It is now around 30 years since Mackie Academy FP Rugby Football Club was founded. Here, Mackie's first president, and now Honorary President, Bob Lewis, reflects affectionately on the early years of the club.
The story of how rugby was in introduced to Mackie Academy is one which, like that about William Webb Ellis picking up the ball and running with it at Rugby School, is too good not to be believed. It seems that, while Mackie Academy was yet in Arduthie Road, a boy, new to the school but not to rugby, brought a rugby ball out into the playground where a chuck-about began. While those innocent of what had come among them were adjusting their minds to a ball which was not spherical another, also not new to rugby, introduced his companions to a second aspect of the game and flattened the ball carrier with a thumping tackle. The interest which all this aroused was harnessed by Robin Roxburgh of the PE staff, who found an ally in Alan Cameron, a science teacher, and a year or two after the school moved to its present site, games were being played against other schools. Not surprisingly, by 1976, the Former Pupils' Association had enough rugby players in its membership for it to be felt worthwhile to place an advertisement in the Meams Leader which invited former pupils and others who had played the game or were interested in it, to a meeting in the Academy on May 28. Further meetings took place during the summer culminating in a well attended one just before the start of the new season. This meeting resulted in a steering committee being elected, the chairman of which proposing, there and then, that a practice game should be held on the following Saturday and inviting those present to put their hands in their pockets to provide some initial funding. This, with a generous loan from the Former Pupils' Association, got the show on the road. Attending the meeting were two who had played rugby at high level and who agreed to become the new club's coaches; Gordon Hill of the Gordonian and Barbarian clubs, and Parry Reynolds, a Welsh stand-off through and through and Phil Bennet's "auntie" as the club wit was later to describe him. It was Parry who was sent to Aberdeen to buy a ball for that first practice game and was spotted walking happily down Union Street tossing the ball from hand to hand oblivious of all about him. Jim Brown, who had taken on the secretary's role, took himself off to Edinburgh and into Forsyth's (where else?), where, for his benefit, a tailors dummy was dressed in a red shirt, black shorts and black socks with red tops, and the F.P.'s colours were settled. The matter of arranging fixtures was put in the hands of David Gill and Keith Littlejohn. who had been playing for Aberdeen Grammar School EPs since leaving school. They made a very creditable job of it. producing a full seasons programme within a week or two with fixtures against the 2nd and 3rd XVs of the established Aberdeen clubs with additionally joumeys further afield to play Moray, Montrose, Perthshire, Crieff and RAF Buchan.
The first match,
An arrangement was entered into with the education committee for the use of the pitches and the club also enjoyed the use of the pavilion, which had been provided for the school by the Former Pupils Association. "Enjoyed" is the appropriate word, for the pavilion is hard by the rugby pitch and there is nothing quite like coming down the steps from the changing room straight out on to the park on a Saturday afternoon. The first match was against the school and Peter Mitchell, by reporting it in his rugby column, brought the FPs to the public's attention. Tries, he reported, were scored by Leslie, Littlejohn, MacLeod and Birse, and some 60 people watched the game. Every rugby club needs a "home", and the club were fortunate to find in Ian Thomson's Queens Hotel just the sort of place they wanted. Ian had played the game himself, and he and his wife had a good idea of the needs of 30 thirsty rugby players and their supporters. When the season was underway, the Queens was also the venue for the first players' supper at which some of the younger players were introduced to songs and monologues which their elder brethren, without too much persuasion, blew the dust off for their benefit. The election of captain and vice-captain had had assessed the merits of the more experienced among them, Torquil MacLeod was chosen as cape tam and Brian Thomson as vice-captain. The wisdom of their choice was shown by the success of the club e in that first season in which 21 games were played - the greater number won - most between well matched sides. More than which one should not hope for. Inevitably in the then small world of rugby in the North-east, the FPs found themselves playing the same club more than once that year. Thus it was that a relationship sprang up between the FPs and their counterparts of Aberdeen Grammar School.
Teamwork won the day
Twice their 3rd XV narrowly beat the Stonehaven side, and when the FPs raised a 2nd XV it seemed only natural that their first game should be played at Rubislaw and that they should lose by a margin wide enough to let them know that they were a 2nd XV but not so wide as to be a discouragement - Aberdeen Grammar FPs knew how to play the part of elder brother. This, of course, made the victory which the club gained against them the following season by two tries to a penalty goal all the sweeter. "On an afternoon absolutely made for rugby", as the Meams Leader reported, "the atmosphere was charged with the scent of battle from the start, and as was right and proper on such a famous afternoon, teamwork won the day." After Grammar had come back to within one score of the FPs, the report concluded - "it then became a question of survival under an onslaught which lasted to the final whistle. Forward drive and three-quarter thrust each crumbling in turn against the thin red line. A grand game in the best tradition of club rugby." Returning to the first season, one of the most pleasant acknowledgements of the mark which the FPs had made was North Districts decision to raise a Veterans' XV to play an evening match at Stonehaven. As Peter Mitchell reported, the FPs found themselves faced by a team which included nine former District players three of whom had had a trial for Scotland. As was right, the Veterans won by 24 points to 10, but the last word of that evening has to be that spoken by the Veterans wing, Ron Comber, to his young opposite number who felt he ought to have prevented a try being scored. "Laddie, from that distance out, no-one can stop me." That young wing three-quarter was not the only one to learn something of life that season. Sitting in the Moray clubhouse after a game there, a young prop had ruefully rubbed an unnaturally pink cheek, complaining that the man he had propped against hadn't shaved. When it was suggested that he shouldn't shave for a couple of days before a game he sadly replied: "But I only have to shave once a fortnight.
