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!
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.