Almost 100 GROGs attended the monthly lunch to welcome Fergus Neil, breaking his duck as Chairman, and David Barnes, well known rugby correspondent, author and blogger, who broke the GROGS Speakers “height record”, towering over Al Kellock by almost 1 inch! Dipping into his considerable knowledge of the refereeing fraternity Fergus told some good stories about them, especially the more than famous Nigel Owens. The biggest compliment that can be paid to David Barnes in describing his passionate and insightful address is that he spoke completely in his own right as David Barnes and not as the son of Ian Barnes, the former Scottish international lock forward. A successful rugby player himself, having played for Hawick and Edinburgh Accies before being forced to retire through injury, David showcased his qualifications as a rugby correspondent for several broadsheet newspapers (and 1 or 2 not-so-broadsheet others)! He restricted his comments to a short description of his transition to rugby columnist and a much longer description of his concerns about what might be happening to club rugby with the desire of rugby “officialdom” to extend their power and authority over the sport. He was clearly unhappy about the present day governance of the game in Scotland and is further worried that some English clubs have too much control in European rugby whilst working with a lack of obvious viability. The setting up of the proposed ‘Super Six’ he sees as being fraught with problems and part of a creeping dimunition of the independence of the leading clubs on both the players and officials fronts. A frustration about the lack of the type of rugby coverage he believes the ordinary rugby enthusiast in Scotland looks for led David to establishing the website www.theoffsideline.com which has gained in popularity and stature since it was set up 18 months ago. His aim of wanting to report and comment in the way the 2 main ‘rugby papers’ should have been doing is clearly being achieved and discerning GROGs would do well to check out the site. In appreciation of his contribution, Fergus Neil presented David with a bottle of, what he assured him is, a very rare whisky indeed.
Appreciating that Rob Flockhart, President of the SRU, had made time in his very busy schedule to come to the GROGS, a record number for a September meeting attended the first Lunch of the 2017-18 season to hear what he had to say about the current state and progress of rugby in Scotland. They did not go home disappointed! As we entered the 15th. season of GROGS Lunches, Chairman Brian Rigby praised the enthusiastic support of members, both current and past, for making this tradition so enjoyable. He also paid tribute to Steve Begley, whose premature death at the age of 42 was announced recently. He said Steve, a well known Glasgow rugby man, was too young to have been a GROG and too young to die. In opening, Rob made 3 admissions:- 1) he was feeling very nervous; 2) he was not there to defend or attack the SRU and 3) he was a founding member of EROS, the Edinburgh equivalent, but much younger, association of GROGS. None of these confessions was held against him. In a wide-ranging address, Rob covered many points of interest to his audience. He had nothing but praise for the changes in the governance of the Union recommended by the Working Party chaired by Sheriff Bill Dunlop which, he said, had resulted in Scottish Rugby being the envy of both the Irish and Welsh Rugby Unions. He couldn’t express strongly enough his view that Scottish rugby starts and ends with the Clubs, although the SRU needed to be trusted in its actions. It’s vital, Rob said, that Clubs need to encourage greater volunteer support in order to attack the bedrock problems of ongoing sustainability and player retention. Success breeds success! He covered a number of other general points and then gave way to questions. From a knowledgeable audience came knowledgeable questions. Is a 3rd. professional side in Scotland a likelihood? Why were there so few Scots in the Lions pool? Is regionalisation of Club rugby the way ahead? How can the SRU police illegal payments to players? Is the season too short? Rob answered these, and several other questions, in an honest and forthright manner which much impressed his discriminating audience and for this he was gifted one of the much sought after bottles of GROGS whisky!
