Pies and a passion for rugby: Stormers manager Chippie Solomon remembers Newlands

01 July 2020 - 08:04
Dan Kriel (left) of the Stormers with team manager Chippie Solomon.
Dan Kriel (left) of the Stormers with team manager Chippie Solomon.
Image: Carl Fourie

Christopher “Chippie” Solomon, the team manager of the DHL Stormers, shares some of his treasured Newlands memories and formative moments of his career.

As a young boy, Solomon and his family lived in Wilkinson Street, right near Cape Town's Newlands Stadium. He started visiting Newlands with his uncle in the early 1970s.

His earliest and favourite memory of the stadium isn’t watching the game, but the pies. “Beautiful steak pies — you don't get pies like that any more,” he says. He was still little at the time, so his uncle would lift him onto his shoulders to see the game, but he didn't really get much of the full experience then. 

Not long after, Solomon's family was relocated to Bonteheuwel as a result of the Group Areas Act.

When he was a bit older, he had his first “quality” experience of the stadium. Early one morning, he and his friends boarded a train to watch a match. They arrived at the stadium at 8am — and, thanks to their early start, they were the first children to be allowed in. This meant they had first pick of the choice seats — right in the middle, underneath the poles.

Soon they all fell asleep in their seats. When they eventually awoke, it was near kickoff time and they were trapped in their seats in the children's enclosure for the rest of the game. “That’s my best memory of Newlands, going to the British Lions vs SA Test match in 1974.”

First taste of the game

Solomon attended primary school in Claremont for some time after his family had relocated, and then a school in Lansdowne. When the time came to decide on a high school, he chose Bonteheuwel High. “That’s where I got my first experience of the game of rugby.” 

In primary school, the choices of sports were slim — football or athletics. So, of course, Solomon played football. In standard 6, he went to watch a game of rugby. “I didn’t play, I just watched. Those guys were maniacs on the field!”

Watch highlights of BrightRock and the Stormers celebrating Newlands:

It wasn’t long after that his uncle, who played rugby at the highest level, insisted that all the Solomon boys give up their other sports to pursue rugby instead. So all five boys went along to their uncle's club. “My uncle insisted that we had to play for his club.” 

Excelsior Rugby Club was based in Kalk Bay at the time, and many of the members were local fishermen and their extended families. “We went to one meeting at Kalk Bay, on a Monday afternoon, and that was it, we never went back.” 

The boys decided something closer to home would be a wiser choice, “so we just rocked up at City Park in Athlone, and that’s where we really started to play rugby”.

They hadn’t really been exposed to playing the game, so when it came to choosing positions, the boys were lost. “They said to us, ‘OK, where are you from?’ Lansdowne? OK, you play flyhalf and you — you play centre,” and then when it came to the others, “Where are the rest of you from? Oh, Bonteheuwel! OK, you guys can play forwards!”

And that’s how Solomon ended up playing in the front row for practically all his life. 

Spreading his wings

At 17, he started getting involved in coaching the younger boys of about nine and 10 at his club. He eventually became an administrator when he was just in standard 10, all the while representing Western Province Schools under the banner of the SA Rugby Union.

“I then became secretary of the big club, but I was also convener of the youth rugby in the Bonteheuwel community. We had about 120 kids playing rugby.”

He remembers holding professional meetings in empty school classrooms. He was chairman, and he had a secretary who took the minutes and a treasurer who collected the 10c season match fees from the kids. They ran an entirely functional junior club, which later became an amazingly strong club that fed into the senior club. His dedication was undeniable, even then. Besides playing for his school team, he recalls that “on Saturdays we’d be at the club, from 9am to 6pm, and our interest in the game just grew and grew”.

After he finished school, Solomon studied to be a qualified teacher at the Hewat College of Education, where he almost immediately became chairman of the rugby club as well. “For the four years that I was there, that was my best experience in terms of getting to know the game.”

He received no assistance or financial support. “Everything,” he says, “came from the heart.” Often he would dig into his own pocket to help develop and strengthen the game and the club, demonstrating his passion for rugby. 

He tells us that even at that time, he wouldn’t have identified rugby as his calling, as he went on to enjoy a 20-year career in education. It seems not that he chose rugby, but rather that rugby chose him. 

It's one of the most amazing things you’ll ever see, and you don't see it at many rugby stadiums in the world

After many years in various roles, including president of Thistle Rugby Club, SA Schools coach, convener of WP Schools rugby, and lifelong president of Kuilsriver Rugby Club, Solomon then applied for the position of professional manager. Thanks to his immense dedication and extensive experience in developing and administering the game, he landed the role.

“It’s been a process to be where I am today, and I’m extremely honoured.”

He remembers going to Newlands to watch the Stormers as a supporter, and how excited he and his friends would be to see the bus to arrive. “While I used to stand there, I used to think, ‘I wonder if I’ll get the opportunity to be in that bus,'” and he did. 

“Newlands has become very special to me. Every Saturday, the most endearing moment for me is to drive with the team bus, down Boundary Road, on a match day. The people selling their boerewors rolls, their chips, their flags ... [there's] the excitement of the crowd and the familiar faces of the fans that come to every game. It's one of the most amazing things you’ll ever see, and you don't see it at many rugby stadiums in the world.” 

For Solomon, these are the memories that stick: those “goosebump” moments of arriving at the stadium and walking out of the tunnel as part of a professional rugby franchise. He is still overwhelmed with emotion when he thinks of those times, even after all these years. 

This article was paid for by BrightRock.