To quote a regular sketch line from Monty Python, it was a case of “now for something completely different” at the GROGS November Lunch. Not for the first time, there was a move away from guest speakers with a clear rugby link when over 100 members gathered to welcome Campbell Elliott, the well known PGA golfer and professional at Haggs Castle Golf Club. With his very entertaining style of delivery, Campbell showed that his skills are not restricted to the golf course but included oratory. If after dinner speaking was to be measured in the same way that golf is then Campbell would certainly be playing off scratch! After a glittering introduction, he regaled his audience with stories of his own golf experiences interspersed with some old jokes well told, some new jokes equally well told and reminiscing on his career. Campbell is a Clydebank boy who has fared well in the world of golf and is obviously proud of his achievements as a Scottish Internationalist, both at amateur and professional levels. It was interesting to listen to the stories about the famous golfers he has played with and fun to hear about his room sharing with the great Colin Montgomerie. He was proud of the fact that between them they managed to amass a grand total of 50 International caps (Campbell had 2). Many of his stories were told in a self-deprecating manner to the extent that even when he said “true story”, as he did when describing an encounter with Seve Ballesteros, one couldn’t help but wonder if that was the case. Before accepting a bottle of The Famous GROGS Whisky, offered in gratitude for a very entertaining presentation, Campbell offered this advice to all golfers:- “There is no such thing in golf as a bad shot. You might not like it but your partner will love it!".
This month’s guest speaker was the well known sports writer, Alan Lorimer, best known as a rugby writer for most of the broadsheet papers in Scotland. Alan entertained his audience with a very well scripted walk down his own Memory Lane describing his start in journalism during his University years and the beginnings of his career as a rugby correspondent when he was an accredited member of the press corps on an international tour of Zimbabwe. While he was happy to name some of the tourists, including a young Craig Chalmers, Paul Burnell and George Graham, he also seemed very keen to describe the wild life he came across in the early days of that tour. Not many international matches can be delayed because there was a live snake on the pitch! Equally so, not many journalists can say that they met, and engaged in conversation, a head of state in a gents’ toilet (Ian Smith of UDI fame)! He has travelled the world reporting on rugby and has been on 14 international tours, a career he is so grateful for. Alan hasn’t only been a rugby journalist, he also played the game, notably with Aberdeen University when he was a teammate of former internationalist, Ian Robertson. He continued his own playing career up to veteran stage and still covers the sport as a journalist, with a particular interest in schools and youth rugby, making an articulate appeal for more support for the development of rugby through youth programmes and the state school system, which educates 95% of today’s youngsters but produces a fraction of the playing population. Alan likes open rugby and is not a fan of the game being dominated by huge forwards who, he quoted, account for around 80% of tries nowadays with their driving mauls and “5 metre zone” rugby. As food for thought he offered a couple of suggestions which had been unofficially summarily dismissed by ‘a high heid yin’ at the SRU. Nevertheless, from the tenor of the questions asked, there was clearly a level of support from some of the more grass roots rugby enthusiasts present. To warm him up on the way home to St. Boswell’s, Chairman Fergus Neil presented Alan with a bottle of GROGS whisky and the best wishes of an appreciative audience.
After an enforced absence of 18 months, the GROGS lunches roared back into action when around 100 members and guests reconvened at Loks to greet familiar faces once again, to celebrate surviving the Covid pandemic and to be royally entertained by Rob Wainwright, former Scotland international captain and member of the victorious British and Irish Lions of the 1997 South Africa tour. Rob had been a prime target of the Committee for a long time but other events, clashing diaries, the Covid pandemic and two lambing seasons had made it very difficult to bring his presence about. By the end of a longer than usual and most entertaining lunch there was no doubt that the wait had been well worthwhile. Firstly, though, GROGS Chairman, Brian Rigby, conducted the AGM for the interrupted 2019/20 year. He reported on another successful year of lunches with record attendances and generous contributions to favourite charities. He also announced changes in the make-up of the Committee, notably the co-option of Hugh Dan MacLennan, his own retirement as Chairman after 5 years and the popular appointment of Fergus Neil as his successor. Finally, everyone was able to focus their attention on Rob Wainwright who proved to be as entertaining a speaker as he had been a player. What surprised most of those present was to learn that Rob is a marvellous mimic. He didn’t just tell stories, he introduced easily recognised characters and accents into them. Seemingly present in the room were a very “sweary”, but inspirational, Jim Telfer, Gavin Hastings, Neil Jenkins and others, along with a plethora of accents - French, South African, Australian and Cockney (you’d swear Michael Caine was there), all used in the telling of stories of high jinks, frolics and low key mischief during his time as a Scotland player and captain and even more as a member of a Lions squad full of stellar names and reputations. However, it wasn’t just a fun presentation from Rob. He had plenty to say about modern day rugby, especially the changes in training and tactics since his day and what he described as “the depressing arms race” with the deliberate bulking up of players. One solution, he thinks, is to do away with excessive substitution. Heavy players might manage 45 minutes play but not 80 minutes. Rob ended by generously answering a number of questions and, as a man known to appreciate good whisky, was presented with a bottle of The Famous GROGS Whisky to express our gratitude for an excellent afternoon.
