by JACK NIXON
NEWS that talks aimed to bring about a merger of the north-east’s top two clubs have been called off after weeks of discussions can only be regarded, in my opinion, as sad news, and more crucially an opportunity lost.
When senior officials from Aberdeen Grammar and Aberdeenshire sat down in late April to have merger talks, my heart soared, seeing the initiative as one that would address, even arrest, the decline of top tier rugby in the area.
It is, after all, not that long ago that Aberdeen Grammar were not only in the Premiership, but pushing to be the best club side in Scotland, only to falter in the run-in Since then they have struggled to even maintain a place in National League One, having narrowly avoided relegation in the last two seasons.
Aberdeenshire on the other hand have been making a brave fist of gaining promotion of late from National League Two, making a merger to pool resources a sound platform on which to build a structure for the future.
The players from both clubs certainly seem to agree, including last season’s two captains.
”When I heard that talks were likely to bring about a merger I was excited about the idea of having a pyramid system in Aberdeen. Pooling the combined playing resources makes good sense, leading hopefully to the north-east having a top club,” said Calum Champion, the Grammar skipper.
”The aim of having a combined side has great appeal. Bringing back Premiership rugby to the city has to be a priority. It would be particularly good to have competition for places, something I believe both sets of players could live with. As it stands, rugby in the Caledonia region is not in a good place, even although there are some talented players around. I just hope the talks can resume again,” said Greig Ryan of Aberdeenshire.
The official line from the two clubs was provided in a joint press release, acknowledging that discussions had been held and encouragingly concluding that: ”Productive lines of communication between the clubs shall remain open to facilitate the best result for rugby in the Aberdeen area.”
I shall optimistically cling to that expressed sentiment, hoping that once the dust has settled and some bruised egos have been massaged, it will be possible for Gordon Thomson, chairman of Aberdeen Grammar, and Alasdair Farquharson, president of Aberdeenshire, both good men, to sit down again in the interests of rugby in Scotland’s third biggest city, and plot a way to success in keeping with the fine traditions of the north-east game.
In the meantime, the so called lesser lights of the local game look on, knowing in their heart of hearts that a merger of the Rubislaw and Woodside clubs would have positive benefits for them, not least giving aspiring players the target of playing at the highest level in the club set-up without having to pack their bags and head south; whilst also bringing back some status to a city which has been dealt some hefty blows by the economic downturn in the oil industry.
After 20 years of reporting on the north-east game, I remain hopeful that there will be a change of hearts and minds. After all, similar initiatives are taking place all over Scotland, including down the road at Dundee.