Recently, just before the main game at Newlands Rugby Stadium was to start, an announcement was made on the public address system: "Attendance today 39 334 spectators". I took an old friend there. He was from the deep platteland, and he immediately made the remark as reflected in the heading. I did not even think that this would be his first [and last!] visit to this famous and magnificent sports centre.
So sad - Newlands has closed down. It was the third oldest international rugby stadium in the world. The first match here was played in 1890 between the clubs of Stellenbosch and Villagers. The number of spectators was about 2 400. Later the close proximity of the huge, high-rising pavilions had a most electrifying effect on all, and was an intimidating challenge for visiting players, especially from overseas.
In 1891 the British were the first international team to play at Newlands. How fitting, later this year [hopefully!] the British and Irish Lions will be the first international team to face the Springboks in a test match at the Cape Town Stadium.
How do they count such crowds? I did not check for Newlands, but in modern times, it usually is by tally counter - a mechanical, electronic, or software device used to incrementally count huge collections. Also fleeting ones, such as human beings, animals, or objects that may move at pace. Most tally counters are cased in metal and are cylindrical. Many may look like an enlarged wrist watch. Inside the counter are some rings with the numbers 0 to 9. Most counters have four such rings, allowing a count up to 9 999. When its activating button or ring is pressed, the counter starts. This causes the first ring to advance one number, after which it will be handled manually or instructed to proceed on its own.
Many counters immediately start on their own to do the job meticulously and accurately - another wonder of these times. I remember so clearly from long ago, how my brother-in-law counted hundreds of sheep with his workers on their Karoo farms in the Cradock district. It had to be done regularly due to the possible effects of theft, sickness, jackal and rooikat. The valuable stock was pushed through a gate or narrow counting place - suitable for the job.
Being there on a holiday visit, I joined in, but always missed the final total by quite a few. The analog odometer in motor vehicles, of course in its own adapted way, functions along similar principles as the modern counter.
The main application of tally counters these days is to count people at concerts, stadiums, etc. An official or officials will handle it/those at the entrance[s]. At amusement parks, certain dangerous rides may only function if the number of trips and passengers have been checked regularly and accurately, assisting operators on safety and operational ability. These counters are most useful for traffic analysis, scientific research, checking inventories and industrial lines, and more.
Now an interesting part of my tally counter story. It was sparked off by an e-mail from a CEO in Australia. Having read it aloud, some around the table voiced the opinion that the context of "tally" was used wrongly here.
Hanien, my wife, silently got up and returned with her 1924 Oxford Dictionary of Current English: "A tally is a piece of wood scored across with notches for notes of the items on an account. Such an account would be split into two halves after a transaction. It was to be kept by the two parties concerned as counterpart or duplicate" - unchallenged proof of the exact transaction allowing for no arguments later on. How remarkable.
All students who did English for a teacher's diploma under the famous Dr McMagh decades ago at Stellenbosch University, had to rely on such assistance as no single language mistake was allowed. My wife came to Outeniqua High School to teach English. That dictionary came with her and was a trusted help in each and every class. I shall not say when this was, but definitely not in 1924, now close to a century ago!