GROGS gave a warm welcome to well known broadcaster Iain Anderson on 3 different counts - his was a well kent face to many (being a GROG of many years standing); he had been an enthusiastic rugby player of a certain vintage and he was an erstwhile rugby commentator, all reasons to look forward to what promised to be an interesting talk. No-one was disappointed! Unusually for a GROGS speaker, Iain gave his talk a title - “The Banker and the Grocer”, for reasons which became evident as his address progressed. This was a nostalgic talk centring round players and anecdotes from a particular halcyon period of Scottish rugby history, familiar to most, though not all, present. Iain meandered through a list of famous players and stories dug out from his own notes and a lifetime of rugby memories. His starting point describing a life centred around his love of rugby was his first visit to Murrayfield in 1954 where he had witnessed some of the top internationalists of the day plying their trade. This was where he had first seen the legendary Hughie McLeod of Hawick who had, according to fellow internationalist, Ewen Ferguson, given an inspirational captain’s team talk which few of his listeners were able to fathom. Other big names from those times tripped off Iain’s tongue - Adam Robson, Arthur Smith, Ron Glasgow and David Rollo (he of stockings down to his ankles fame), at the mention of whom a buzz of recognition went round the room. He talked fondly of Scotland’s win over France in Paris in 1994 and the advent of Gregor Townsend’s ‘Toonie flip’. After a brief mention of the 1955 British Lions tour of S. Africa, Iain allowed himself a moment of personal nostalgia by recalling his playing days with Bellahouston Accies and its merger with Albert Road Accies, leading to the introduction of stand-off Johnny Hewitt, the “Banker” of his title. The “Grocer” was Angus Cameron of GHSFP, Scotland and Lions fame and, like the Banker, a stand-off. His final recollection was of a challenge match at Old Anniesland in 1955 between the British Lions and a combined select of Glasgow High FP and Glasgow Accies, narrowly won by the hosts. Iain was a speaker who clearly relished his fond memories as did his highly appreciative audience.
It was back to rugby business for GROGS at the February Lunch when one of our own, David Jordan, a man steeped in rugby, returned as guest speaker. It was clear he felt at home when he gave ‘shout outs’ to quite a number of the101 hardy souls who had braved the weather to enjoy listening to a man who had experienced the sport of rugby as a player and a top flight administrator with more than 20 years experience. David enjoyed his reminiscences of a career from when he was the only employee of Celtic Rugby to the present time when he is Tour Director of the Pro 14 League which has expanded to a staff of 18 full time employees. David considers himself privileged to be working in the sport he loves and being able to travel the globe in pursuit of contributing to its improvement. He has witnessed matches featuring the top teams and the best players in the world and remains ever grateful for that privilege. His friends say that he hasn’t paid for a match ticket in 2 decades, an accusation he had to confess to being true! In spite of this high rolling life, he still meets up with his local pals of many years standing and described a regular lunch meeting which they dubbed the “Backstabbers Lunch”, in that, if you weren’t there, you were ’it’! It was interesting to hear the differences between the Pro 14 structure and the Premiership structure. They are quite different, as David explained, in both philosophy and objectives which leads to the organisations competing against each other in many ways. He described the playing field as not being a level one but believes Pro 14 punches above its weight and backed up this belief with an impressive array of facts and statistics, including a list of the top managers in international rugby who had cut their teeth in the Celtic leagues. Having a Pro14 Club winning the Premiership remains an ambition as it is the only trophy to elude them thus far. Clearly proud of the Tournament’s achievements, he rattled off an array of dazzling achievements
David dealt with a number of questions well, including a successful handing-off of the most controversial one and was awarded with the much sought after bottle of Famous GROGS whisky.
