A little bit of history was made at the final Lunch of the 2018/19 season with the presence, as guest speaker, of the first woman President of the SRU, Dee Bradbury. It was also the first time that 2 SRU Presidents were guests at a Lunch as former president, Alan Lawson, was present too. Dee was most welcome in her own right but even more so when introduced a special companion she had brought along …. the Calcutta Cup! Many GROGs went home that afternoon with photographic evidence of holding the famous trophy. Dee feels she had moved into the office of President at a truly exciting time for Scottish rugby. In saying that, she was surely influenced by the excitement of the recent incredible Calcutta Cup match where she had watched her son, Magnus, help Scotland retain the trophy with his own magnificent try for which she received a congratulatory hug and kiss from the SRU Patron, The Princess Royal, something, she was sure, Alan Lawson would never have experienced. She praised the uniting effect of rugby in all strands of society and reaffirmed her commitment, as President of the SRU, to maintain and encourage that spirit. She also praised the flair and attacking style of the national team which had resulted in 14 consecutive sell-out home international matches. The pinnacle of the current season was, she said, that glorious 6 try comeback against England at Twickenham allowing Scotland to retain the Calcutta Cup standing, resplendent, before a roomful of happy GROGs. Something Dee is particularly proud of is the way Scottish rugby has developed into an inclusive sport, available to all whether they have grown up steeped in the rugby tradition or have never been near a rugby ball or pitch. She exemplified this by describing a trip to Nagasaki for a group of boys from disadvantaged areas of Scotland, organised by the SRU. The trip was a resounding success. In the words of one of the mentors, Al Kellock, they “went away as boys and came back men”. After a lively Q & A session, Dee was presented with the last bottle of GROGS whisky of the season and wished every success by the Chairman for her second year as SRU President.
Although it is well over 30 years since he played at centre in the 1984 Grand Slam winning side, it seemed that Euan Kennedy had lost little of his stature, or apparent fitness, since those halcyon days. Euan commenced his entertainment of GROGS with a delivery not unlike that of a stand up comedian interspersed with interesting details about his rugby life and pedigree. He is part of a rugby playing family in the Watsonian’s tradition, sharing that with his father, his 2 brothers and now his son. GROGs, having been introduced to the name of “Stiffy” McClure at a previous Lunch, now heard, in a comparison of the standards of medical treatments over the past 50 years, the name of “Fingers” McNaught, a Watsonian physio whom Euan recommended to avoid at all cost. Mixing rugby stories with light hearted references to his home town of Tranent and brother’s acting career, Euan reflected his long career representing Watsonians, Scotland B and, of course, the full international side. He described his long apprenticeship before gaining his first full cap in 1983 against the mighty All Blacks, ending in a 25-25 draw. He thought the Scottish pack that day gave the greatest rucking performance ever by a Scottish team. He regrets the demise of the ruck in favour of the maul and believes rugby is the poorer as a sport for that. The audience was captivated by Euan’s very artistic description of his emotions while running on to the pitch that day but less so by his description of an injury he received to a rather sensitive part of his chest, especially as everyone had just enjoyed a very tasty lunch! Along with that match, his fondest memories include the win against Wales at Cardiff Arms Park in 1984, playing against the all conquering Australian touring side, also in 1984, and his final game, at the age of 47, winning the World Rugby Classic in Bermuda with the Classic Lions. Euan ended a very clever and interesting talk with a sincere comment about regretting the absence of a Glasgow side in the coming Super Six League. For that, and a much appreciated performance, he was rewarded with a bottle of special GROGS whisky.
GROGs were treated to a double dose of talent at the February Lunch with Hugh Dan MacLennan making a return appearance, this time as guest Chairman, and rugby legend Alan Lawson also returning, this time unfettered by the chains of office as SRU President as he had been at his previous visit in 2012. Both were completely at ease with their presentation and easily dovetailed with one another. Alan took his audience on a fantastic trip down Nostalgia Lane, recounting some of his experiences in his glory days as a club player, a Scottish internationalist and a Barbarians 7’s player. He remembered that part of the training regime when playing for Strathclyde University when they had to down 8 or 10 pints of beer the night before a game and hope for an early winning score the next day. A murmur of recognition could be heard going round the room at this. Other murmurs of recognition were heard at the mention of many well known names from the halcyon days of amateur rugby - John Douglas, Roddy Grant, Sandy Carmichael, Andy Ripley, Geoff Wheel, Peter Brown et alia. Alan clearly loved his rugby and enjoyed playing with a number of clubs, the most famous being London Scottish and the Barbarians. Later, when asked the question if he would rather have played in the amateur game of the past or the current professional game he didn’t hesitate with his answer:- “Without doubt, the amateur game”! Amateur rugby, he said, was all about fun and friendship, neither of which he could ever put a value on. Of course, Alan could not leave without giving a quick account of the charity set up in the name of his father-in-law, the late Bill McLaren and which Alan is heavily involved in. The Bill McLaren Foundation is almost 10 years old and has passed on just short of £1m to grass roots sports. A magnificent achievement, which is only going to be improved on. Finally, having donated a prize of a bottle of whisky to the winner of an innovative Dream Team selection competition that he had introduced, Alan received a bottle of GROGS whisky in appreciation of a magnificent effort!
