Rugby Behind Barbed Wire
The 1969/70 Springboks Tour of Britain and Ireland
- Chris Schoeman
- Foreword by Chris Laidlaw
15th November 2020
‘We spent all our time surrounded by police cordons and barbed wire, never mind having our bus hijacked.’ – Tommy Bedford, Springboks No. 8
2019 and 2020 mark the fiftieth anniversary of the controversial 1969/70 Springbok rugby tour of the British Isles – a landmark event on both a sporting and political level. Taking place during the time of South Africa’s apartheid dispensation, the tour was characterised throughout by violent demonstrations against the ‘ambassadors of apartheid’. Scenes of chanting demonstrators at the players’ hotels and airports were not uncommon, nor was the sight of protesters being dragged off the field of play by police. Smoke bombs and flour bombs also became a match-day fixture.
These were wild and unnerving times for the players on tour, whose movements were badly inhibited and who had to play hide-and-seek to avoid possible violence between games of rugby. During a demanding tour that lasted more than three months and took them to and fro between England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, they endeavoured to sustain a proud tradition of highly successful Springbok tours through the Isles.
Through personal interviews with the players, including team captain Dawie de Villiers, vice-captain Tommy Bedford and other senior members of the squad, as well as key figures such as anti-apartheid campaigner Peter Hain, Rugby Behind Barbed Wire takes readers into the inner circle of a besieged group of sportsmen who just wanted to play rugby despite concerted efforts to deny them. The author also looks at the political context of events, and why so many felt that disrupting the tour was a matter of moral and political necessity.