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The Byrds were singing

Police stand watch during the Springboks vs. Southland game at Invercargill’s Rugby Park on 8 August 1981 (Photographer: Stuart Menzies / Ref: EP-Ethics-Demonstrations-1981 Springbok Tour-01 / Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand)
Ross Wardle of the Corps Growth and Mission Resources Department looks back on the 1981 Springbok Tour.

Heaven—I’m in heaven
and my heart beats
so that I can hardly speak …

I was 16 years old and heading to the first test of the Springbok Tour. The straight road between Ashburton and Christchurch was mind numbing, but it didn’t matter. All I could see was the green turf and the concrete terraces of that hallowed Canterbury stadium Lancaster Park (second only to Carisbrook). All I could hear was the noise of the crowd celebrating an All Black try. My backside may have been perched 20 inches above State Highway One (inside my uncle’s Holden Kingswood), but my mind was soaring with the possibilities of the day.

And why not? I was a teenager living in a rural servicing town that was still emerging from the 1970s. It had a kind of Trinitarian approach to life: Rugby, Racing and Beer. As a member of the local Salvation Army corps, I was restricted to rugby.

The sun was out and the Byrds were singing—on the radio: ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’—Pete Seeger having given the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes a soundtrack. But there was one cloud on the horizon: those ‘trendy lefty liberals’ that had something against the Springboks playing here. I wasn’t totally sure what that was, but they had already stopped the Waikato game. Surely that wouldn’t happen to a Test! If nothing else, it added a bit of excitement to the day. ‘Heaven, I’m in heaven …’

There is something about going to a live game that you can’t get any other way: parking the car—usually a long way from the stadium; hearing the noise of the crowd grow louder as you walk towards it; standing in line with your ticket; buying a pottle of chips and heading for the terraces; walking into the stadium and seeing it all unfold before you. It was just like I imagined. ‘Heaven, I’m in heaven …’

I had not seen anything of the threatened protest, so standing there on the terraces it slowly disappeared from my mind. Until a large group of fellow terrace dwellers broke ranks, jumped over the field enclosure and ran to the middle of the ground. Not something you see every day. Oh! They’re protesters! At the same time, fans at the top of the partially completed southern stand started throwing everything they could at some target over the back.

Blue square boxes with many legs jogged onto the field and persuaded the protesters to accompany them off the field. They were met by a hail of beer cans thrown from the stand as they made their way down the tunnel. Meanwhile, the target of those throwing from the southern stands turned out to be the main protest group marching along a nearby street trying to reach the stadium. They didn’t. ‘Heaven, I’m in heaven …’

Eighty minutes later the final score was Fans 1, Protesters 0.

(It was also All Blacks 14, Springboks 9). The trip home was not boring in the least.

I do not live in a small rural servicing town anymore and I no longer see the world and life through those 1980s cultural lenses. They were cultural lenses like any others—not all bad, not all good.  More significantly, my Christian discipleship has deepened (how much depends on who you speak to) and I am far more focused on what that discipleship both offers and requires. But it has not been until relatively recently that I have had cause to evaluate my attitude to the Springbok Tour and the larger issues that swirled around it.

Perhaps it would have been more helpful if, instead of the Byrds on the radio, it had been Dire Straits singing Micah 6:8 set to ‘Sultans of Swing’. While I was in ‘Heaven, I’m in heaven …’, where were non-white South Africans? ‘Hell, I’m in hell …’?

Having thought about the ‘me’ of 1981, the ‘me’ of the ‘2000s’ was concerned. My concern was not so much about who was right and who was wrong. It wasn’t even about what I should have been doing or thinking. It was that I didn’t actually ask that question. It didn’t occur to me to evaluate anything but the rugby.

I had reduced Micah 6:8 to … the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what you want, to love rugby, and to walk from the car park to the stadium. There was plenty of stuff around me to help me recognise that, but it wasn’t until something was shoved in front of my face that I did.

That something was Goal 3 of our Salvation Army Territorial Strategic Mission Plan (TSMP). At the time it read: ‘Take significant steps to eradicate poverty and injustice.’ Now it reads, simply: ‘Fight Injustice.’ I wish I’d thought more about fighting injustice back in 1981. I’m glad The Salvation Army is talking to 16 year olds (and 86 year olds) about it now.

Do I think TSMP is ‘perfect in every way’? No.
Do I think it is significant in the life of this territory? Yes.
Am I pleased that we have it? Yes.
Has it developed me as a Christian disciple? Yes.
Can it do that for each of us? Yes.

By Captain Ross Wardle