The last Lunch of the 2016-17 year started off more somberly than most. First of all, popular former Chairman, Roy Dingwall, took ill at the beginning of proceedings and was taken to hospital before he had a chance to enjoy the lunch he’d paid for. Thankfully all is well with him and he was released the following day. Then, in the chair for his swansong as GROGS Chairman, Gordon Wilson expressed the Club’s sympathy at the recent death of founder member and GROGS stalwart, Tom Morrice. A period of respectful silence was held before Gordon opened and closed the AGM in 2 minutes with details of the proposed charitable donations. He also announced that Brian Rigby was the Committee’s proposal as his successor, at which point there was a further period of silence and by such silent acclaim, the appointment was approved! After a fine lunch, the guest speaker, Johnny Bacigalupo, was introduced. Johnny, part stand up comedian, part rugby aficionado, was a welcome return speaker to GROGS. In between a selection of hilarious one-liners and some pretty tall tales. he described his career as a prop playing against such famous names as Iain Milne, Ian MacLauchlan, Norman Pender and Sandy Carmichael before an unfortunate accident put an end to it. What was the playing game’s loss became the regulating game’s gain when Johnny moved into refereeing. He quickly moved up the refereeing ranks before being promoted to coaching referees and then to his current position of Performance Reviewer, a role he clearly relishes. Peppering his description of his rugby career, thus far, with humorous anecdotes about well kent players and officials, including a good story involving referee Allan Hosie and England internationalist Ben Clark, Johnny made it clear he is still very much a grass roots rugby man. He’d recently watched 2 different matches - an open game between Trinity and Portobello in East 2A League and a tight, bruising match between the professional sides, Edinburgh and Connacht. We were in no doubt which one he preferred. He also expressed his feelings about the modern game’s scrums and lineouts and, in answers to questions, how he rated certain high profile referees. For his entertainment and honesty, Johnny walked away with a bottle of GROGS whisky.
GROGS continued with its much acclaimed policy of diversity and inclusion with top female referee, Alex Pratt, journeying from Edinburgh to join us in our celebration of International Women’s Day! And celebration it was for a number of the 95 GROGs present who had not previously been aware of the extent that women’s rugby had become established in Scotland. As the old joke goes, thanks to Alex, “they ken noo”! In the story of her life, travels and involvement in rugby, Alex was as natural a speaker as we have had over the years. She made no apology for, or special explanation of, her involvement in a sport which most, if not all, of her audience would never have envisaged in their playing days. The language she used, the technicalities she explained and even the post match drinking culture she described were no different than would have been heard from her male counterparts and or from the majority of those present. Alex described how she came to Scotland in 2001 on one of those ‘world tour’ rites of passage that seem essential to young Kiwis and Aussies. She liked it so much she ended up staying and quickly took up rugby with Watsonians. She felt she took so much from club rugby that she wanted to put something back into the sport and, thus, took up refereeing. This has led, so far, to a stellar, and rather unique career, in that she has now officiated at all levels of club rugby as well as the Olympic Games, the World Cup, the Six Nations and the Melrose 7s. Her ambition for herself, she explained, is for rugby fans and officials to think that “she is not too bad”! After her talk, which centered mainly on her development as a referee, she took a number of questions from the floor. Interestingly, and as a compliment to her, these all focused on the technical side of modern day rugby. She handled these with the authority of someone who clearly knows their stuff. So far as GROGS is concerned, Alex more than achieved her ambition of being “not too bad”. The bottle of GROGS whisky she took home assured her of that!
Those GROGs attending the February Lunch 2017 will be delighted to tell anyone who might be interested that they were present on the day The Bear of Scottish rugby came to Braidholm. Iain Milne, the great Scottish International, British Lions warrior and 1984 Grand Slam winner did, indeed, come to Braidholm to address 103 GROGs who still see him as a hero from the “Golden Age” of rugby. A huddle (being the collective noun) of props gathered at the top table, in the shapes of Iain Milne, Chairman Alasdair Graham and Robert Dean, comfortably taking up the space usually reserved for 5! For the second month in a row, a former Scottish Internationalist and British Lion entertained GROGs with a delivery, full of good stories of the goings-on of some of the top rugby stars of yesteryear, linked with a clear knowledge of the sport, at all levels, and covering decades of playing and observation experience. Iain’s story ranged from his playing days at George Heriots school, Heriots FP, to his Scotland and British Lions career - a story laced with tales of high jinks both on and off the pitch. He clearly loved his rugby and he loved the fun with his teammates, fun that might have been put down as being boisterous in the 1980’s. There’s one ex mayor in a small town in New Zealand who probably still treasures a ripped blazer as a souvenir of a Lions visit! Iain’s nostalgia included a euphimistic account of a shared love of watching television with a Kiwi fan and the day he became semi professional by accepting a white pudding supper from an appreciative Jim Telfer. Iain has had his demons to fight over the years and the fight continues. Still heavily involved in rugby with Heriots, he works very hard to foster the old style club spirit there, efforts that are bearing fruit. Although not a great fan of the SRU’s apparent desire to control all levels of club rugby, he gave it a reasonable report as he did with Glasgow Warriors and Gregor Townsend, but was less praising of Edinburgh Rugby and former coach Alan Solomons. He ended by exhorting club representatives to speak out strongly for collective club rugby, answering questions openly and honestly and taking possession of a prized bottle of GROGS whisky with enthusiasm.
