Glasgow Spectator Sports. More Than Just Football?
I have over the years been to various birthday parties and funerals held in rugby club halls, but it is fair to say I am not a big follower of the rugby. I will freely admit that some of this is prejudice on my part. I didn't know anyone who played rugby until I went to university, and the people that I met there who played the sport were, as a general rule, complete dicks (with the odd exception from Blantyre). I am sure that a large part of my lack of interest in rugby is simple inverted snobbery. It may be fairly normal in parts of Ayrshire and the Borders for people to play rugby, but beyond that in Scotland it really is played in the private schools of the land. Nobody taught us rugby on the red blaes pitches of my secondary school. When Rory Hughes was recently capped for Scotland against Italy, it was newsworthy. A Castlemilk boy, who went to a state school in Glasgow had made his way to the national squad. The exception rather than the rule. When you look at the "notable people" from Castlemilk on its Wikipedia page there are listed 15 footballers, 3 actors, 1 musician, 1 policeman and 1 rugby player.
There have been efforts on behalf of the sport to tackle this and my children have all been given taster sessions in rugby at primary school. Although my kids weren't persuaded by these sessions, I know that one or two of their classmates went on to invest in a set of gum shields and joined local clubs, so not a completely wasted effort.
Although I watch the Scotland team play on TV at times, another thing which makes it hard for me to get right into rugby is the endless tweaking of the rules of the game. If the referees didn't have a mic attached to explain each decision we would all be at a loss. The commentators flap about, trying to spot the apparent infringement, until the voice comes through their headphones telling them what apparently happened. Even then, the old tradition in rugby of never disagreeing with the referee and respecting his decision has gone out the window. This was nowhere more obvious than when referee Craig Joubert awarded a match-winning penalty to Australia in the recent World Cup, eliminating Scotland in the process and then sprinting off the pitch to universal condemnation (except in Australia I suppose).
I have watched rugby before. I've taken my kids along to watch the Rugby Sevens at Scotstoun on occasion, and the quick fire games were quite entertaining. Rugby Sevens was a big crowd-puller at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, in part because the games were held at Ibrox Stadium and there were plenty of tickets on offer. I have been to see the Scotland rugby team play in Edinburgh, when I won tickets to a match somehow. It was all very jolly, if a bit lacking in any feeling of competitive rivalry in the stands. Rival fans mixed together in the crowd, gamely cheering on their teams. It had none of the frisson of excitement that sitting just along from the Polish fans at Hampden had, when I was recently watching Scotland in a football World Cup qualifier.
|Twickenham grass being prepared|
|The Calcutta Cup|
Glasgow Hawks and Glasgow Hills
Club rugby in Scotland has undergone a lot of change since the 1990s, with the arrival of the professional era in a sport which once prided itself on its amateur ethos. The days of the Scottish newsreader working their way through the rugby scores after they had finished with the football results on a Saturday night, with names such as Boroughmuir, Melrose, Kelso and Glasgow Academicals, are long gone. There are now two professional teams in Scotland, the Glasgow Warriors and the imaginatively named Edinburgh Rugby. They play in the Guinness Pro12 League of which Glasgow were champions in 2014-15. By ending up in the top 4 places in the league again this year (2015-16) Glasgow are guaranteed a place in the end of season play-offs. This also ensures them a berth in next year's European Rugby Champions Cup.
The extensive amateur rugby league system in Scotland has about 8 tiers with over 150 teams involved and promotion and relegation possible between divisions. This becomes regional in the lower orders. Although the top league is dominated numerically by Borders' teams, Glasgow is represented in the Scottish Premier Division by Glasgow Hawks, based at the pitches at Anniesland Cross ("Old Anniesland"). Old Anniesland was first set out as sports fields by Glasgow Academy school in 1883, and used by them until 1902. When they bought farmland next door in 1902 to create "New Anniesland", Glasgow University took over Old Anniesland for 10 years. In 1919 Glasgow High School bought Old Anniesland and built a new clubhouse here in 1924, a building which still stands. Since Glasgow High, the school, upped sticks from the city centre in 1976 their school buildings have stood here also. Glasgow High rugby team merged with Kelvinside Academy in 1982 to form Glasgow HK. Then with the re-organisation of rugby across the country in 1995 they merged with New Anniesland's Glasgow Academical team (or Accies) to form Glasgow Hawks. Initially their name was the result of Accies, HK and the West of Scotland club coming together, but the latter team decided to keep going in their own right. West of Scotland Rugby, formed in 1865, now play out at Milngavie.