Did the members of GROGS know something that hadn’t been publicised because there was a record turnout at the January Lunch? 123 members turned out to hear what Dave Rennie, the Glasgow Warriors Head Coach, had to say about his team and about rugby in general. The rugby savvy (and in some cases not so savvy) were hungry to hear such a world class coach and they were not disappointed. As Dave doesn’t readily speak publicly, nor actively seek the limelight, GROGS felt honoured that he had agreed to join us at a very demanding time for him. As there was a lot of pressure on his time, Dave’s preferred format was a Question and Answer session and, whilst agreeing to this request, Chairman Fergus Neil prevailed upon him to open with a short description of his coaching career, what had brought him to Glasgow and, most importantly, what had made him stay on by recently extending his contract (“an easy decision” in his own words). Dave’s delivery was a refreshing mixture of knowledge, insight, honesty and loyalty to his players. Thankfully, without participating in any of the hard work we felt as though we’d been in one of his coaching sessions. Certainly, those who would be watching the imminent Champions Cup match against Cardiff Blues would be keeping their slightly more knowledgeable eyes on any instances of players angling in or sheering across scrums or being thrown across lineouts. Throughout, he was consistent in his view of the importance of strong refereeing. If referees were more ready to be tougher with some of the more regular transgressions on the pitch then coaches would take steps to stop them. The standard of the questions from the floor was exceeded only by the standard of the answers. Here was a man, a gentleman, who clearly loves rugby and who spoke honestly for all of the time he was on his feet. He expressed his disappointment at some of the events of the past 3 weeks but remained positive about the future and felt that a bonus win against Cardiff Blues would put Warriors in a very good position to progress in the competition. He was wished well for that and was awarded with a bottle of GROGS whisky to toast his, hopefully, winning team.
GROGs enjoyed a triple whammy with their Christmas Lunch this year. A record number of 128 existing and new members were in attendance to experience the brave decision by the Committee to cater for the increase in numbers by moving location to nearby LOKs restaurant, This proved overwhelmingly popular and a stellar performance from guest speaker, Scott Hastings, made the occasion one of the most enjoyable in our 19 years history. Possibly the great atmosphere in the room helped Scott to speak for longer than he had originally planned but there were no complaints about that as he gave the rugby hungry GROGs exactly what they wanted. His delivery of an apparent limitless supply of anecdotes in recounting the history of his rugby experiences from garden rugby with his brothers, school rugby, club rugby with Watsonians, his 64 cap Scotland career, two tours with the British and Irish Lions and his rugby World Cup appearances, all peppered with an impressive list of famous names and characters whom he’d come across in his illustrious career, was seamless. Here was a speaker who was as captivating and fun filled as he was knowledgeable. He’s also an instinctive speaker. Spotting Glen Docherty, a GROG who helped to found the Hong Kong Sevens tournament, in the audience, he spoke about him with the same respect as he did about Nelson Mandela a short while later. It was sheer joy to listen to a star studded roll call of famous rugby names from the 80’s and the 90’s, all of whom Scott had met or played against during his playing years. Stories involving such names as Will Carling, John Jeffrey, Francois Pienaar, Michael Lynagh, the unfortunately named Dai Young and the colossal, in all senses of the word, Jonah Lomu came tripping off his tongue to the delight of his enthusiastic audience. Of course, he didn’t forget his famous brother and teammate, Gavin, reminding everyone (several times) of his costly missed penalty kick in the 1991 World Cup semi final against England and his “haemorrhoiding points” comment while commentating alongside Bill McLaren. Before a very lively and forthright question and answer session, Scott further delighted his audience when he proudly produced the colourful British and Irish Lions Cap he had been presented with. A great moment and a wonderful event. Thank you, Scott.
