It was the strangest tournament that Warren Bond ever played in. He was in Egypt, playing for South Africa, against four of the world’s hockey nations. Their hosts had put them up in a military hotel; outside Bond’s window was a parked fighter jet. Every now and again a tank rumbled past. A police escort took them to the stadium.
Their matches were just as daunting. The stadium in Cairo was empty but for a small bunch of men in suits and ties including Hosni Mubarak, being a big hockey fan, says Bond.
When the final game came, Bond but his fellow South Africans could see nothing but angry soldiers.
“We got to the stadium thinking it was going to be completely empty but it was full. Every spectator was in military uniform. It was quite intimidating. They had been given instructions that whenever an Egyptian got the ball they went mad and the crowd would be silent when we had the ball. You couldn’t script it,” says Bond.
The silence was deafening as South Africa scored the winning goal. As the ball hit the net a sublime moment turned bizarre when Gregg Clark celebrated.
“I won’t show you what he did, but basically he ran along the sidelines abusing and shouting at all the spectators. We were shouting ‘Clarky they’re the army, they’re lethal, they’ve got guns. What the hell are you doing?’” he says.
Bond remembers Clark’s victory dance before the Egyptian army like it was yesterday. He last played for South Africa in 2003 where he clocked up 64 caps, five of them as captain.
Few hockey players these days can say they have beaten Australia twice and been to the Commonwealth Games, but Bond can. He was even supposed to have gone to the 2000 Sydney Olympics until the National Olympic Committee of South Africa pulled the side three months before the event, saying there were not enough players of color.
Then in March, he got the call. His country needed him again. He was called to play for the South African Masters side, a team for those that are 40 years and above. They needed him to brush the dust off his boots and play in the FIH Masters World Cup in The Hague, Netherlands.
“It used to be you would be called up to a squad, then you would go to national camp and at the end of it you would wait, praying for your name to called out by the selectors. If they did, you would go and play for South Africa. Now, your mates call you up and say ‘hey, you’ve been selected to play for South Africa for your age-group’. And you’re like ‘well how did I get selected?’ and they say ‘no we just decided that it would be cool if you joined the team,’” says Bond.
In the 10 year gap between internationals, Bond had not been idle. He has completed the Comrades Marathon twice, a grueling 89-kilometer road race between Pietermaritzburg and Durban in Kwa-Zulu Natal.
South African hockey players have to work. It simply doesn’t pay. When he was in his heydays as an international player, Bond worked as a chartered accountant. He also founded Sport For All, a franchise operation which has 15 sports coaching businesses running in South African townships. On the business side he invested in Luminous, a banking innovations technology company which revolutionized online accounting with First National Bank (FNB).
“One of my partners got tired of capturing bank statements and recapturing the same data later on. We thought this made no sense, there had to be a smarter way, so why not get the banks to do this? We invested in it and landed up with FNB as a customer,” he says.
Bond also created an innovation matchmaking site, called Matchi. It helps connect entrepreneurs with banks.
“I’ve seen it. People can spend two years talking to the wrong people at a bank, spending millions and millions of rands.”
It’s a sign of his outdoor life that the idea was born nowhere near an office or a bank, but on a river to Mandalay in the jungles of Burma. Another entrepreneurial venture was born while hiking the Himalayas below Mount Everest.
“It’s minus 15 degrees outside and you have your piece of chipboard and your little mattress. You wake up and everything is frozen, it’s an amazing place for ideas.”
From the road to Mandalay to a small piece of astroturf in the Johannesburg winter where aging hockey stars play. Bond takes to hockey like a fish returning to water. For a moment it could be Cairo in 2000, instead it’ll be in The Hague in 2014 when he pops off a few skilful moves with his dusty old stick.
“I am not too worried about the fitness; I am a bit worried about converting it to the sprinting which is a different ball game,” he quips.
“It’s a bunch of mates you see once a year. What’s more you get to compete against some of the people you played against internationally, under more relaxed circumstances. It’s different at Masters. You are going there knowing you will have a few beers with them after them game. You couldn’t have too many of those when you were in the middle of a series against Australia,” says Bond.
His return to hockey will be less daunting. This time, Bond won’t be in the middle of stadium of mean sounding soldiers.