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Soccer legend’s passing sparks ‘guilded’ memories

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Memories of the popular Jewish Guild social and sporting club in Johannesburg were brought to the fore following the passing of Kaizer Chiefs legend Frank ‘Jingles’ Pereira.

Portuguese-born Pereira played for Jewish Guild Football Club between 1972 and 1973 before joining Cape Town City in a transfer that made him the most expensive soccer player in South Africa.

“The Guild’s soccer club competed in the first division for a short while, but its main event was the get-togethers it held for the Jewish community,” says Solly Krok, who served as the guild’s president for a decade from January 1977.

The Jewish community played soccer, bowls, hockey, tennis, and ping-pong at the guild in Rivonia Road, Morningside, during the 1960s and 1970s. The guild also had its own orchestra and war memorial building.

“In 1975, Solly and Abe Krok redid the guild’s hall and improved the whole premises. Stan & Pete moved in as the caterers, and it became the most popular function venue for many years,” says Stan & Pete co-founder Stan Smookler.

Krok got involved with the guild, which was founded in the first half of the 20th century, when he was about 26 or 27 years old. He went on to receive special acknowledgement for his contribution as president.

The Jewish Guild was originally called the Jewish Guild Memorial, and was located on the corner of Von Brandis and Jeppe streets in downtown Johannesburg. It was a cultural centre and meeting place for Johannesburg Jews, including returning soldiers from both world wars.

Its restaurant’s speciality was fried fish and chips with salad, wrote Ray Jankelowitz, who started going to the guild with his family as a youngster. “The entrance was bedecked with huge wooden plaques of the hundreds of names of South African Jewish serviceman who had lost their lives in all the conflicts during the 20th century, including the War of Independence.

“In the basement was the table tennis area, which produced some South African champions. Badminton was also played down there. There was a huge hall where wonderful Yiddish productions were held.”

However, the guild subsequently relocated, Krok says. “In the 1960s, the management bought a block of land [in Morningside], and decided to have sporting clubs. The main people who drove the guild have all passed on. In the 1970s, I took on the mantle and became chairperson. Antisemitism had been around since I grew up and at that stage, Jews weren’t admitted to a lot of clubs, so we started a lot of bowling clubs. Four or five other Jewish sporting clubs also played.”

Krok says the Jewish community at the time revolved around the guild in Sandton and Balfour Park Jewish Club. “There were also Jewish clubs in Cyrildene and Observatory.”

“When we moved in, the guild was ‘the place’, with rolling lawns, a ‘groiser’ swimming pool – which could get 400 people on a Sunday – and many sporting activities,” Smookler wrote in Stan The Good Shabbos Man last year. “Built to hold 250, which often stretched to more than 300, the venue pumped with a Barmitzvah virtually every Saturday, and at least two more simchas mid-week. It squeezed 500 in for the Krok’s 50th medieval banquet.”

According to Smookler, the four bowling greens were full every weekend, and when groundsman Seymour Smith tried to close the greens for a week or two to trim them, he received a lot of abuse.

A couple of years after Jewish Guild Football Club gained promotion to the first division at the start of the 1971/1972 season, the Kroks brought former Manchester United winger George Best, one of the biggest names in world soccer, to South Africa, and watched him play three games for the guild.

“Eventually, I was instrumental in merging the Jewish Guild with Balfour Park Club,” Krok says. “I was a big shot who controlled both those operations for a while. Because the attendances were dropping, I eventually sold the Jewish Guild and the Balfour Park ground in around 1987.”

The guild subsequently moved to the top of Sylvia Pass in Observatory, Johannesburg, before closing down, Smookler says. “What remains of the guild now is the Holiday Inn on the property, plus a few offices and Virgin Active. The Krok brothers built Sports Connection, the first real gym in South Africa.”

The guild’s war memorial building had plaques with records of Jews who participated in the two world wars. Its cornerstone, which was unveiled by the late Jan Smuts on 8 November 1922, was moved to the grounds of the South African National Jewish War Memorial at Westpark Cemetery in a rededication ceremony 10 months ago.

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