Catch up with Club Director Johnny Biderman-Pam

Where are we headed? – UCT Rugby and the future. We sit down with JBP to explore what’s been happening in these extraordinary times and how the Ikey spirit is being kept alive. 

Our social media intern, Jamie,  sits down with Johnny Biderman-Pam (JBP), of course over Zoom, a new norm that we have become comfortable with over the last three months. Our tech-savvy director, JBP, is quickly becoming a pro at all things Zoom.

Jamie asks: With the Cape winter rains setting in and no rugby on the horizon what is keeping you busy and close to The Green Mile?

JBP replies: These last few months have flown past and ironically have been a busy period of activity for the club. From the disappointment of not completing Varsity Cup or even commencing playing in the WP Super League A (old Grand Challenge) leagues, we have taken on the many challenges with one credo in mind. “HOW CAN WE ALL IMPROVE IN WHATEVER WE DO TO ENSURE SUCCESS IN A SUSTAINABLE WAY?”

My role has been assisting our efficient, committed executive and all related support staff to ensure that all personnel and players achieve what we initially set out to do, despite the crisis we find ourselves in. Our recruitment staff have been particularly busy scouting and engaging with future-players; check out the online application if you are interested.

I can honestly report that every one of these departments have given their all and I can’t wait to put all the planning and strategies into practice.

I must admit, when I have serious separation anxiety, I walk on the Table Mountain contour path and gaze down at a luscious Green Mile some 500 metres below. There is a feeling of our home begging for us to return. It is so healing to see it there waiting for us. So near and yet so far. But hopefully we will be back soon.

Caption: Pre-season training earlier this year on The Green Mile
Source: Matthew Begg
Pre-season training earlier this year on The Green Mile
Source: Matthew Begg

Jamie asks: What are you missing the most?

JBP replies: I think it is easier to ask – what am I not missing? And of course, the answer to that would be a big zero.

The club now operates fully around the calendar year but not one day is the same as another. It is a whirlwind of activity where young students charge the space with their dynamism, youth and excitement. This is backed up and furthered by our trained and player-centered coaches, managers, physios and medical staff that would make any club green with envy.

I miss the Monday Varsity Cup nights where we get phenomenal support from our student body, the Wednesday evening game analysis meetings where our coaches present with maturity and insight far beyond their years and, of course, I miss those winter Saturday afternoons where five or more teams play against our local community clubs. It is always a privilege to visit clubs whom are operating in very difficult circumstances but are always so receptive and warm to UCT. While intervarsity is no longer what is was up to the eighties, we are now fortunate to play in two intervarsity’s against UWC and the Maties. There is always an edge to these fixtures. It feels strange that we haven’t experienced this for a while. While we cannot solely blame it on Covid; we could say that climate change has dried up the Saturday afternoon Cape Town rains.  So it is rare to see wings’ fingers and toes with frost bite while their less glamorous forwards tussle in the mud reliving their childhood.

But what I miss the most are training nights; to walk on the Mile in the setting sun watching 250 players working hard, laughing, training and preparing is a site to behold as so many ex Ikeys will remember. In the background is the din of traffic passing, headlights creating parallel lines of bright yellow. The ever-present hum reminds us that our students only have a flitter of time to experience this nirvana before they too, will join the army of the work force heading home after a tough, tiring day at the office.

And of course I also miss the Ikey Pub and Grind, home like none other.

[Left to right: Rayno Mapoe, Zahir Baker (consultant) & Kwezi Puza]
Source: Supplied
[Left to right: Tristan Mouton, Liam Greenhalgh (Captain), JBP & Tank Lanning (Coach)]
Source: Supplied

Jamie asks: What can Ikey supporters look forward to in a post-Covid world?

JBP: Producing sometimes audacious and high-risk winning rugby has always been associated with our club. In the modern era with the advent of Varsity Cup, we have had to be more circumspect in our approach. For the past 140 years, UCT (or “Varsity”) has been entertaining crowds all over the world. Like 99% of sports clubs, there have been outstanding teams and seasons, as well as times when through a myriad of post season analyses, our teams have just not clicked into gear.

With our ethos still about the development of the player and freedom they are encouraged to express on and off the field, I believe the club has an exciting future. The World Cup gave the game a shot in the arm and crowds at Varsity Cup matches went up exponentially. We competed with the best and expect our form to improve moving into the 2021 season. Jamie, I think it is important to remember that our top teams cannot feature if we don’t have strong lower teams. Luckily, we have this in abundance and in 2019 there were only a few losses that our Eagles, Babrows, Bears and Women’s Swift squads endured.

But it is not only about results on the rugby field. We like to see ourselves as a “Stanford University” of Africa. Thus, over the years – the academic standards achieved by our players is something that we can all be so proud of. It is no secret that many of our Ikeys find fantastic starts to their careers throughout the world after graduation. With distance online learning being the mode of tertiary education this year, we hope and have no doubt to continue our academic successes in this novel and evolving learning style.

My deep interest is mental health and psychological wellness. We are aware of the losses, tragedies, stresses and subsequent pain most students go through. Depression and anxiety can manifest in the most balanced of students. Until recently, mental health issues have been a taboo topic to acknowledge and silenced due to social pressures.  We at UCT Rugby have taken a strong proactive approach in supporting our players and staff through their mental health issues employing both internal and external programmes. We are totally committed to developing strong psychologically and physically healthy players. We strive to create an environment where all our members feel safe and happy.

Jamie asks: Finally, what concerns do you have around the future of the club?

JBP: Jamie, this is a difficult one. The volume of players deciding to hang up their boots after the highs of school rugby is increasing at an alarming rate. Adding to this, our Under 20s (Young Guns) have become so strong and filled with joy that ironically, many of our players choose not to continue with what has become a brutal and highly competitive game at senior level. This seems to be a trend amongst most clubs in the country. Our internal league does cater for our more social players and Wednesday nights under lights is always an awesome experience. So many of our players are not completely lost to the professional style rugby we create at a senior level and are still able to enjoy the wonderful game. As a result, the disparity between the expectations of Varsity Cup and the rest of the club is also widening in both quality and additional time required to achieve our goals. At times it feels like we are running two clubs in tandem.

All in all, however, the Ikeys are made of stern stuff and we believe we will overcome whatever is thrown at us including the biting cold south-easters during Varsity Cup and the gale force north-westers during league.

For previous chats, watch head-coach Tom Dawson-Squibb and Shimmy’s interview discussing this year’s Varsity Cup season.

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