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Tuesday, January 10, 2006


General discussions: Where The Boot learned the game

Article by Davids

In 1942 the German Afrika Korps unleashed their Blitzkrieg in the Western Desert. The Allies retreated in disarray. Hoping to imitate the stand the Australians made in Tobruk against the Italians a year earlier, 26 000 South African soldiers were ordered to hold Tobruk. But these weren’t Italians and soon enough the Germans had forced a surrender. Rommel, the famed Desert Fox, told the soldiers: “For you my friends, the war is over.” But being a German prisoner was not the safest place for one young Jewish soldier.

His name was Okey Geffin. He was one of the young South Africans who answered the call to arms. He was one of the young soldiers the Germans captured at Tobruk. Fearing that his Jewish background would create trouble as a Prisoner of War, he pretended to be Afrikaans.

Italian POW camps were quite easy. The young soldiers wiled away their time playing rugby and working on nearby Italian farms. Then the Italians surrendered and the Germans occupied Italy. The Allies invaded Italy in 1943. The prisoners were moved to the feared Stulag POW camps in Germany and Poland.

All Okey had to keep him busy was an old rugby ball. One of the heavy four panel models. There was no air available. Benny stuffed the heavy ball with material so that it could keep its shape. He managed to set up some poles in the camp. He wiled away the days kicking at the poles. Day after day, hour after hour, minute by minute. There was nothing else to do.

The Germans gave the Red Cross access to the prisoners. They brought post from home, and more importantly, the new, lighter four panel leather rugby balls, pumped up with air. Young Okey immediately set about using the lighter ball to tee up his kicks at his makeshift poles. Famous rugby players were in the same rugby prisoner of war camp. They encouraged the youngster to keep at it.

Things were not going well for the Germans. They were losing the war. They discovered a mass grave in the forests of Katyn on the Russian steppes. Their politicians sought mileage from the discovery. They brought in Red Cross officials and a delegation of Prisoner of War to show them the graves. The young POW’s braved the vicious Russian front to have a look. One of them was Okey Geffin. The Allied prisoners concluded the same thing. These were Polish officers murdered by the Russians in 1939. The Russians were furious. Okey went back to the Stulag and back to kicking.

The camp Commandant saw him placing the oval ball, kicking it at the makeshift poles, and then fetching it for another kick all day long. He asked young Okey about the beautiful game. Then the Commandant came upon, what he considered a genius idea. His guards were fat and overweight. Not good soldiers at all. They would stand at the poles. They would fetch the ball for the young prisoner all day so that they could get fit enough for frontline duty.

Okey had two German guards allocated to him. All day the German guards would watch him place the ball, kick it at the poles and then they would fetch it for him.

The war moved on. The great armies converged on Germany’s heartland through France, Poland, Yugoslavia and Italy. The prisoners were moved to Germany to avoid them falling into Russian hands. The Germans didn’t trust the Russians with prisoners. And rightly so. In 1945 the German guards ran away from their charges. Okey lost his ball fetchers. The Americans arrived at the camp gates and broke them down. Okey, the young Jew pretending to be an Afrikaner had survived. He was free after three years of imprisonment.

Okey Geffin marched into a Prisoner of War camp in 1942. In 1945 he walked out with his rugby ball under his arm. But he was no longer just Okey. He became The Boot.

The Boot walked into the annals of Springbok rugby folklore.
Brilliant one Donner

Talking about adversity

Maybe I should be playing more ball with the Orakels ;-)
Sorry DavidS

I see only now the small print- as usual

Good one

What a brilliant story. Damn it was nice to read.
Yes OO and spend less time playing with your own balls!

Great story though, nice to read background on the players.
Here is Okey's stats

Okey Geffin
Full names: Aaron Okey
Date of birth: 28 May 1921
Place of birth: Johannesburg, South Africa
School: Harris School, Johannesburg
Initial province: Transvaal
Physical: 1.85m, 108.9kg
Date of death: 16 Oct 2004 (Age 83)

Test summary: Tests: 7 Tries: 0
First Test: 16 Jul 1949 Age:28 Tight-head Prop against New Zealand at Newlands, Cape Town
Last Test: 22 Dec 1951 Age:30 Tight-head Prop against Wales at Millenium Stadium (Cardiff Arms Park), Cardiff

As a tighthead prop he kicked 10 penalties and 9 conversions in his Springbok career.
Wonderful story  
Only reason he survived, was because he looked like Hitler. Same little "snor". hehe, Hitler would never want to kill someone that looked like him!  
Really enjoyed this piece, thanks DavidS!

LOL @ Aldo
You know what the tragedy was?

He was the first high profile Springbok player to be banned.

He advertised "Okey Geffin Rugby Boots" and got banned for life because he broke the strict amateur code.

What a damned shame.

Another interesting stat about him.

He never played in a losing Springbok side.

In fact, until Joel Stransky, the Springboks had never lost a test where they fielded a Jewish player.

Of course we only had Okey Geffin and Sid Nomis.

But interesting nevertheless
No, DavidS, I'm sure we had other Jewish Boks.  
Okay Rasp

You're the Rugrat sniffer dog

Those were the only three I know of so if you can find any more, please tell us. I'm interested in how the stats came up that the Boks never lost a game where they played with a Jewish player. The stat was one I read in the Star newspaper many years ago when we beat Australia in our first tour there aftyer isolation. We were playing a three test series and we won the first test against expectation. Then someone published the stat. I think it was 1994, but I can't be sure.
There sure were many more Jewish Boks. Morris Zimerman springs to mind, and more recently Wilf Rosenberg.
Also Louis Babrow from the '37 series.
How the hell did I forget Wilf Rosenburg!!!!!


Can you look into it for us.

The stat on the Boks not losing a test with a Jewish player till Joel Stransky came along and let his culture down fascinates me.
These behind the scenes stories are always brilliant, this one is too.  
Don't worry, I forgot about Cecil Moss myself :-)
I think all questions are answered in the follow-up thread by Ras.
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