On 28 June 1914, a young Bosnian Serb aged seventeen changed the course of history forever. Gavrilo Princip was a member of the Black Hand Society, a nationalist movement that supported the union of Balkan states. His act of assassinating the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and his wife Sophie, while on a visit to Sarajevo was the catalyst for starting World War 1. Exactly one month later, the first shots of combat were fired.
I remember this event with clarity as it was one of those many facts chiselled into memory by my school history teacher.
My father claimed to have recalled the outbreak of World War 1. The family was living in Johannesburg at the time and no doubt this news would have travelled quickly to a colony of the Crown. I did a quick calculation and realised that he would have been twenty-one months old.
My earliest memory is of being at my brother’s barmitzvah, a Jewish boy’s ritual coming of age. In the company of my nanny, Mabel, I watched from an upper tier of Cape Town’s Great Synagogue as the small figure below performed his set piece. I was a little more than two years old at the time.
Our early memories tend to be of events that have significance for us personally; things that make a lasting impression on us, be they good or bad, happy or sad. They do not necessarily have to have far-reaching or life changing implications, although sometimes they do.
Assuming some patrilineal tendency to recall events from an early age, I expect that Harris would have remembered the occasion of his mother’s second marriage, an event that occurred when he was four months short of his third birthday.
But would this have been his earliest memory?
Sport runs deep in our family. My father played competition level water polo at university and my mother was a swim coach whose stable included a handful of national champions. My older siblings were national swim champions in their day, and I have had some success in both the pool and the ocean.
Sport wasn’t confined to active participation; there were memberships at two turf clubs – for some reason betting on horse racing was deemed acceptable in gambling intolerant South Africa – and season tickets at the local rugby and football grounds.
Watching football was possibly my father’s greatest sporting passion, kindled during his student days in England. The Gunners had acquired a life long fan, complete with red and white scarf.
Back in South Africa, following English football was limited to coverage in the print media and the occasional radio broadcast. We had no TV before 1975.
When London hosted the 1966 World Cup and England made it through to the final for the 12th time, we tuned into a radio broadcast that spluttered and popped like a pan of too hot oil. One can only imagine what it must have been like to watch Geoff Hurst pot first one, then two goals in overtime, delivering England victory over Germany and its first and only World Cup title to date.
It was, of course, possible to watch football live in South Africa. A small national league had formed which included two Cape Town teams, each with its home ground, and numbering among their players fading stars of British and European football leagues. This is where you would have found us on winter Friday nights; my father watching the game, my mother chatting to the person next to her, and me wanting desperately to be somewhere else.
The city of Liverpool has a proud tradition as the most successful footballing city in England. Football is its most popular sport and the city is home to two clubs, Everton and Liverpool Football Clubs.
Everton, the older of the two clubs, has its roots in the St Domingo Methodist Church Sunday School which opened in May 1870.
Eight years later the football team, using the St Domingo name, played its first match in the south-east corner of Stanley Park, establishing a commencement date of 1878 for what would soon become the Everton Football Club. St Domingo’s Football Club quickly established a local reputation for itself and in November 1879 acquired the Everton name.
Everton’s early home ground was about a 45 minute walk from 63 Blandford Street.
I don’t know that my grandfather played sport, but I would like to think that the formation of one of Liverpool’s pre-eminent football clubs may have made a mark on his memory.
He would have been around two at the time.