After a brief run of guest speakers who were not front line rugby people, normal service was resumed for GROGS at the November Lunch, in the person of Matt Vallance, sometime freelance rugby sportswriter for The Herald, The Scotsman and the Sunday Times and an enthusiastic ‘blogger’ writing under the intriguing nom- de-plume, Aristotle Armstrong – Scottish Rugby Philosopher. Listeners might have been confused about which sport Matt was most interested in as his initial remarks were all about football and, in particular, junior football, the mainstay sport of the Ayrshire mining communities in which Matt had grown up. Real men, he said, played junior football while rugby was reserved for others, more light on their feet! He is proud of his own club, Cumnock RFC, founded in 1962 and now home club to more than 300 young players. Matt regaled us with stories about his playing days with generous sprinklings of names which he felt might have resonated with the audience, including Billy Herbertson, Jacko Quinn, Jock Craig and Robert (Rab) Dale. Regardless of their familiarity, one name will surely be remembered, that of “Stiffy” McClure, a former Ayrshire PE teacher. Inevitably, Matt broached the subject of current day rugby in Scotland. Mourning the loss of friendly matches with the advent of the leagues he feels the fun has gone out of the game. Clearly not a fan of the Super Six, he expressed a personal view that the motivation behind its creation was more fiscal than the development of the sport. Although he wishes the nominated clubs well, he has reservations as to whether they will all manage to survive in their current form, especially with 3 franchise clubs in Edinburgh and not one in Glasgow (a view loudly supported by the audience). He sees the creation of a Scottish Junior Rugby Union representing the interests of the amateur game not outwith the realms of possibility. Matt ended with a proclamation of shame about what the rugby media has become. From the heydays of such luminaries as Bill McLaren. Norman Mair, Brian Meek, Bill McMurtrie et al he feels no-one is carrying the journalistic torch for Scottish rugby any more. To give him solace, Chairman Alasdair Graham rewarded him with a bottle of GROGS whisky.
Not even the announcement that the GROGS Christmas Lunch would take place in a different venue this year could steal the spotlight from the broadcasting legend that is Dougie Donnelly who graced the October Lunch as guest speaker. Regaling his audience with tales of his experiences at sporting events all over the world, he gave the impression that there was very little he had not experienced as a commentator or presenter. There was a sense that, if he was asked to pick his two most memorable career experiences, the recent European victory in the Ryder Cup and the moment Scottish curling skip Rhona Martin slid the last stone of the match to win gold medal for Great Britain at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City would win out. His own sporting achievements had peaked when playing 2 games as centre half for Clyde F.C. reserves and, later, when he regularly played golf as the “Am” in a number of Pro-Am tournaments. Considering himself “an extremely lucky individual” in a career spanning over 40 years, Dougie talked about its development from the early days in Radio Clyde to being a top broadcaster with the BBC and now lead commentator for TV coverage of the European Golf Tour. He said he would be eternally grateful for all the opportunities that have come his way, visiting places all over the world covering sports he had never previously been interested in and knew very little about. However, as he explained to us, whenever he was asked by a producer if he was familiar with them he would say “Give me a few days and I will be”. For a man whose main loves in life, outwith his family, are music and sport, a career which started off as a DJ and moved on to allowing him to mention such sporting names as Gavin Hastings, Nick Faldo, Sam Torrance, Ally McCoist, and to be able to call them friends, must seem like a dream come true. Dougie Donnelly proved to be one of the stars in the GROGS speaking galaxy and was a delight to listen to. He deserved the gift of a bottle of rare GROGS whisky he was presented with.
More than 90 GROGs attended the first meeting of the new season and enjoyed an absolute treat in the person of guest speaker, Willie Allan. Those GROGs who didn’t manage along missed a cracker! Fittingly, the Chairman, Johnston Sime, commenced the proceedings by asking for a period of silence as a tribute to Founder Member, Roy Dingwall, who passed away during the summer months after a long and, latterly, wretched illness which he had endured with great courage and spirit. His humour and unique brand of irreverence will be sorely missed.
