natal. Interestingly enough, Raaff played under Paul Roos on the 1903 tour to the U.K. and was capped again in 1910 with D.J. Pienaar who had sadly left Natal by then.
There was Fred Randall, Percy Hall and Frank Marshall to name but just a few who all made names for themselves in the famed black and white strip, while who can forget Jimmy Reynolds (pictured right, now in his 90s), undoubtedly one of KZN and rugby's favourite sons who took over from Doug Geddie as Secretary of the KZN Rugby Union? Described as one of the pillars of the Wanderers Rugby Club, he has served the game with distinction.
There was also Rex van Coller (pictured left), one of the bulwarks of Wanderers and the KZNRU who was one of the leading lights in club rugby for many years. He was also one of the founder committee members instrumental in planning the merger between Wanderers and the Grosvenor Rugby Club and forming the Harlequins Rugby Club in 1984 - a story to be told later in the series.
Sadly today, the club barely exists, but hopefully they can one day return to the fold, for they were very much part of club rugby history in KZN and ultimately the Sharks have grown out of the club's rich rugby history in the province so they too deserve their spot in the sun to be forever etched in time in the annals of this great game.