AS grassroots rugby recently prepared to make a return in Scotland after an 18 month break due to the pandemic, many wondered whether club players would come back to the sport with the same desire and commitment as before.
However, in Les Barclay’s case there was never any doubt that would be the case because the front-row man has been dedicated to Dalziel RFC since the late 1980s – and that has not changed now that he has reached 601 senior appearances for the Motherwell outfit, indeed he is as enthusiastic as ever.
His 600th senior outing for the club he joined straight from Dalziel High School came on September 11 when the 1st XV hosted Oban Lorne at Dalziel Park in their Tennent’s West Region League Division Two opener for 2021-22.
And it tells you everything about Barclay’s nature that he was annoyed that the team had lost a tight match 20-16 that day, rather than just simply being happy to take the plaudits for reaching such an amazing personal milestone.
“I had been told in the couple of weeks leading up to that match that it would be my 600th senior appearance for the club and while it was a nice number to reach, once you are out there on the pitch you are just concentrating on playing the game that is in front of you,” says the 52-year-old.
“We were frustrated to lose the game because it was a close one, but the newer players in the team learnt a lot from it and for me it was nice to see that a couple of my good friends had come down to watch me play in my 600th game.
“They were guys who were there right at the start of my journey with Dalziel and I used to play alongside them, but now they just give me abuse from the sidelines – it’s all in jest and I wouldn’t have expected anything different from them!
“If you ask my wife she will tell you that I have ‘retired’ from playing about 10 times, but those periods never lasted long at all and my boots have never fully been hung up.
“The pandemic could have been a natural end point to my rugby playing days, but put simply I love playing too much, it has always been a privilege to turn out for Dalziel – training during the week, playing on a Saturday and then enjoying the company of club mates has been my routine for so many years it would be hard to stop just like that.
“I try and do as good a job as I can for the team and I like to try and help the younger players as they are coming through if I can, it is always great to see young guys who are nervous when they first come into the 1st XV squad go on and grow in confidence and become regulars in the side.”
So, when did Barclay’s love affair with rugby begin?
“When I was in S1 at Dalziel High School there were four football teams and I thought there was never any chance I was going to get into the first team, so I turned to rugby and focused on getting into the one team we had instead,” Barclay recounts.
“I started out playing as a second-row, but by the age of 14 I hadn’t grown as much as some others so I was moved to hooker.
“Some wouldn’t enjoy the move to front-row, but I did because our coach at the time was the hooker for the Dalziel club 1st XV and had a lot of tips to pass on. Also, playing hooker, you are always involved in the game.”
Barclay played in the team until he left school and straight away joined the senior club where he first started playing for the under-18s.
That was a good team to continue his learning curve with and by season 1987-88 he was playing senior rugby regularly, making his 4th XV debut versus Allan Glen’s and scoring a try, according to club historian Cammy Harris.
Barclay then progressed from the 4th XV up to eventually making a 1st XV debut for Dalziel in November 1988 against Cartha Queens Park.
“Making the step up to senior rugby was quite a jump and because we didn’t have subs back then you were straight in at the deep end starting games, not just coming off the bench for a few minutes,” Barclay, who became a regular in the 1st XV in the mid-1990s, explains.
“I started off my senior career in the back-row because I had a back injury at the time which I was managing, but then the club lost a couple of hookers so I went back to playing in the front-row then and since the mid-90s I have played a lot at prop, either loosehead or tighthead.
“Over the years I have had such fun playing for Dalziel, one of the highlights must be when we played in the Bowl final in the 2007-08 season.
“We lost [18-10 to Preston Lodge], but getting the chance to run out at Murrayfield with my club-mates and in front of family and friends was amazing, it got the hairs on the back of my neck standing up and I’ll never forget that day.”
Fast forward back to the present day and senior appearance number 601 last Saturday saw Barclay – who scored a try – and Dalziel lose 40-33 in an end-to-end league game at Strathaven.
This coming weekend, outing 602 should come at home against Waysiders/Drumpellier and a win would put a smile on his face.
“We just need to get the first win of the season under our belts and then we can keep building from there,” Barclay concludes.
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