Willie Allan lived up to his reputation of being one of the funniest after dinner speakers in the country. A P.E. teacher from Buckhaven in Fife, and from 2 generations of miner stock, Willie is a man of many interests and talents and a rugby man to his boots. In fact, the MBE he modestly flashed from behind his jacket lapel, which he was clearly enormously proud of, had been awarded to him in part for his services to youth rugby. Pacing up and down in front of the top table, Willie entertained us for almost 30 minutes with a series of non-stop jokes, stories and personal experiences. He wasn’t afraid to enhance his humour with the use of a number of self-created sound effects, ranging from a heraldic trumpet fanfare to the noisy rasping of a man in an oxygen mask. Showing his professionalism and experience, Willie remained in constant touch with his audience both as participants and foils to his quick wit. But his presentation wasn’t all about jokes and funny stories. He showed his serious side too when he talked about the time he had gone to Hong Kong, using his skills as an auctioneer to support a fund raiser for the Doddie Weir Foundation and was blown away with the galaxy of international rugby stars which had gathered there in support. Willie Allan is clearly a caring person and is impressed with the value of friendship and the goodness in others. After ending with a quote from Rabbie Burns, he deservedly received a prolonged and enthusiastic applause from the appreciative GROGs and a well earned bottle of rare GROGS whisky.
Well, the 2017/18 season certainly ended in style with the April Lunch. Not only did we have an excellent speaker in Jim Robertson but we also had a Barbershop Singing Group (Close Shave Chorus) and an unexpected awards ceremony honouring various GROGS for some rather curious achievements during the past year. Add to those an AGM which included details of record disbursements to various rugby related charities and you could see how this last Lunch of the season left the 100 odd attendees with a hearty appetite for the start of the new season in September. The Chairman, Brian Rigby, explained that the surprise presence of Close Shave Chorus was in order to help celebrate International Barbershop Quartet Day. The celebration was as catchy as it was highly colourful and a much appreciated ‘starter course’ to the meal proper. Another welcome innovation to the normal Lunch format was the introduction of the ‘GROGSCARS’ awards. Described as the first, and probably the last, of such ceremonies, this saw some GROGs being acclaimed for previously unrecognised talents! Some may have been tongue in cheek awards but certainly not in the case of founder member Roy Dingwall’s Lifetime Achievement Award, in appreciation of all the work and humour he had given in service to the GROGS over the past 16 years. However, the star of the show was undoubtedly Jim Robertson, a still active Procurator Fiscal and a speaker of exceptional talent. Jim confessed that he was not, in any way, a rugby man - football and golf (particularly golf) being his sports of choice. Jim is obviously a seasoned pro as a speaker. To use the popular Just a Minute radio show catchphrase, he entertained the gathered GROGs without hesitation, repetition or deviation for fully 30 minutes, and they loved it! He used his wealth of experience as a lawyer, Procurator Fiscal and a son of Lanarkshire to regale his audience with story after story of good, clean fun. At the end, everyone understood exactly why he had been awarded the Wittiest Wit of Wits title at the erstwhile St. Columba’s Hospice Wits Dinner. A worthy recipient of a bottle of unique GROGS whisky as a thank you for the entertainment he provided!
Allan Mackintosh, an erstwhile GROG and a complete rugby man, was the guest speaker at the March Lunch in front of 98 assembled GROGs, disappointingly short of the 3 figure turnout we have become used to. Chairman, Fergus Neil, introduced Allan with as full a detail of his rugby career as we have ever heard before. Here was a man who could talk about grass roots rugby with the authority of a former club player, a former referee, a former coach, a former Chairman of Glasgow Hawks and a former President of Marr RFC. Thus qualified to speak on a number of rugby related topics, Allan chose to restrict his talk to his relationship with Marr RFC, illustrating the extent of the journey the Club had travelled in a relatively short period of time - initially playing in Division 5 West and currently in the Premiership. Allan’s enthusiasm for the club, which was in deep trouble when he became President, was reflected by his regular use of the adjective “fascinating” when describing many of the problems faced, the solutions to those problems and the personalities and character of the early movers and shakers of the revitalised club and their successors. The turning point in Marr’s recent history was the signing of New Zealander Kyle Brunning as player/coach whom Allan credited with a major part in the great breakthrough. He was speaking in ‘club rugby’ language which many recognised as a reflection of their own clubs’ experiences. However, if he had to choose one word to describe the reason for Marr’s success it would likely be “loyalty”. He highlighted the loyalty of everyone involved with the club, especially the core group of players who had been with the club from mini rugby to senior rugby as well as the club coach, former internationalist Craig Redpath. In finishing, Allan imagined that he might write a book one day about his experiences with Marr RFC, with the title “From Mull to Melrose”. From the look on Fergus Neil’s face throughout Allan’s talk, he’s guaranteed one sale at least! This was a thoroughly illuminating and refreshing delivery from a man who clearly loves rugby and he well merited the bottle of GROGS whisky he was presented with.