Dearnaley mourns death of another childhood team-mate: he played with Small‚ Batchelor‚ Shaw

George Dearnaley during the Magic FC media open day at Norway Parks on February 12, 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa.
George Dearnaley during the Magic FC media open day at Norway Parks on February 12, 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa.
Image: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

Former AmaZulu striker George Dearnaley says it has been surreal and unnerving to realise that that three high-profile members of his Southern Transvaal under-12 team have died following the passing on the weekend of Nicky Shaw.

Former Dynamos‚ Kaizer Chiefs and Pretoria City striker Shaw died on Saturday at his home in Fourways‚ Johannesburg‚ aged 51.

For Dearnaley that brought about the realisation that three of his childhood provincial team-mates – all of whom went on to bigger things‚ have died within a year-and-a-half of each other.

Springbok 1995 Rugby World Cup-winner James Small died of a heart attack having been found unconscious in a Bedfordview gentleman’s club on July 10‚ 2019.

Former Orlando Pirates‚ Chiefs and SuperSport United striker Marc Batchelor was gunned down in his car outside his house in Olivedale just five days later‚ on July 15 last year‚ aged 49.

Dearnaley‚ who earned three caps for Bafana Bafana in the 1990s‚ said the death of a third player in Shaw from that provincial U-12 team left him reeling.

“In that squad there was a guy called Ivan McKinley‚ who played in the US and got a Bafana cap‚ and there was also John Cox who actually turned pro at Portsmouth. It was a hell of a squad‚” Dearnaley said.

“And you’ve just known the guys for that long. Not that we were close. I bumped into James Small I think about 10 years ago in Hout Bay.

“He made eye contact and I said‚ ‘Howzit James‚ I don’t know if you remember me?’ You almost assume the guy has gone on to be a superstar‚ but he was like‚ ‘Ja‚ George‚ we used to play together – how’re you doing?’‚ and big hug and all that type of stuff.

“Me and Nicky played together at that level‚ and I hadn’t seen him for a few years‚ and then suddenly we were all pros and playing against each other. And then I was probably much closer to ‘Batch’ than the other guys.

“But I did send Nicky a message last week for his birthday to say‚ ‘Happy Birthday old man‚ just a couple of months younger than me’. And he replied with a big smiley face and‚ ‘George‚ you old bugger‚ you’re older than me’‚ and all that kind of thing.

“That was on Wednesday last week. And then I heard on the weekend that he’d died.

“It’s almost surreal‚ you know. I was actually quite depressed about it. And again‚ not that we spoke every week‚ but it’s a part of your childhood. It’s such a reminder how fragile life is.

“But it’s sad. From my squad – and I don’t think we had many subs in those days‚ so probably 15 of them – that’s three of them gone‚ and three who really took their sport to the highest level.”

With notoriously rough rugby winger Small and aggressive football striker Batchelor – both of whom were characters known for tempers and controversies on and off the field – Dearnaley’s U-12s could have been quite some ruffian side.

Dearnaley’s recollection is that the legend regarding Small‚ then about 16‚ was that he was suspended – leading to him turning more to rugby – for punching a heckling adult spectator in a club match.

“You know‚ James was actually a formidable football player because he was bigger and faster than everyone‚” Dearnaley (51) said.

“And he was a defender then. So you couldn’t out-run him. If you turned it into a 50/50 he was probably going to win that as well.

“He was a central defender and I was actually played right-back in that team. And Nicky and Batch were the two strikers.

“And we won the inter-provincial tournament in Pretoria. So it was a really good junior side.

“ ... For Batch‚ a lot of guys will tell you there was a different side to him. He was an aggressive striker‚ and obviously after his career became involved with some really rough and tough people.

“But heart of gold‚ would give you the shirt off his back‚ was always there for his mates and his team-mates‚ and you couldn’t ask for more in a team-mate.”