WHEN Tommy Robertson and Doug Cochrane, two homesick Aberdonians, met up for a drink over the festive season in the Savoy Hotel, London in 1930, they could have little realised that 92 years later their initiative of creating a match to accommodate returning exiles to the Granite City at Christmas would have implications for today’s game.
For while the emphasis on Boxing Day at Rubislaw was on enjoyment, it was also a great opportunity for the biggest crowd seen at any game in the north east this season to reflect on the state of the sport in the area.
The inspiration for such a dialogue came from Jim Sugden, the organiser of the traditional Aberdeen Exiles versus Aberdeen Select, who in his pre match interview to the Aberdeen Press and Journal urged the Aberdeen rugby public to get along to Monday’s game in numbers and not only watch the game but enter into a discussion about the struggles of the local game in recent years.
The former player and president of Gordonians expressed his dismay at the situation which finds the area not only without a Premiership side but should Aberdeen Grammar be relegated again it would leave the city with the highest ranked club being in National League Two.
“An unacceptable scenario for anyone who cares about the future of the game in Aberdeen and area,” said Sugden. “What with falling numbers of players in the region, we are approaching a crisis. We need meaningful dialogue among the stakeholders about how we arrest the decline.”
Whether or not it was Sugden’s call to arms which did the trick, but on Boxing Day a larger than usual crowd turned out to watch the Exiles beat the Aberdeen Select 37-19 in a thrilling game, full of running rugby, featuring a total of 10 tries, even if tackling appeared to be optional.
Suitably inspired by the try fest, a number of leading lights in the local game took the opportunity to have their say on the issues facing the local game, including Select coach Corey Buchan, who has played for both Aberdeen Grammar and Gordonians, the two big boys of the Granite City set-up. “There was a great atmosphere here today, enjoyed by both players and spectators. We must translate this enthusiasm to working together if we are to turn the corner,” he said.
Alisdair Farquharson, a former president at Aberdeenshire, underlined the need to stop the haemorrhaging of young players to the central belt. “Our playing resources are limited enough without us losing our young players to Edinburgh and Glasgow clubs. We need greater cooperation among clubs,” he said.
Sam Mountain, a promising scrum-half with Aberdeenshire had his career cut short by injury and is now making his way in the coaching business, including a successful year in New Zealand, said:”The need for cooperation is obvious but at the moment there is too much self interest out there. Hopefully that can change.”
Iain Stanger, Aberdeen Grammar stalwart of over 20 year, said:”The north east game demands leadership which will bring clubs together, otherwise we have no future. I know mergers have been tried before but we need a strategy best suited to all clubs.”
Stuart Corsar, formerly of Glasgow Warriors, Aberdeen Grammar and and now running his own training company Big Rig Rugby, was in no doubt about the direction the local game must take. “There is so much talent out there among youngsters and in club committees but we must learn to harness it. Working together is the only way,” he said.
Archie Park, adjudged by many as one the visionaries of the North East game in his time with highly successful Ellon, always advocated a pyramid system for the game but eventually saw the futility of his ambitions after lack of support from the so called partners in the area. “They were just not committed but one day it will happen and hopefully before it’s too late for the local game,” he said.
Sugden had the last word: “We have little choice but to face up to our responsibility and build on all that is good in the game in partnership. Hopefully there will have been a number of talking points out there today which will result in a happy ending.”