Breadalbane Finance Community Rugby Story Of The Month … Hillhead Jordanhill

Stalwart Bernie Mitchell, Vice-President Philippa Abernethy and former Scotland hooker explain why the club is so special

The highly successful women's section at Hillhead/Jordanhill celebrates its 30th anniversary next year. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
The highly successful women's section at Hillhead/Jordanhill celebrates its 30th anniversary next year. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

BERNIE MITCHELL smells a rat. “This interview isn’t about me, is it?” he enquires. He’s assured that it is about Hillhead Jordanhill RFC and that he is inevitably going to feature in it because he is a big part of the club’s story. He cautiously accepts this but insists on listing all the ‘principles’ who commit time and energy to the club on a weekly basis … more of which later.
 
The reality is that any story about Hillhead Jordanhill over the last half century is bound to have Mitchell at its heart.

A Greenock boy, he joined Hillhead RFC as a player in 1974 because it was one of the few ‘open’ clubs in Glasgow at the time, and the only one which could also offer hockey to Lynn, his future wife. He was co-opted onto the committee as match secretary in 1976, was around during the amalgamation with Jordanhill in 1988, and has filled pretty much every function within the club during the best part of the last half century (including fixture secretary, match secretary, secretary, director of rugby, vice-presidency, sevens convener “when we had sevens”, mini convenor, president twice and much more). He is now Honorary President of the club.


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“I’ve really had a full innings, numbers one to 11 in the batting order,” he reflects, before revealing that he plans to step back from frontline duty at the end of next season – although he is cagey about whether that means he will be able to force himself to spend Saturday afternoons anywhere other than Hughenden.

If he does go cold turkey, Mitchell is confident that an excellent team of committed club members who he insists on name checking in full will keep the club moving in the right direction during uncertain times ahead – with a cut-back in Union support as it wrestles to turn around last year’s £10.5m deficit one of his biggest concerns.

“We have a great team who marshal the troops for the minis section on Sunday mornings, [consisting of] Niall Houston with the P1s to P3s, also known as the ‘Rascals’, Ally Matheson, Murray Bell, Craig Ruddy, Iain Graham and Penelope Saverton,” he lists.

“Penelope along with Estelle Rodden drive the girls [midi] rugby, while Tonci Buzov, our 1st XV head coach, Rory Harte, our 1st XV captain, Fraser Ebbitt and Andy Readman, who are also 1st XV players, run the boys rugby.

“Committee-wise you have Andy Scott as secretary, Gary Kitchener – known as ‘The Kitch’ – as President, Hector McIntyre as Vice-President, and Philippa Abernethy as Women’s Vice-President, who also plays for our women’s 1st XV.

“The women’s section has Hannah Telling as captain, with Stephen Gillies as 1st XV coach, and Andrew Johnson and Ross Newman – no relation to Paul – as assistant coaches, while Hannah McHugh is also very influential.

“As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Tonci is the Men’s 1st XV coach, while Craig Colvin is assistant coach and Stuart Torbett is the 2nd XV coach.

“I think that’s it,” he concludes. “There are more names there than you can shake a stick at, but make sure you mention them all. And if I’ve forgotten somebody then I hope they forgive me.”

Asked to sum up the essence of Hillhead Jordanhill, Mitchell replies: “It’s a community amateur sports club, emphasising the community and amateur components.”

“We’re ‘inclusive’ because we’ve got that balance between the women’s and men’s section,” he adds. “But we’ve got to be careful how we use that word in a sporting context because it might suggest that we’re not interested in the competitive element which couldn’t be further from the truth.

 

 

An impressive  –  defining – feature of the club during its more recent history has been the women’s section, which celebrates its 30th anniversary next year and has consistently been at the forefront of the growth in the women’s game north of the Border.

Philippa Abernethy – one of the names mentioned above as a player and a Vice-President – explains how striking the balance between performance and community has been key to that success story.

“I first came to Scotland in 2013 and played at Glasgow Uni and it wasn’t until after I graduated that I moved to Hills,” she recalls. “What drew me there was the performance aspect of the 1st XV, I always wanted to play at that higher level, but just as important was that a couple of my former team-mates in the university team had gone on to play at Hughenden and told me what a friendly atmosphere it has, not just in its support for the women’s section – which is great – but as a whole club ethos.

“We’ve got a really good relationship with our men’s section, and we also try as much as possible to have a really good relationship with our juniors and minis, with a lot of our players now coaching both boys and girls teams.

“So, I was really drawn to that community aspect, especially because that is what I was used to from growing up [in Hampshire] with the rugby club at the hub of the community. I always wanted to play for a club where that was the case, and it certainly is the case with Hills.

Hills have always really pushed with the women’s section to make sure that on the performance side of things we are hitting the various SRU criteria you need to be a Premiership club,” she continues. “We’re not a Watsonians, Heriot’s or Stirling County with a men’s team in Super Series, our men’s team play in National Three, so from that perspective we don’t necessarily have the same infrastructure, but the club has always made sure we have everything we need, and as a result a lot of players have come out of Hills to play performance rugby either down south or for Scotland.”

The introduction of a 2nd XV women’s team last year was an important step forward. “They won the ‘Aspiring’ development league last year, this year they came top in West Two and will now compete in West One [the level below the Premiership] next year,” Abernethy explains. “That’s a whole group of players who have either just started playing, come from Uni rugby or are looking to step back from 1st XV rugby.”

“I think one of the big reasons we have been successful this year and reached the Sarah Beaney Cup Final last weekend is because having that strength in depth in numbers meant that even when we players to Celtic Challenge and the Scotland under-18 programme, we had a group of players who were able to step up from the 2nd XV.”

 

Doug Hall bumped into Bernie Mitchell on a recent visit to Hughenden.
Doug Hall bumped into Bernie Mitchell on a recent visit to Hughenden.

 

Former Glasgow Warriors and Scotland hooker Doug Hall spent a happy spell playing at Hughenden at the start of his adult rugby career in the late 1990s.

“I think we were in Premier Three at the time, but it was a really, really good team of young players who were well coached, and it was just a nice, family-feeling club in a way that I think is sometimes hard to get in a city,” he says.

“There was a connection with Glasgow Caledonian Reds, as they were known at the time, because they played at Hughenden back then, there was a cottage on the campus that Tommy Hayes and Gordon Simpson used to live in, but it was maybe more of a social club than teams like Hawks. However, that didn’t stop it catering for guys like me who were really ambitious.

“And I have to say that a big part of that was Bernie, because as soon as you arrive there you realise that he is part of the furniture.

“When I got my contract with Glasgow, on my first day of training I fracture-dislocated my ankle, which is a pretty serious injury and almost the end of my career before it even started. It has always stuck in my mind that when I came round from my operation there were four people in the room: the Glasgow team doctor, my girlfriend-now-wife, my mum and Bernie. That kind of sums him up – I don’t know how he found out what had happened, but he was in an exclusive list of people who cared enough to be there!”

“That kind of sums up Bernie for me, and it sums up Hills.”

 

  • If you would like to nominate a club to feature in our ‘Breadalbane Finance Community Rugby Story Of The Month’ series then please contact rugby@breadalbanefinance.co.uk.
  • Each successful entrant will receive a rugby-related reward to the value of £500 – kit, equipment, coaching or any other rugby related investment – as well as having an opportunity to tell their story through an in-depth feature on The Offside Line.

 

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About David Barnes 3991 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.