Four decades ago today Whanganui Chronicle columnist Rob Rattenbury arrived in Hamilton ahead of the now infamous Springbok game which was called off amid protests against the tour and South African apartheid. He recalls that now infamous day.
Forty years. July 25, 1981 was a beautiful mid-winter day in Hamilton city, the kind of day that made one feel great to be alive.
At that time I was a young police sergeant based in Lower Hutt.
I had arrived in Hamilton via a RNZAF Hercules from Gisborne the day before after working night shift in Gisborne the previous week, chasing anti-apartheid protesters away from the Sandown Park Hotel where the South African rugby team was accommodated.
The earlier game against Poverty Bay gave us all an indication that the anti-tour protest groups were well-organised and intent on making more than a peaceful protest against the South African tour and apartheid.
There were attempts to invade the pitch and arrests.
The protesters had no compunction in confronting the police lines at the park, led by then high-profile activist Sir Tim Shadbolt.
We all knew Hamilton would be a repeat of Gisborne but with more intensity as it was a bigger, more accessible centre and close to Auckland, the heart of the protest movement.
I started duty at midday at the Hamilton police station where I met my crew for the day, five young detectives from Auckland now in uniform for the duration.
We were told we were on reserve, which meant we would not be deployed in public unless we were needed.
We made ourselves comfortable in the canteen, reading books or watching videos.
Protesters were gathering in the city centre and intending to march to Rugby Park, some distance away.
After about an hour an inspector asked the six of us to grab a couple of police cars and accompany him.
We trailed the march in marked police cars. I was surprised to see so few police accompanying the march.
Police would normally be deployed in reasonable numbers to firstly protect the marchers from people who would do them harm but also to help supervise the march with the protest leaders.
As we got near to Rugby Park I saw a one or two police on the embankment at the end of the park but few others.
The marchers all of a sudden did a left wheel up the bank, through the fence in seconds and a significant number invaded the park before the rugby fans realised what was going on and closed ranks.
The few police on the embankment were brushed aside like feathers.
A fair bit of violence was taking place at the entry so we joined what few other police were around and stormed along the top of the embankment in a penetrating line, slicing through between the protesters and the really angry rugby crowd.
It got very busy and very violent for what seemed forever but was probably only about five minutes before what seemed like hundreds of other police drove another penetrating line through to us and a strong cordon was formed.
They had been in reserve under the grandstand.
Being on top of the embankment in force we had the advantage of height over the remaining marchers on the street outside the park.
A fairly heavy mob of protesters would have a go at us and we would repel them, almost losing one or two police into the crowd which would not have been good.
This vanguard contained big, tough violent men who knew how to fight. Not typical anti-apartheid protesters. We all know what subsequently happened, the game never happened.
I ended my day escorting all the protesters back to the city centre helping to protect them from very angry rugby fans.
I made one arrest that day, a rugby fan who kicked a protester in the head. The protesters cheered me.
I returned to the police station to eventually hear a senior member of the Red Squad propose a motion of no confidence in the police Commissioner, Bob Walton.
I went back to my accommodation and rang my wife, who was caring for our 5-year-old daughter and 7-week-old son to tell her I was alright as it was all over the news, of course.
I believe it was known our police would be stretched enormously and probably would not cope but the tour was going ahead whatever.
Robert Muldoon had an election coming up. At that time most of the country just wanted to see rugby. Things changed after Hamilton.
Eight weeks later at the third test in Auckland, 2500 police out of a service of only about 5000 at the time almost did not cope.
Most of the rest of us were deployed in the main centres and some provincial towns dealing with other protests.
There is nothing remotely funny about my memories of that time.