After the very successful Christmas Lunch with guest speaker Andy Cameron in sparkling form, there was some nervousness that the January Lunch might be an anti-climax. Happily for the 111 GROGs present, this fear was far off the mark. The guest speaker was Lesley Thomson, a former Solicitor General for Scotland and the first female member of the SRU Board of Directors, whose style of delivery and content kept the audience’s attention from start to finish. Even although she confessed to still experiencing a degree of nervousness, her skill in public speaking and her professionalism was reflected in what the Chairman, Fergus Neil, described as a “wide ranging, interesting and very entertaining” speech. Few, if any, would have disagreed with that description. Lesley referred to episodes in her legal career several times, making special mention of moments in front of 2 eminent Sheriffs of their day, GROGs Brian Lockhart and Bill Dunlop, but it was her progress to the higher echelons of Scottish rugby that entertained us most. Her journey (and rugby education) started on her move from Glasgow as Procurator Fiscal to Selkirk in the Borders. She was made most welcome and now considers herself an Honorary Borderer. Lesley and her sons immersed themselves in local rugby and she started out as a typical ‘rugby Mum’ before being co-opted on to the Melrose committee as Midi’s Convenor. Although not known for its commitment to diversity, she was made welcome and included in all matters of discussion and decision before becoming Assistant Secretary at the Greenyards. Lesley sprinkled her talk with humorous stories about her roles in Borders rugby, the Procurator Fiscals positions she had held and her speciality knowledge of proceeds of crime legislation. Her style was clever, friendly and self-effacing and, thus, she held the audience in her hand. In talking about her role as a non-executive director of the SRU (the first such female appointment to any Tier 1 country board) she remained humorous and non controversial. When describing the activities of the governing body side of the SRU she conceded that improvements can still be made. Above all, Lesley said, rugby is a sport, a fabulous sport, a sentiment loudly applauded by the well entertained GROGs. Naturally, in appreciation of her presence, Lesley was gifted with a bottle of Famous GROGS whisky.
Andy Cameron, whose name is a byword in Scottish entertainment, was the guest speaker at the GROGS Christmas Lunch on 11 December. This was the second Christmas Lunch to be held at the new, permanent, venue of Loks restaurant in Glasgow and, once again, the attendance record was smashed. An unbelievable 141 GROGs (and 1 guest) were royally entertained, not only by Andy but also by the Chairman for the day, Hugh Dan MacLennan, resplendent in his Xmas sweater, and long term GROG, Bill Gardiner, who provided the musical accompaniment for the raucous community singing of the quite untrained GROGS choir! But it was Andy Cameron MBE who stole the show with a 40 minute comedy performance which, quite rightly, resulted in a standing ovation from the delighted crowd. Andy was the consummate relaxed professional. He knew what his audience would enjoy and he spoon-fed it to them in hilarious doses. There would be little point, in this report, of trying to repeat any of his jokes or stories because one of the main ingredients of Andy’s performance would be missing …. his perfect timing! Those who tried to write down one joke on their paper napkins missed out on the next two because there was no let up in his delivery. A huge success, an exceedingly funny performer and a gentleman to boot, Andy thoroughly deserved the bottle of famous GROGS whisky he was presented with at the end of a wonderful afternoon of good fare and entertainment..