The hooker's earrings!
Nor were the younger players the only ones who had new experiences. One of the club's senior members was standing on the touch-line at Carnoustie with some of the home club's support when the referee came over and asked: "Can someone from Mackie look after their hooker's earrings?" Among those who played 25 years ago there were a front row of Hugh MacDonald, who had played withHighland, Keith Littlejohn and the ever laughing Dpncan Richmond, Duncan's brother Bob; who was to give (and still is giving) great service to the club in he second row with a slim young Gordon Henderson; in the back row with the vice-captain were David Gill, who seemed prepared to pay anywhere, and George Wilson, sometime of Moray. It was George who at a hneout near where the club's reverend and most seii ior member was standing let fly a string of profanities. In the Queens bar after the game his apologies were readily accepted by the elderly member who was remembering,, no doubt, his own playing days. He must have been quite a player, for he had only been kepi out of the Oxford University XV by a three-quarter line that had been picked en bloc for Scotland. The FPs' back division had the experience of the captain, Torquil MacLeod, to guide it; David Birse, Gordon Lambie-Gibson and Richard Gibson, at different times at half back with the three-quarters drawn from Doug Bruce, a Heriot FP and another great servant of the club, Raymond Pittendreigh - the first of three brothers to play for the club - and the Leslie brothers, Rod and Gary. The captain often filled the full back's berth with Ian Ross taking on the role as the season went on. There were others, of course -John Mackie, another Herioter, he vastly experienced Charlie Annand, Kenny Miller and so on.
So many players in fact, that it was difficult to give everyone a game. With this in mind a seven-a-side tournament was mounted at the beginning of April 1-7. Invitations to the clubs who had welcomed the FPs into the rugby fraternity seemed to naturally follow and in the end 14 teams took the field in what had been advertised as a "social" sevens. Sevens, which had not traditionally been played in the Northeast, thereafter became as regular a feature of end of season rugby in this area as elsewhere in Scotland. On of the clubs entering was Garioch, who had formed a few months after the FPs. As in Stonehaven enthusiasm in Inverurie stemmed from the school ~od was backed by those who had played the game elsewhere and had moved into the area. Doug Bruce, who had made such a success of the players' supper, was charged with organising a dinner, it being felt that every self respecting rugby club should wind-up its season in this way. Being the newest club in Scotland (although Garioch could argue that they had that distinction) a letter was written to the oldest, Edinburgh Academicals, inviting them to send someone as a guest. They did the FP proud in sending their president, W.I.D. Eliot, a great Scottish forward of the immediate post-war years. Then, not content with this, they telephoned and asked if on the day after the dinner the club could put out a side to play their "touring" XV.
"Finest ever seen"
There can have been no-one among those who ran out on to the pitch or stood along the touch-line that afternoon who could hope for much more than that the visitors would be held to 10 points or so. But by half time the FPs had 39 points on the board without reply. As the Mearns Leader reported, it was "the finest rugby Stonehaven has yet seen". The following season there were new faces at the club. Some came with several years' experience behind them while others, like Tommy Murray and Alan Davidson, looked to gain it at Stonehaven. Of the more experienced newcomers, Geoff Coates and Jim Sorbie strengthened the backs, while Ian Mitchell helped replace the loss of Brian Thomson. There were, too, new names on the fixture list - Buchan and Formartine, Granite City, Huntly, Ellon, Aboyne and Carnoustie. Rugby was indeed spreading in the North-east and both the FP XVs had a full fixture list up to the middle of January when the weather put paid to rugby - the internationals apart - until well into March. The end of the season came with another sevens tournament with Aberdeen Grammar FPs putting up a trophy which Gordonians won, beating Buchan Formartine easily in the final after squeezing a victory over the FPs to get there. Towards the end of the club's second season, consideration was invited to the SRU's proposal that leagues should be formed in the Districts. On might say that with that enquiry the game's age of innocence was over. The carrot of promotion into the league above led to a level of coaching and training that had not been contemplated before, and soon journeys to Thurso and Kirkwall had to be made at a cost which a club whose income came solely from members' subscriptions could not afford, so sponsorship had to be sought. Into this new world the FPs moved, and took on as well the teaching of the young in the arts which go into making the game what it is. In this the part played by that stalwart forward Ian Lawson has to be recognised. The enthusiasm with which the game is played by youngsters from primary school age upwards bodes well for the future of the game in Stonehaven
But the memory of those early years is relished by those who enjoyed them. The referee who declined the offer of Granite City's plastic lemonade bottle as their touch judge cum "maitre de park" brought it off at half time with the assurance "It's gin and tonic, David". And the Heriot Cavalier - one of that happy crowd who came north for a few years to play in Stonehaven - who would have been made man of the match "if he hadn't made so much fuss when he was hurt". May the youngsters of today have as joyous recollections when they, in turn, come to hang their boots up. Lastly, if I may be permitted a personal note, the club went down to London in February 1981 to watch the match at Twickenham and, on the following day, played against a XV from the club with whom, 30 years before, I had played my rugby. It was, and is I hope still, a club which judges its visitors both on the way they play and the good fellowship which they bring with the. The FPs were not disgraced on the park nor were they when the songs rang out in the clubhouse afterwards. As one old friend confided: "You know, we used to have nights like this down here, didn't we?"
Author: Honorary President, Bob Lewis