28 April 2017 – The passion of Saint Andrew’s old boys for cricket, friendship and fun lies behind the success of the Old Andreans Cricket Club, which currently boasts four teams playing league cricket, including a side in the Bloemfontein Premier League.
Back in the 1980s, the Old Andreans Hockey Club was flying high and the club had even made it to the final of the National Club Championships in the early 80s, but there was no Old Andreans Cricket Club. This was despite the fact that the Hockey Club boasted some extremely good cricketers. Yet there was no talk of them playing under the banner of Old Andreans.
In the latter part of that same decade a tightly-knit group of Saint Andrew’s boys completed their schooling. Some went off to do their national service. Others remained in Bloemfontein to study at the University of the Orange Free State (UOFS, now UFS). In the end they reunited at the university.
Carl Potgieter, who matriculated in 1989, was a Masey Service Prize winner with a warm, big personality. He had been the 1st team’s cricket scorer while at Saints and become an integral and much-loved part of a number of teams. Later, he also represented the 1st XI on the field.
Carl Potgieter, seen at a Cape Town Old Boys reunion dinner in 2016, drove the rebirth of the Old Andreans Cricket Club
Pottie loved cricket, so when his mom Diane’s training and development company, Viva Stars, decided to enter a team in the local business league he turned to his friends to fill it. Diane had been a fantastic host to many of them on tours to Johannesburg in the mid to late 80s, so putting a team together proved no problem at all.
The side was made up mostly of former Saints’ boys and Grey boys and other friends from UOFS. They were, truthfully, way too good for the opposition in the Business League, with the side featuring many players who had represented Free State at schools’ level. It was about more than cricket, though. It was about sharing a love of the game, but more than that it was about bringing friends together.
Business league rules
The rules of the business league (it was 25 overs a side if memory serves correctly) included one that stated that once a batsman reached 30 runs he had to retire. That led to players trying to reach 29 and then aiming to hit a six to go out on 35.
In one memorable match, Viva Stars, as usual were way on top of the opposition, which included a senior member of the Orange Free State Cricket Union (OFSCU). He offered resistance, reaching 29 and then simply occupied the crease and refused to run. It was frustrating, but a solution was found by one of the Viva Stars fielders.
“The next time he hits the ball into the covers, leave it to me,” he told the others. The senior OFSCU member duly prodded a ball into the cover region. There was never a run in it and none was attempted. “Mine,” the fielder yelled, swooping in on the ball. He snatched it up and then wildly threw it well wide of the wicket-keeper. Four overthrows! The batsman was out.
He left field muttering dark threats of expulsion from the league as the Viva Stars’ players collapsed into laughter. As Pottie recently explained in reminiscing about those days, the players never took themselves too seriously.
Playing under the Old Andreans’ banner
After tearing up the Business League, some of the old Saints’ boys decided they would like to play cricket under the Old Andreans’ banner, so they approached some of the leading lights in the local Old Andreans’ community about the idea, including Colin Hickling and Cecil Usher.
“It was pushing and prodding and begging to see if we could enter in the league, because we were all good enough cricketers to play club cricket, but we weren’t really keen on any of the clubs of that time. They weren’t any clubs that we really wanted to play for,” Pottie explained.
Pottie and 1987 Head Boy Greg Usher then approached the Headmaster Roy Gordon and asked if there was any chance that they could re-establish the dormant Old Andreans Cricket Club.
Greg Usher (front right), with fellow Old Andreans and members of the SAS Golf Club Mark Divall (back), Sean du Plessis (middle, left), Brent Usher (middle, right), Graeme Cawthorne (front, left), and Devlin Player (front, middle)
Pottie said: “In the arrangement that we made with him, we would raise some money to make some improvements to the cricket pavilion, including things like the bar area being secured. We would be allowed to use the facilities. We would have to make sure that fixtures didn’t clash, because school fixtures would always take preference. That was the start of the discussion.”
Next, an approach was made to Charlie Robinson of the Bloemfontein Cricket Association. Pottie recalled the conversation at that meeting: “We said we didn’t want to be big-headed but, if you look at them, this team is too strong to start at the bottom. There were a lot of guys good enough to play for the Varsity first or second teams, but they didn’t want to play cricket all day on Saturday and Sunday. They wanted to play 50 over games.”