124 GROGS attended the November lunch to enjoy good food, pleasant company in comfortable surroundings and to hear the thoughts and comments of Tom English, the well known rugby reporter, author and chief BBC Scotland sports correspondent. This was the second highest attendance in almost 18 years of GROGS Lunches and, at all levels, the members were not disappointed. Having just returned from the Rugby World Cup in Japan, Tom, an Irishman with the English name and living in Scotland, was bound to be interesting when speaking about many of the current matters in both world and national rugby. His was a broad talk and he moved seamlessly from his own rugby roots in Limerick preparing the way for Paul O’Connell in the famous no. 5 shirt, to a description of the introduction of the sport there by the British Army and how “rugby saved Limerick”, his experiences in typhoon/earthquake blighted Japan, his view of the World Cup there and his well thought out opinion of Scotland’s recent performances and international future. Tom was clearly proud of all things Irish rugby and particularly Limerick and Munster rugby. It was funny to hear that the home ground of Young Munster, Tom Clifford Park, is known locally as “The Killing Fields” or, with a biblical twist, “The Garden of Get-Somebody”! He amused us with stories about Paul O’Connell, Moss Keane, Scott Hastings, Warren Gatland and, particularly. about Brian Moore’s near death experience in Shetland. On a serious note he explained how writing about rugby had enabled him to learn more about Ireland than he had ever known and how he considered the Irish internationalist, Trevor Ringland, to be the best ever Ireland player because he had wanted to use rugby to ‘build bridges other were trying to destroy’ and he is full of pride and admiration that the combined Ireland team is still in place despite some opposition to it from some quarters. Tom willingly took questions from the floor and answered some clinically incisive ones with the honesty and passion of a man who believes strongly in something and is brave enough to express his beliefs. For his stories, both serious and humorous, his honesty and his all round entertainment value, Tom was awarded the highest accolade - a bottle of Famous GROGS whisky.
For the second month running GROGS was fortunate to have a much capped internationalist and 1990 Grand Slam winner as guest speaker. This time it was Sean Lineen who graced the October Lunch to entertain close on 100 members who had braved the wind and rain to welcome him. Sean was introduced by chairman, Johnston Sime, as a man of many jobs within the SRU and, unfortunately, it was the demands of one of those which made it necessary for Sean to have to leave after speaking and before the lunch was served. In spite of that, Sean sang well for the ‘supper’ he didn’t manage to have. He opened by talking about the new Super Six set-up in Scotland, a set-up he confessed was close to his heart. He agrees that it isn’t yet perfect and there are a number of refinements to come but he does believe it’s heading in the right direction. We should remember we’re a small country which might benefit from emulating the structure of rugby development that can be seen in New Zealand. Yes, he said, the original number could have been different and he speculated that this might change in the future. He then changed from the usual running order by moving straight to questions from the floor. Sean was asked if he thought Scotland would always lag behind other main rugby nations in under 20’s development, even although we regularly produced some very talented players. His agreed that a lot of work is necessary to introduce young players of potential to stricter coaching regimes and to experience higher levels of play. He sees the new Super Six top tier helping in this and can foresee a pathway to success with the new coaching structures. There were several other questions put to Sean which he dealt with in an honest and forthright manner, interspersed with a few "tour" stories. He left the audience in little doubt about his views and his confidence in the long term future of rugby in Scotland and predicted that a playing season of April to November for the Super Six teams could only be beneficial. By way of thanks and appreciation, and to make up for missing his lunch, Sean was presented with a bottle of rare GROGS whisky.
Craig Chalmers paid GROGS a great compliment by travelling from London specially to address in excess of 100 members who had gathered in the new venue of Loks Restaurant to hear one of Scotland’s rugby legends. The former Melrose, Harlequins, Scotland and British and Irish Lions player regaled the audience with stories of his playing days. He gave much of the credit for the extensive career he had enjoyed at the top levels of rugby to the incomparable Jim Telfer, coach at Melrose and later Scotland and the Lions. He firmly believes that the training methods and the rugby culture inspired by Jim Telfer led not only him to his first and subsequent caps but also the international honours gained by 7 or 8 other Melrose players of that era. He entertained us with a myriad of stories about earning his caps and his experiences with his club and international colleague, including a rather hair raising account of sharing a room with Iain (The Bear) Milne. It was commented later that this story was noticeably absent from the tales told to GROGS the time The Bear was guest speaker. Also missing from a previous guest speaker’s memories was when he (Scott Hastings), when trying to motivate the team when they were down, was the (supposed) immortal encouragement:- “Right lads, we can still do it. We can rise from the ashes like a pheasant”! We can only believe what we are told! His own stories were littered with other stories about some of Scottish Rugby’s greats and it was thrilling to hear things about some of these - an insight into their human side. When else would we hear that the great Kenny Logan thought of himself as the even greater Scottish Jonah Lomu? I wasn’t all about yesteryear, however. He had a professional opinion to express about such modern day topics as the Super Six and, of course, he had a lot of praise to offer for Gregor Townsend and the heroes on the pitch at last year’s Calcutta Cup match. All in all, the first Lunch of the 2019/20 season was deemed a great success with enthusiasm expressed for the programme to come.