South Africa’s oldest football club

24 July 2009

Savages FC of Pietermaritzburg was recently in the news in Germany after television station ARD flew over to film a programme about the oldest football club in South Africa. The records show that Savages was active in 1882.

Trying to discover the age of their club, Savages members explored the archives of local newspaper The Witness and found references to the club from 1883.

They then contacted the Hilton College librarian, who produced an article about a match played between the school and Savages in August 1882. Savages won the match 3-1.

The interest from Germany came as a big surprise to club chairman Ben Hartshorne. He received a phone call from ARD on a Monday and was told they wished to film a documentary in less than a week’s time, on the Sunday. Only two days before the filming, it was confirmed.


It was especially gratifying, related Hartshorne, to receive the interest because he had tried to interest Pietermaritzburg municipal officials in using Savages’ status as South Africa’s oldest club as a means to put the city on the map for the 2010 Fifa World Cup. He found no success there.

ARD got the information on Savages from the club’s website.

When the filming took place, the ARD crew said they couldn’t believe the facilities and structure available to Savages, who play out of the Pietermaritzburg Collegians Club. Collegians supports seven different sports and has excellent infrastructure, including a bar and kitchen facilities.

In Germany, the ARD crew explained, one would usually see only one field at a football club, possibly with a bowling green also available. The Collegians’ structure was far superior to this.

On television

The club received great support from its members on the day of filming, and the people loved it, said Hartshorne, recalling a six-year-old girl saying she couldn’t believe she was going to be on television.

The camera crew paid special attention to 62-year-old Ray Bowen, one of the club’s oldest active players, tracking him during a game especially laid on for ARD.

Hartshorne says Savages has bucked the trend of many clubs that have faded in recent years, and is strong through all age groups – from children’s teams to fielding two sides for players over 35 years of age.

Good, fun coaching

Many of the children play football at school, and this includes playing matches on Saturday mornings. In the afternoons, they turn out for Savages. This tires the youngsters out, said Hartshorne, but they stay with the club because it has good facilities, and they know that they’ll receive good, fun coaching.

He says traditions at the club are passed down through the generations, from parents to children, and that the children are interested in the club’s history. This includes being crowned South Africa’s top amateur team in 1994, in a Smirnoff-sponsored competition that featured 12 000 club teams.

Savages had enjoyed a particularly fine year in 1993. The club’s first team won the Natal Premier League title, while its second team was crowned champion of the Premier Reserve League, underline the quality and depth in the club’s ranks.


The following year, 1994 – the first year of South Africa’s democracy – Savages entered the Smirnoff competition. Previously, the club had played in a league that consisted mostly of Durban teams, as well as some from Pietermaritzburg. In the Smirnoff competition, they began in the Midlands region and, with change taking place throughout South Africa, faced clubs they had never played before.

The deciding game for the title of Midlands’ champions was played against Leicester City at Northdale Stadium, City’s home ground. Savages prevailed 2-1 in a tough contest. Later in the year, they would thrash Leicester 5-0.

Having been crowned Midlands champions, Savages next took on the Northern Natal winners, Happy Hearts from Dundee. Happy Hearts took an early lead, but Savages fought back and eventually went on to a convincing 4-1 victory.

Natal title

That comfortable win put the team from Pietermaritzburg into a clash with Westville for the Natal regional title. Again, Savages came out on top, and the victory carried them through to the semi-finals of the national competition.

There was still some time to go before the final-four playoff, however, and the players had to keep fit from mid-October through to 12 December. They were flown to Johannesburg and then driven to Rustenburg for the clashes that would decide which club would be crowned the best amateur team in South Africa.

Touch II from Ventersdorp were the favourites to lift the title; earlier in the year they had won the Sparletta Knockout Cup, also a national competition. Boksburg was expected to face Touch II in the finals, but Savages ensured that didn’t happen.

They beat Boksburg 3-1 on a brace of goals by Wayne Marcus and a further strike by Andy Donnell. Meanwhile, Touch II swept to a 4-1 victory over Port Elizabeth City, resulting in a second match in succession in which Savages would be the underdogs. This time around it was for the big prize.

National final

In the final, played at Olympia Park, and with the big wigs from the South African Football Association in attendance, the men from ‘Maritzburg rose to the task, with an eighth-minute strike by Ian Service putting them ahead early on.

Later, Service was replaced by Quinton Sahadow. It proved to be a good move, as the man known as “Shadow” struck from just inside the 18-metre box in the 70th minute to double Savages’ advantage. They went on to win 2-0.

A special club day was arranged to celebrate the team’s success, and the Pietermaritzburg City Council later hosted the side at a cocktail party to thank them for putting the city on the map.

In 2004, the title-winning side enjoyed a reunion and played an exhibition game against the East Coast Radio All Stars. Not surprisingly, they ran out easy 5-1 winners.

Social aspect

Club chairman Hartshorne says that in recent years the social aspect of the game – playing and then sharing a drink or two together afterwards – had slipped, but recently it has re-emerged, with the younger players enjoying the camaraderie when the older members sing and share their songs.

Now, one of the club’s “choir masters” is a member of the younger generation.

It’s that passing on of well-established traditions that makes Savages special and keeps it going strong.

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