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.
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!