It is a Saturday afternoon in winter, ritual time for the game of rugby. With his father he catches a train to Newlands in time for the 2:15 curtain-raiser. The curtain-raiser will be followed at 4:00 by the main match. After the main match they will catch a train home again.
He goes with his father to Newlands because sport—rugby in winter, cricket in summer—is the strongest surviving bond between them, and because it went through his heart like a knife, the first Saturday after his return to the country, to see his father put on his coat and without a word go off to Newlands like a lonely child.
His father has no friends. Nor has he, though for a different reason. He had friends when he was younger; but these old friends are by now dispersed all over the world, and he seems to have lost the knack, or perhaps the will, to make new ones. So he is cast back on his father, as his father is cast back on him. As they live together, so on Saturdays they take their pleasure together. That is the law of the family.
It surprised him, when he came back, to discover that his father knew no one. He had always thought of his father as a convivial man. But either he was wrong about that or his father has changed. Or perhaps it is simply one of the things that happen to men as they grow older: they withdraw into themselves. On Saturdays the stands at Newlands are full of them, solitary men in gray gabardine raincoats in the twilight of their lives, keeping to themselves as if their loneliness were a shameful disease.
He and his father sit side by side in the north stand, watching the curtain-raiser. Over the day’s proceedings hangs an air of melancholy. This is the last season when the stadium will be used for club rugby. With the belated arrival of television in the country, interest in club rugby has dwindled away. Men who used to spend their Saturday afternoons at Newlands now prefer to stay at home and watch the game of the week. Of the thousands of seats in the north stand no more than a dozen are occupied. The railway stand is entirely empty. In the south stand there is still a bloc of die-hard Colored spectators who come to cheer for UCT and Villagers and boo Stellenbosch and Van der Stel. Only the grandstand holds a respectable number, perhaps a thousand.
A quarter of a century ago, when he was a child, it was different. On a big day in the club competition—the day when Hamiltons played Villagers, say, or UCT played Stellenbosch—one would struggle to find standing room. Within an hour of the final whistle Argus vans would be racing through …