I am sitting at my office and I am thinking of you. It is your funeral today, now actually (it started 10 minutes ago), and I wanted to go, I really did, but I thought I’d pay my respect to you in my own way. So I went to the roof my office building and sat in the sun, soaking up the vitamin D, thinking of you and what you meant to me. I came back to my office and started typing this letter to you.
A week ago, the news broke that you had passed away. You passed away on the same day as Barbara. You know when they called the staff into the boardroom, I knew something was wrong and when they broke the news to everyone, my colleagues and I were all in shock. I remember I didn’t cry at the news, I think I was just relieved that her pain was over. Cancer is horrible. I got back to my office, called my Mom and told her the news. She was sad too, saying it isn’t right that someone so young should pass away.
After the call, I opened up my mails and saw I had an e-mail. The subject line immediately caught my eye: ‘James Small, rugby legend, dies’.
Now James, as you can imagine, after reading the headline, my eyes welled up with tears. I couldn’t read the simple paragraph, which stated:
Legendary Springbok wing and Jonah Lomu’s living nightmare, James Small has died. Aged 50, Small is believed to have suffered a heart attack today while on the way to visit his daughter. Small had played 47 tests for the Springboks, including his crucial role in winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
How could it be?
Well, the first person I called was my Mom, and she asked why I was calling again… when I sobbed into the phone saying: “James Small died”. Maybe it was the shock of everything that just hit me, but I cried and I cried.
You know James, years ago, my Dad used to be a subscriber to Beeld, and when I realised, I liked you as a rugby player, I used to start collecting newspaper articles on you and that was around the time my brother Timothy started playing rugby for the Air Force. He used to buy Sports Illustrated, SA Rugby and FHM. By then I had bought a scrapbook and started pasting the articles in there, I raided Timothy’s rugby books. He never got irritated at the fact that every now and again a magazine would disappear.
All the posters of you in the You and Huisgenoot magazines were pasted on my walls. I idolised you. I used my pocket money to buy magazines like Fairlady, De Kat (yes, I loved that it had the first three letters of my name in the title), the Personality. Yes, that’s how far back the articles go. I still have a few magazines that featured you where they still advertised cigarettes.
You on the cover of De Kat. It was 1997 James and the magazine cost me R 8,40.
I have the photos of the shoot you did with Christina Storm. I remember being happy that you had found someone, cause I couldn’t stand Louie Fish. Anyways, I may have been slightly jealous of Christina, but you were 15 years older than me, so I didn’t mind. Anyways, I had school and varsity to focus on.
I remember when you debuted your ‘No Rules’ trademark, as well as your clothing line with Mr Price. My Mom still bought me a vest with your Red Indian tattoo on it. I always said I’d still go get that tattoo done one day. It was beautiful and it meant a lot to you.
Some of my scrapbook collection.
I remember getting the tape (yes, a tape, cause I didn’t have a CD player then) of your music collection that you released as present for Christmas and you opened my heart to new songs, which are still some of my favourites today. Thank you for that.
There used to be a Nino’s coffee shop in Midrand. You had a part in the franchise that time. My Mom used to work down the road from it and I remember her taking me there for lunch the one day. It is a memory that is so special to me.
James, you played for the Sharks, WP and the Lions, and where you went, I supported the team. Isn’t it crazy what one does for their favourite player?
I have another memory to share with you James.
My Mom had a boss named Veronica. Veronica was cool. She taught me how to study for exams, she sat me down and showed me how to make summaries of my work to learn it easier, because ‘learning like a parrot isn’t good Kathleen’, she said. One day Veronica was paging through a newspaper and saw the most awesome photo of you with your Harley Davidson. She phoned the newspaper and arranged for a original copy of the photo, which still cost her R 40 that time, to be delivered to her, which she gave me.
So, that photo was the best present ever… anyways, the Springboks were playing the All Blacks at Loftus once. Well, I think it was the All Blacks, I can’t really remember. Anyways, the Springboks had a training session that Friday afternoon/evening at Loftus Versveld. I heard about it and that’s when my sister-in-laws who were at my house for a braai, bundled me into the car so that we can go meet you. As we got to Loftus, the bus was leaving, but my sister, Lynette jumped out and asked if you were on it.
‘No,’ said the guy. ‘ He is in Joost’s combi. The red one,’ he said as he pointed the way.
We ran to the combi, and there Lynette asked André Snyman to sign the photo James. I tugged on her and said ‘it isn’t him!!’ in a loud whisper. ‘He is in the back’, I said pointing to you.
You sat forward, you smiled and I was speechless. My sister-in-law rambled on that I am Kathleen and I love you and can you please sign the photo for me.
You did sign the photo, and that James is my best memory. I got to meet you.
The photo you signed for me James.
After you retired from rugby, I kept updated with what you did, but I never took my liking of you any further James. I didn’t follow you on Twitter or look for you on Facebook. I suppose in a way, I grew up, I had to because a lot of things happened. Anyways, people used to call you the naughty boy of rugby, the rebel. You know what, I think I loved that about you. You didn’t follow the norm, or the rules, and that is why you, James, were my number one.
Thank you for sharing your talent with us, thank you for sharing your life with us and thank you for being MY legend.
I hope you find your peace in the yonder world… and I hope you meet up with my brother so that you two can talk about Rugby.