Without doubt, after a challenging year for GROGS, the season ended on a magnificent high! When first asked to speak, Malcolm Offord was an enthusiastic Greenock Wanderers man with rugby in his blood and with excellent credentials. By the time he came to speak, he was Lord Offord of Garvel, an equally enthusiastic Greenock Wanderers man with rugby in his blood and with even more credentials and a thoroughly impressive CV. His professional life had been mainly in finance culminating in founding and chairing the Edinburgh based private equity company, Badenoch & Co. If you want something done ask a busy man and so he became a Trustee of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, a Board member of the SRU and Chairman of London Scottish Rugby Club. In a thoroughly entertaining way he described his early rugby career at Greenock Academy, Greenock Wanderers (which raised a cheer from the small but enthusiastic contingent), Edinburgh University and then London Scottish. He was undoubtedly the only person present who had toured both Brazil and Argentina where he recalled London Scottish playing against a local club by the name of Belgrano! Seemingly without notes, Malcolm spoke knowledgeably about each aspect of his life and involvements making equally good use of facts, figures and humour by way of illustration. He is immensely proud of his involvement with London Scottish and is concerned about the challenge it faces in the English set-up even after such an illustrious history producing 4 British and Irish Lions captains and 224 players capped for Scotland, a world record for any one club. He did not, however, restrict himself to talking about rugby. He began with an explanation as to how he had arrived at his chosen title after discovering that both “Greenock” and “Ardgowan” were taken. He robustly defended the role of the House of Lords explaining that the institution “does not make law but makes law better” and explained that his new role as Parliamentary Under- Secretary for Scotland was to make the Government communicate better with Scotland, all very interesting to his knowledgeable audience. This was a tour de force presentation covering a range of topics not often aired at GROGS. The good Lord well deserved the presentation of a prized bottle of the Famous GROGS Whisky which he might share with his fellow Peers.
Albeit a day late, GROGS celebrated International Women’s Day in fine style in the company of Scotland’s foremost female referee, Hollie Davidson. Hollie delighted the audience with a gentle account of her story from being a sports mad youngster to becoming the SRU’s first full time professional women’s referee. Her first love was football which she was obviously good at as she was picked to play for an under 17 ladies team in Deeside, aged 11! Introduced to rugby at school, it quickly became her passion. Football’s loss was rugby’s gain. A Scotland v Wales international at Murrayfield sealed the passion and she was hooked! Her University experience was not unfamiliar to some GROGs - a lot of drink and a lot of rugby which she enjoyed, playing at scrum half, but, unfortunately, the injury gods didn’t smile on her and her promising career was cut short by a series of shoulder injuries. Hollie was refreshingly honest in describing how her disappointment with this setback outweighed her determination to “get back on the horse”. Refereeing called to her when she watched other matches and thought she could do better than some of the performances she witnessed. Deciding to put her money where her mouth was, she joined the new SRU course for women referees and the rest is, as they say, history. Her crossroads decision was whether to stay in a secure banking job or follow her heart and progress in rugby. As the GROGS would never have invited her to speak if she had stayed in banking, we were delighted that she made the ‘right’ decision. In listening to Hollie, one word would quickly come to mind - modesty. She gave luck a lot of credit for the success in her career but, when she reeled off her appointments for the coming year, it was obvious that luck is a minimal factor in her success. Hopefully one day, she said, a woman will referee a men’s international match. Meantime, Hollie’s target is to be a good referee and not just a good female referee. Knowledgeable questions were asked which she answered equally knowledgeably and sensibly. Chairman, Brian Rigby, thanked her and presented her with a bottle of GROGS whisky, expressing his relief at her confession to the drinking experience in her time at University.
From the jaws of possible disaster, the Committee managed to record a Lunch saving win when, after Covid and other emergencies had interfered with the planned programme, Rob Harley, Glasgow Warriors and Scotland, came to the rescue at very short notice. In spite of his inexperience in this role, Rob was a great success! With the lack of preparation time, he agreed to participate in a Question and Answer session with Hugh Dan MacLennan, Committee member and professional broadcaster, agreeing, at equally short notice, to act as question master. Such was the slickness of their dialogue together, no-one would have been surprised to learn that the “Hugh Dan ‘n’ Rob” team had performed together multiple times. That was not the case. Although Hugh Dan is a consummate interviewer, neither of them had any opportunity to plan or rehearse what turned out to be a sparkling insight into the life of the most capped Warriors player who also had 23 full Scotland caps and 15 U20 caps to his credit. The questions were wide ranging, insightful and entertaining and the answers were interesting, informative and equally entertaining. Pleasing news, for Warriors fans especially, was that Rob felt he was coming to the end of his injury lay-off period and expected to be back in action in a couple of weeks. He was asked about his rugby history. Other than school, he had only ever played for 2 clubs - West of Scotland and Glasgow Warriors and had played in a number of positions before settling down as a flanker. Having entered the Warriors Academy at the age of 17, he has now spent almost 15 years at the club, an achievement his wildest dreams had not thought possible. Rob was modest in saying that he felt luck had a part to play in this longevity. Having been a pupil, learning from such big names as Al Kellock, John Barclay and Dan Parks he now finds himself in the role of teacher, a role he particularly relishes. After describing his winning Scotland debut against Samoa, Rob admitted to Hugh Dan that the best player he had played with was the Fijian Leone Nakawara, a choice approved by the knowledgeable GROGS audience. There were more questions from the floor than there was time to answer, proof, if such was needed, of the popularity of this rugby role model and Honours Graduate in Classics.
2 anniversaries were celebrated on 8 December when 110 GROGs braved the elements, and the bad press, to meet up and celebrate Christmas slightly early. It was exactly 3 years since the Club moved from its traditional meeting place of Braidholm rugby ground to the new, more spacious and welcoming Loks Bar and Restaurant and it was 6 years since Robbie Duncan wowed the members with a virtuoso performance which blazed a trail away from rugby-only orientated speakers to set a high bar for quality entertainment for future Christmas Lunches. Those who remembered him from his previous visit wondered if he’d manage to scale the heights once again. There was no need to worry …. he did! With consummate ease, Robbie kept the audience in stitches as one crack, quip or story after another was delivered in the same couthy way as we remembered from last time. No wonder he is the much in demand After Dinner Speaker and Burns Night performer that he is. On a serious note, Robbie explained that he is a football man first and foremost. It was the way he was raised, he pointed out. However, he expressed his respect and admiration for the ethos of the rugby fraternity, so much so that he introduced his own son to the sport (and not just because he thinks that rugby players are the modern day rock stars). There was a wonderful moment in his presentation when, in the middle of a description of a rugby club dinner, he realised that one of the main characters he was going to describe was actually sitting in the body of the hall. There was a lot of laughter about this though possibly not for the reason he had planned! We never did get to hear his comments in their entirety! The GROGS Club is very honoured, and grateful, that such an entertaining and modest man should be willing to travel from Kilmarnock to join us during what must be a busy time for him. To back this up, Chairman Hugh Dan MacLennan presented him with his second bottle of The Special GROGS whisky, the first man ever to have received this honour twice!
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.