There has to come a time when the talents of the guest speakers at the GROGS lunches cannot keep excelling. Happily this was not the case at the first lunch of the New Year when the ever youthful Roger Baird reached new heights of entertainment value. The event hadn’t got off to a great start with numbers being decimated by call-offs due to last minute illnesses. However, the survivors were well rewarded for their stamina and resistance to germs! In a speech peppered with famous names from 2 decades of top class rugby, some great stories from his playing days, some out and out jokes and strong views on the current state of Scottish rugby, Roger delighted the 92 GROGS present with a thoroughly enjoyable blend of rugby knowledge, humour, mimicry and nostalgia. Having a pop at his erstwhile playing colleagues and friends, albeit laced with poetic licence, Roger kept his rapt audience in the palm of his hands with his skilful blend of oratory. He also showed a fine talent in mimicry, particularly when talking about Gavin Hastings and the fearsome Jim Telfer, who Roger confirmed is, indeed, larger than life! In the safety of a warm room at Braidholm, with the benefit of a fine ‘Burns like’ lunch well digested, GROGS got a taste of what it must have been like to be faced with that Melrose legend in full flow! It wasn’t all fun and flippancy, though. There were serious comments from a man who clearly loves rugby and is still involved in it. Roger Baird is, by his own admission, not an admirer of the lack of support that the SRU gives to its member clubs, although he remains optimistic about Scotland’s immediate international chances. Also, though clearly an admirer and supporter of Gregor Townsend, he gave the impression that the replacement of the current Head Coach, Vern Cotter, may have been dealt with differently if Gavin Roger Todd Baird had been in charge. Not surprisingly, Roger received a standing ovation and a bottle of the priceless GROGS whisky by way of appreciation for a stellar performance.
This year, the GROGS Xmas Lunch was thrice blest, with the quality of the Christmas fayre, the jollity of the community carol singing and the frivolity of the top table speakers. Chairman Roy Dingwall was at his outrageous best, guest Howard Haslett from EROS, our brother club in Edinburgh, was in fine form with yet another fine Grace and the Guest Speaker was a revelation. Over the almost 15 years of the GROGS existence, successive Committees have trawled far and wide to bring the best speakers available to entertain or enlighten the Members at over 120 lunches. Of course, not always were the best speakers available! Where the current Committee hadn’t previously looked was right under its collective nose. If they had, they would have found Ken Mitchell - able, willing and available. Ken has been a member of GHARFC for a long time (a Director in fact) and is already a GROG, with a rugby pedigree ranging from the lower echelons of the erstwhile Clarkston Rugby Club to offering medical advice to the British Lions on tour. Unfortunately, for the merry band of 114 revellers at the lunch, medical confidentiality prevented him telling “Lions” stories and modesty prevented him telling Clarkston RFC 2nd XV stories. So Ken was left with a number of his medical experiences and anecdotes with which to entertain his festive audience …… and entertain them he did! One group was heard agreeing that he ranked as “one of the best yet”. Much of Ken’s medical career was described by way of doubtful stories about doubtful patients to an audience which was clearly delighted to hear about such things as fake Santas; deeply imbedded aubergines, residents of the criminal underbelly of Barrhead and a wee Paisley wifie who clearly was familiar to one or two GROGS present! Throughout his talk Ken was very lighthearted but he ended on a more sombre note reminding the GROGS that not everyone would be having such an excellent meal this Christmas or enjoying such pleasant company and he made an appeal for those less fortunate to be remembered at this time. Chairman Roy expressed the Club’s warm appreciation to Ken and presented him with one of the few remaining bottles of GROGS’ whisky.