When the fixtures were released for the new season, however, Old Andreans were in the fourth league, which was the lowest league. Matches were 30-overs-a-side and a two-piece ball was used.
There is no doubt that they were easily the best team on paper in the competition, but it started off with an embarrassing setback.
“I remember it clearly,” Pottie shared. “Our first game was at Saints, at the top [Vossie’s] oval, against Rocklands. We batted first and were bowled out for next to nothing, not even 100. Five okes made ducks and we were bowled out for 80- or 90-odd. They beat us by three wickets.
“Sandy Street was the first captain, but at the next practice, Greg Usher pulled us together and said this is not how we are going to play this game. We are not going to convince guys that we should have started two leagues up by losing our first game to Rocklands.
“The rest of that season, in 30-over games, if we batted first, we never scored less than 300. If we bowled first, we never chased more than 100.”
The rematch against Rocklands provided a startling contrast to the first meeting of the two teams.
“When we went back to Rocklands, I opened the batting because Greg Usher, for some or other reason, had decided I was an opening batsman. Alex Haddad and I opened the batting. We were 100-up in the ninth over. We made 200 as an opening stand. It was the only century of my life,” Pottie remembered.
“We made 400 in 30 overs! By the time they had to bat, I think they had only eight okes left. The rest had gone home!”
Old Andreans’ ascension up the ladder was rapid. In their second year, they were bumped up two leagues from the fourth league. The following year they moved up to the first league. The year after that the Bloemfontein Cricket Association wanted the club to make the leap to the Premier League.
One of the team’s great friends from Grey, opening batsman Deon Jordaan, who spent many years playing for Free State and led Eastern Transvaal to the Currie Cup title, joined the side when it was promoted to the Premier League.
“Our first pro”
“He was our first pro, in effect. At that stage, in a lot of games we used the schoolboys,” Pottie said.
How did a club that had been reborn ascend so rapidly to the top flight of local competition? He explained: “The biggest reason for our success was, I believe, the spirit that the guys had among us. Also, the fact that the guys wanted to play for Old Andreans was the first thing. You had a bunch of Saints’ old boys, but you also had guys like Warren Boyes, who is still involved, but wasn’t a Saints’ old boy. He bought into the ethos of what we wanted to do.
“I think there was a synergy with the school. There were never conflicts. We never took a game too seriously. We were there to have fun. We wanted to win, but it wasn’t winning at all costs. The fines’ meetings after the game were almost more important than the game.
Something that really worked for the club as it grew was the close relationship that the Saint Andrew’s and Grey boys enjoyed. Reflecting on that, Pottie said: “We had some really good quality cricketers, a lot of guys who had played Saints’ first team cricket and Grey first team cricket.
“The guys were really good mates”
“The guys were really good mates. They had either previously played together or against each other when Grey played Saints. A lot of those guys had played together for the Free State Nuffield team. They knew each other’s games already, so you had that combined ethos of Grey and Saints, but we never took ourselves too seriously.
“We wanted to win, don’t get me wrong. But, as with most things these days, we punched above our weight. You would lift your game because of the guys playing around you. There were some really, really good cricketers that played for us. The guys could have played for Varsity, but they just wanted to play for us to be with their mates.
“We started it on a whim because we wanted to play cricket on a Saturday.”
The spirit of the players
The spirit of those players and those days was demonstrated not only on the cricket field, but on the hockey field too, Pottie shared.
“One of my favourite stories happened at the end of one season. Sandy Street and Mark Divall said to us ‘Listen guys, we are going to the Bohemians Hockey Festival. We leave the day after tomorrow. Don’t you okes want to come with us?”
Pottie, to put it in mild terms is a large man, but his response was to say he would join in the hockey tour if he could play striker. “We ended up with 11 players and Mark Divall [who had a knee injury] as our manager. Luckily we had Ryan Graham at the back as our sweeper. I think we finished third in the tournament! That’s what we were about. You know… ‘We’re going away for a weekend. What do you okes think?'”
Ending, he said Roy Gordon deserved credit for providing the opportunity for the club to re-establish itself. That’s true. But it was mostly the spirit of some Old Andreans and their warm relationship with their Grey contemporaries that made it work.
It was about unity and common purpose and in these times so focused on the individual does that not provide pause for thought?