Focusing on some of the supporters and looking at three individuals that were well known or helped galvanise the Wellington rugby public in years gone by.
These days you can count the crowd at some games, it seems. In a bygone era there were many characters and supporters who helped shaped the game and made it the number one show in town on Saturdays and on many special occasions such as Ranfurly Shield and pre-match Jubilee Cup final parades and Wellington and All Blacks matches against international teams.
The first here was actually a cartoon character, Little Eric of Berhampore, a creation of Dominion cartoonist Alan Paterson and who regularly appeared in the paper from approximately the mid 1920s to 1950.
The following extract is taken from an article in a 1992 NZRU Centenary publication written by Radio New Zealand broadcaster Peter Sellers.
“….There were some wonderful characters associated with the games too – “Little Eric of Berhampore” being to the forefront. A gentleman named George Sutherland was nicknamed “little Eric” by the Dominion cartoonist Alan Paterson, who used him regularly in this cartoons. George worked for the Post Office for 40 years before retiring. He was a well known spectator on the sideline of the park, especially for the Police versus Post and Telegraph charity games played annually during the 1930s and later. One of George’s great acts was holding an open umbrella above his head and pretending to tightrope walk along the halfway line. He played the violin as well, singing in the streets during processions before matches.”
The Te Ara NZ Encyclopaedia entry says this of Little Eric:
“Small, moustached and dressed in an oversized coat and hat, Little Eric was always ready with an opinion, mostly about rugby, on which he would expound at length to his significantly taller friend, Whitey.”
Former All Blacks halfback Chris Laidlaw also wrote this in his 1973 book, Mud in your Eye:
Sellers, in his 1992 NZRU Centenary publication article, continues:
“Basil Young was another great supporter of the game. A big man with a loud penetrating voice, he was blunt and knowledgeable. “Basil the Barracker” used to stand at the bottom of the Western Bank on halfway during matches and regardless of which way the wind was blowing, his voice carried to all areas of the ground. He raised many a laugh.
“Yet another crowd personality was “Hec”. Despite an impediment to his speech, his cries of “come on Athletic”, “come on Eric Tindill” could be heard as soon as entered the ground. He was a loyal supporter for ages, until he eventually moved to Auckland. “Hec” probably camped on the old bank at Eden Park, and enjoyed watching the national game there, as he did for so long at Athletic Park.”
Another larger than life supporter was Dick Evans.
Evans’s story is immortalised in glass casing upstairs in the Wellington Football Club’s clubrooms at Hataitai Park.
Evans was the founder of the Wellington Rugby Supporters Club in 1965.
The group organised parades, hosted visiting overseas teams, ran end of season dances, an annual Miss Wellington Rugby contest and undertook way trips with mascot Leo the Lion to support Wellington Ranfurly Shield challenges.
The club had its own clubrooms at Athletic Park and later moved to Wellington Stadium.
Evans died in 2021, aged 95. Peter Bidwell wrote an obituary in the Dominion Post, which included
A feature of the Wellington club was a game-day parade through the streets to the clubrooms at Athletic Park. Remarkably, an estimated 75,000 witnessed the parade before Wellington played South Africa in 1965. Within a few weeks the club had 1500 members, and its own 30-piece band. Evans would be out front wearing a distinctive black and yellow suit.
On occasions he would don the Leo the Lion mascot costume, he was credited with having started the “C’mon Wellington” chant, and such was his entrepreneurship he was even referred to as “Mr Wellington” during his more than two decades with the club, which remains active.
Evans was credited with pumping much-needed vigour and excitement into Wellington at a time when it was often regarded as a dull public service town. He was seen as charismatic, egalitarian, a personality when Wellington had few, and full of good ideas and energy.