The 106 GROGS who gathered for the November Lunch heard a guest speaker who was able to talk about rugby the way many remember it. Ian Docherty, a GROG in his own right, took a journey back to the yesteryear of his playing days with the Unofficial Championship winning side of Glasgow High School FP’s and the ‘by invitation only’ Co-Optimists. However, he received no support for his suggestion that GROGS, with its inclusion of the disparaging “Old” word, might consider changing its name to GRAGS (Glasgow Rugby Aging Geezers Society) or even GRIGS (Glasgow Rugby Incontinent Geezers Society), the latter in spite of the regular traffic to the Gents throughout the lunch. Ian started with a doting story about his granddaughter who had asked why people die and then went on to ignore his deeply philosophical answer by pointing out that his toenails were all yellow! Thankfully, no evidence was presented. Ian’s meander down memory lane was a familiar one, back to the days when Clubs were populated by local lads with common bonds leading to much more socialising in Clubhouses after matches than is the case today. One such event (a dinner) at Old Anniesland, involving a chocolate gateau and the then SRU President, led to the Glasgow High School FP, and successor Clubs, having as much success as GROGS in getting an SRU Presidential presence at their functions. Ian had a number of stories from these halcyon days involving well kent names like John Jeffrey, Pringle Fisher, Angus Cameron and his own brother, the late Jimmy Docherty. As one member put it after the Lunch, “Happy days, indeed”. However, Ian didn’t just live in the past but had strong words to say about the way rugby had evolved since then. Among other things, he is not a fan of the way referees and touch judges are abused at all levels and certainly not of the modern rolling mauls. As Ian was finishing, Bob McPhail, with the same unerring accuracy displayed in his playing days, threw a mini rugby ball to him … missing by about 20 feet! Ian ended saying that his story had only taken him to age 18, leaving the Grogs thinking about a sequel - “Ian Docherty, the Middle Years”. The inevitable bottle of GROGS whisky was presented to him in appreciation.
The GROGs attending the October Lunch welcomed a breath of fresh air in the shape of guest speaker, Rob Robertson, rugby correspondent of the Scottish Daily Mail. Any speaker starting off by saying that he was really passionate about rugby and was concerned about the way club rugby in Scotland is going will win the hearts of the GROGS there and then … and that’s exactly what Rob did! His passion for the game was clear, as was the fact that he is not just a sports journalist but a journalist in the wider sense, an author in his own right, a co-author and a ‘ghost’ writer. Firstly he established his credentials, mentioning names like Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Romanov, erstwhile owner of Hearts F.C., Alex Ferguson, Willie Miller and Andy Murray (whom he described as a man of the people and arguably the greatest Scottish sportsman ever). Rob’s style was to illustrate his concerns by asking questions. Why are professionals allowed in the amateur game? Why do the clubs allow this? Who are the SRU accountable to? (The clubs, that’s who!) Why are professionals allowed to play for Scotland after only 3 years residency? Where is Scott Johnson? What’s going to happen to Scottish rugby if BT pulls its sponsorship, a very possible scenario in his view? All this delivered with the type of animation that is born out of passion. It was refreshing to hear such strong opinions, especially from someone whose views might be influential. He didn’t have it all his own way, however. One gritty questioner, among many, laid some of the blame on the press for not covering rugby more. Rob’s response that an independent press finds it very difficult to report openly on rugby as the SRU has such a stranglehold on all aspects of the game was a rather frightening revelation to hear. One of the signs that a speaker has been truly appreciated is if the Chairman has to cut off the flow of questions from the floor. Another is the gifting of a bottle of rare GROGS whisky. Both of these duly happened.
The feeling felt by many GROGS of having been let down by the late withdrawal of SRU Chief Executive, Mark Dodson, was more than compensated for when Henry Pyrgos, Glasgow Warriors and Scotland scrum half and captain gallantly stepped into the breach at even shorter notice. One regular “Luncher” was heard to say ‘heads we won, tails we definitely won’! Henry confessed that he wasn’t used to giving such talks but Chairman Gordon Wilson soon put him at ease with his own laid back introduction both to the proceedings and to Henry himself. Gordon bade welcome to the new caterers, Jacqui and her team, who, by consensus, excelled by producing very tasty …. and hot…. courses for the delectation of the 80 GROGs who had turned up for the first Lunch of 2016/17. Henry was modest in his presentation, outlining his introduction to rugby in his young days. His father, a Londoner and rugby coach at Bryanston school, encouraged Henry to try a multitude of other sports as well as rugby. Though Henry was born in Dorset, thankfully, for Scottish rugby, his mother is a Scot who made sure his pedigree was never forgotten. Describing his development through the Exile system before arriving at Glasgow Warriors in 2010, there were an awful lot of England references for a Scottish rugby captain. He was quickly forgiven when he waxed lyrical about his time at Warriors and with the Scotland squad specially praising the influence on his game of both Al Kellock and Gregor Townsend and their philosophy of “enjoyable rugby”. An obviously modest young man, Henry explained that his joint captaincy with Jonny Gray at Warriors works because it involves “2 guys without egos”. In spite of his self-confessed inexperience as a speaker, a measure of the interest he inspired was the number of questions asked of him, although a casual listener might have thought he had tuned into Gardeners’ World from the talk of different playing surfaces and pitches. This was rugby talk from the coal face! Henry received warm appreciation and a priceless bottle of GROGS whisky as a heartfelt thanks for saving the day.