Francois Davids saw wealth where some saw poverty. Where some saw hardship, Davids saw opportunity. What had the potential to be a killing field has become a field of dreams.
Where there was division, Davids found unity. Davids, Wellington-based law enforcement chief, former Springbok selector and family man, is responsible for one of the most inspirational stories in South African rugby. He wonâ€™t take the credit, listing name after name of community people he says are the making of Roses United, champions of Boland. He mentions Anthony Josephs, Muriel August, Denise September, Abi Davids, Rita Andreas and Rupert Appollis as the organisational and administrative strength of Roses, a merger of Roslins and Rosebuds.
Davids says he is just a part of it. Then he starts with the players, name after name, from one to more than 100. â€˜Our story is about a community and not just a rugby team,â€™ he says. â€˜It is also not about individuals. People in this community were willing to unite to achieve. Roslins had been going for over 100 years and Rosebuds was over 40 years old. We knew we had to pull together if we were going to be a force on the rugby field.
â€˜But merging the clubs also meant bringing the community closer together. In 2006, we won the Boland Championship, but it is the bigger battles we win every day that makes every effort worthwhile.â€™ The battles include rehabilitating young players who have been felled by drugs, who have suffered because of socio-economic disadvantages and who have strayed because of circumstance. When a player stumbles, there is always someone to pick him up. There was a player who was beating up
on his grandmother. Drugs were destroying his life and when he hit his grandmother, it was the final call for help. The club committee didnâ€™t chase away the player. They rehabilitated him and heâ€™s still at the club, prospering as a player and a human being.
Religion is influential among the enforcers at Roses. Discipline is coupled to faith, and the reward for every player is an emotional high rather than a financial one. Prayer is as big as any team talk. â€˜We donâ€™t pay our players, because the funds are not available. Ourm players come from difficult backgrounds.
â€˜Many of them donâ€™t have money and they donâ€™t know luxury â€“ R10 is a lot of cash to them. But they have what money canâ€™t buy. They have the biggest hearts I have ever known,â€™ says Davids. â€˜In this club, a player must have a heart. If he has that desire to achieve, he can make it with us. If he isnâ€™t prepared to fight hardship, then we donâ€™t want him.â€™
The clubâ€™s strength is its people and the recognition that the people â€“ and not just the players â€“ determine the victories. Women are welcome at the club and theyâ€™re among the most influential in the administration. There is no clubhouse at Roses and â€˜Auntie Lizzieâ€™, a wonderfully caring grandmother, opens her house to the players as a meeting venue and place of reflection after training and home matches. Sheâ€™s done this for seven years and the place could be a cathedral, such is the reverence shown when the players congregate after training and before matches.
The courtyard out back is reserved for the festivities, and the kitchen, lounge room and one of the bedrooms are where the first, second and third teams hold meetings. Players are fed at this house after training. The nourishment is what motivates some to keep on playing. Go there and you will be humbled by the kindness of the people and the use of space.
And donâ€™t feel sorry for anyone at Roses. If anything, feel envious because of what has been achieved. These guys didnâ€™t have gym facilities or the finance to send their players to gym. The committee members, through networking, have organised a container that theyâ€™ve turned into the gym. The weights are cement bricks. Hopefully, this will change in the next few months and second-hand gym equipment will become available through donations.
When the team qualified for the National Club Championship, all the club members took to the streets of Wellington with tin cans to collect money for the squad. They raised R1 200 in an afternoon to help buy the players golf-type shirts.
The club trained recently for a weekend at the impressive sports facilities at Victor Verster Correctional Service. Again, it was the result of members of the community working together. In the past, teams have been reluctant to play at Roses United. They question the facilities, but Davids knows it is because of the difficulty in beating his boys at home.
â€˜You wonâ€™t get crowd trouble here, because the club committee takes all responsibility. We are the security and we expect each club member to behave. If someone does get out of hand, we sort it out. Discipline is one of our articles of faith. There has been terrible violence in Boland club rugby. There have been assaults on players and last year there was the death of a player. Our players and the spectators know violence wonâ€™t be tolerated here.â€™
Kevin Ferguson, CEO of Highbury Safika Media, and I visited the club in late January after agreeing to sponsorship and partnership with the club. Three weeks into the year and 70-plus players were already training. So much for the view that club rugby no longer has a heartbeat. The training session was structured and the fuss was minimal. Blokes just got on with it, while young kids, between four and eight, played touch rugby on the B field. Davids told us that the club had arranged Friday night touch matches, from 7pm to 10pm, to keep some of the younger players off the streets. Rugby, he said, was their identity and the club had to ensure this was nurtured. â€˜It gives them purpose to come here. It puts them on an equal footing with anyone when they are between the four lines,â€™ he says.
Davids, at times, understandably talks in clichÃ©s. But his story and that of Roses is no clichÃ©. Go to Pelican Street, Hillcrest, on the outskirts of Wellington and see for yourself. Make sure you are there around sevenish in the evening.Thatâ€™s when the field of dreams is lit up. Stay a while and youâ€™ll find that, long after the lights have been switched off, a far greater light shines from within Aunt Lizzieâ€™s house just a couple of blocks away. And if you get there, listen for the song of Roses United. Theyâ€™ve taken Irelandâ€™s call to arms and simply substituted Ireland with Roses. Listen to the joy in their voices as the players belt out their identity, with a small courtyard their stage.
Ferguson and I got there thinking these guys had nothing and left amazed at how much goodwill they had in their hearts.