|Colours of West of Scotland Football Club|
Glasgow Hawks still are based now at Old Anniesland. Their season in the top tier of Scottish amateur rugby runs from August through to March and has just come to an end with Glasgow Hawks finishing a safe 6th. Ayr Rugby Club topped the league, being ahead by a clear 12 points at the end of the season. However as the league has adopted the play-off system to decide the champions, they lost out to Edinburgh's Heriots in the final. To me that must feel very unjust to Ayr followers and I am not really a fan of play-offs deciding championships. Cup competitions I get, but a whole season decided in one game just seems unfair.
Also nearby are Hillhead-Jordanhill Rugby Club, based at Hillhead Sports Club in Hughenden. "The Hills" play in the BT National League Division 2, two tiers below the Premiership. With Hamilton champions of the league this year, the Hills have just avoided relegation finishing 10th in a 12 team league. Hillhead Sports Club was was initially home to Hillhead High School Former Pupils' Rugby Football Club. The opening on the new, reinforced concrete stand here at Hillhead Sports Club in 1934 was marked by a match between Hillhead Former Pupils and Glasgow Academicals.
|Newspaper report of the Hillhead FP vs Accies rugby match, September 1934|
|Club building at Hillhead Sports Club, Glasgow|
|Rugby cliché, Hughenden|
|Hills vs Murrayfield Wanderers. April 2016|
|Hills players. April 2016|
|Hills vs Murrayfield Wanderers. April 2016|
|Hills vs Murrayfield Wanderers. April 2016|
Victoria Park Amateur Athletics Club since it was formed in the 1930s. Here they are, below, winning the 1954 Edinburgh to Glasgow relay race.
In 1996 the running track was replaced with a modern eight lane synthetic track. With funding of £18 million, much of it from the city council and Sport Scotland, to upgrade it as a modern facility open to the local public, the stand was re-fitted with a fitness suite and indoor 100m warm up track. A new stand was built on the opposite side of the track and the whole facility re-opened in 2010. Initially just a training base whilst their matches were at Firhill, Glasgow Warriors now play their home matches here, and as a result competitive athletics can take place less often in the stadium. It is still home to the athletics club and the hundreds of children that take part in their junior clubs (including my daughter), but rugby is certainly squeezing them out.
|Facilities at Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow|
|On a recent visit to Scotstoun Stadium at dusk|
|Glasgow Warriors vs Zebre. Sold out.|
|Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow|
|Bar and catering facilities at Scotstoun|
Glasgow had a dip in form in the middle of the season this year, but came into this match on a run of eight consecutive victories. It is a strange aspect of club rugby, that during international competitions such as the Rugby World Cup held earlier this year, club games carry on but without the best players being available. This either works as a handicap for some teams or forces them to recruit a bigger squad to give them flexibility. Most other sports suspend other competitions for internationals, maintaining the integrity of the league as a contest.
Despite a sluggish start Glasgow soon got the points ticking over and by half time it was clear that this was going to be a rout. Big Fijian Leone Nakarawa ran in the first of his three tries at the corner with defenders bouncing off of him
|Leone Nakarawa scores his first try for Glasgow Warriors v Zebre|
|Crowd at Scotstoun Stadium|
Tonight they ended up running out 70-10 winners against Zebre, scoring ten tries with a conversion after each one. Getting four tries in the match secures them a bonus point and their chances of winning a home semi-final in the play-offs have improved. All that will be decided next weekend against Connacht..
|Glenn Bryce scores Glasgow's third try|
|All that choice and I settled for chips and gravy|
|The sun sets on Zebre as Glasgow Warriors stuff them at Scotstoun|
"What do you like about it?" I asked him.
"It's great when you smash into someone and just wipe them out".
I shall only link to an article about Prof Allyson Pollock's research into childhood injuries in rugby, including six children paralysed in Scotland in as many years playing the sport, and leave you to form your own opinions on that one.
Cost - £30 adult £10 child