CHRIS ANDERSON is one of life’s enthusiasts. He’s had a bumpy ride on and off the pitch throughout a peripatetic rugby career – which has taken in spells at Forrester, Bats, Murrayfield Wanderers, Stewart’s Melville, Preston Lodge, Boroughmuir and most recently Currie Chieftains – yet managed to harness the positives out of each and every experience.
In an unusual step, the loose-head prop approached The Offside Line and asked to tell his story – not because of any misplaced sense of self-importance but because he hopes it can provide inspiration to those facing similarly challenging starts in life. And, if it can serve as a reminder of the role the sport can play in wider society beyond its preoccupation with success on the pitch at elite level, then all the better.
“My mum left us when I was about five – she just abandoned the whole family – didn’t even hand her notice in at work – which left my dad to bring up me and my big brother on his own,” he reveals, wasting no time in getting into the meat and bones of his background.
“That’s when we moved to Craigroyston which was football dominated, but I was absolutely terrible at it. I really tried my best – I played in goal for the school team but I was a liability so I knew it wasn’t for me – and that was tough because I always felt I wanted to be part of the team.
“Then, as luck would have it, my dad had a girlfriend at the time whose brother-in-law coached at Forrester, so he suggested I head along there and I really enjoyed it.
“But I was still dabbling at it in those days, if I am being honest, and it kind of drifted away for a while until BATs [community rugby club] visited my school and that reignited my interest, so I decided to go along there and that got me going again for a few more years.
“Coming from the school and the area I was from, it took a bit of time to adjust. I started to get called a ‘posh boy’ at school because I played rugby, then when I was at rugby I was always the lad from the scheme, so I couldn’t really win wherever I went.
“I started to feel a little bit like an outsider in both places, but I found in rugby that when the whistle went everything else was forgotten about and all that mattered was how I conducted myself in the game, and how I contributed to the team, which was an important lesson about how it is in your own hands to change people’s perceptions and it is up to you to make the most of yourself.
“So, I enjoyed that side of it, and I was getting on okay, until my dad died suddenly from a heart attack when I was 16. I went off the rails a bit after that and floated away from the game again.
“I moved in with my grandparents, and my gran had cancer at the time, she passed away after a couple of years, so it was a really tough time.
“I started hanging around with a bad crowd. I think I was angry and upset and I didn’t know how to deal with it, so I got into trouble very quickly. Where I was from, there was often this perception that you were cool if you got into trouble, and I really gave into it at that point. I was getting into fights and other sorts of bother. I was lost.”
Fortunately for Anderson, a couple of characters at Murrayfield Wanderers rugby club, round the corner from his grandparents home in Balgreen, took an interest and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“Jim Reilly – who sadly passed away during Covid a couple of years ago – and Stuart Dennis were huge for me,” he explains. “That was the point when it was going to be make or break. My dad had just passed away, my mum had left, and I just didn’t know what the hell to do with myself.
“They were just really persistent in making sure I stayed involved. I was doing things like ignoring my phone and not turning up for training when I said I would, so I am really lucky that those guys stuck with me because if they hadn’t gone the extra yard then I don’t know where my life would have gone. It took me off a path which was a bit out of control at that point.
“I’m still chatty with guys from Murrayfield Wanderers now and they are really supportive of what I am doing, which is really great.
“Another big moment was when I moved up to senior rugby at Murrayfield,” he continues. “There was a lot of professional guys with good careers in the team who weren’t slow to put me in my place when I strayed out of line, and it helped me a lot to see how they conducted themselves when I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.
“That discipline and recognising the value of teamwork was massive for me, because I did feel like an outsider – like I didn’t really belong anywhere – so being part of a team and included in everything involved with that helped me settle in my life.”
Anderson continues: “I had a pretty good season with Murrayfield Wanderers. I was playing in the back-row then, and we played Stewart’s-Melville and Heriot’s in the Scottish Cup [a regional pool section was trialled that year] and that was a big eye-opener for me. I thought ‘I want to play at that standard’. Although I knew I was never going to be a professional player, I believed I could get to that level in the club game and I wanted to get as a far as I could.
“Luckily for me, Stewart’s-Melville, who were in National One at the time, phoned up after the game and asked me along, so I decided to give it a shot. I was there for two seasons and almost got promoted both years. That’s when I learned to play prop, with Willie Aitken – who was a veteran in his mid-30s then and I think is still playing now for Peebles – and Rhys Morgan from New Zealand showing me the ropes.
“But by then I was a commercial manager at Marks and Spencer and having to work a lot of weekends, so unfortunately rugby had to go on the back-burner again for a couple of years.”
Enjoyed this article? Quality journalism like ours is made possible by readers like you. If you value our in-depth coverage of Scottish rugby at all levels and want to see more, please consider supporting us with a subscription or donation. It helps us keep delivering the news you love. Thank you for being a part of The Offside Line community!
Anderson spent the next couple of seasons playing at Preston Lodge with a few old pals before a change of job – he is now a specifications manager for Tobermore paving and walling manufacturer – allowed him to reprioritise rugby and join Boroughmuir in the season before Super6 was launched.
“I remember playing them at youth level and they were always the team nobody could beat and going there was a big eye-opener,” he says. “I was unlucky because they had Darryl Marfo and Simon Berghan in the pro player draft and it was always me who got knocked down the pecking order, so I was kind of in and out the first team, but the level of coaching was massive for me.
“I felt myself gradually rise to that standard. We were doing live scrummaging at training and I was getting absolutely humped off Marfo and Berghan, but they were also giving me tips at the same time, so I was learning a lot.
“Then Super6 happened and everything kind of broke up. I’d really enjoyed being at Boroughmuir, the guys there had been brilliant with me and it was quite close to my house, so I stuck around and played for the club team which I really enjoyed even though we struggled a bit.
“I trained here and there with the Super6 team, then I got a phone call from Graham Shiel asking me to go a long and play for them at the end of that first season, which was a shock but another great experience.
“But as we came out of Covid, I wanted to play consistently at a good level, so I spoke to Ally Donaldson at Currie who said they’d be happy to have me there, and last season was one of the most enjoyable seasons I’ve ever had, to be honest.”
While there was no fairytale end to his first year at Malleny, with Chieftains losing the Premiership play-off final in agonising fashion away to Hawick, Anderson’s form earned him selection to the Edinburgh side which competed in the revived inter-district championship in May, as well as a call-up to the Heriot’s Super Series team bywords the end of their 2023 Sprint campaign.
“I’ve not really got a plan for my rugby, but if I’m brutally honest the big thing coming into this season was winning the Premiership with Currie Chieftains after losing out in that final to Hawick last year,” he reveals.
“The way we lost it was heart-breaking. For 70 minutes of that game we were the better team, but full credit to Hawick for sticking in the way they did. It was a great day and a tremendous advert for the club game, with the pipers on the pitch before the match and snowball fights on the grass hill opposite the stand. I loved every minute of it … except that last minute when they scored, of course.
“That was my first experience of losing in the final, but quite a few of my team-mates lost the one the year before, so it has been a tough run for the club – hopefully we can get there again this year and make it third time lucky this time.
“I’m in my prime I would say,” he continues. “At 31, I know that I’ve missed the professional boat, and even with Super Series they are not looking at guys my age, but there is still plenty to play for.
“Rugby has helped me in more ways in my life than I could ever have hoped for, so it will have been worth it whatever happens. But to be able to look back and say I won something would be a great memory.
“It is easy to fall into a fishbowl of people who promote similar – not very positive – behaviours, so to go along to a rugby club and meet other people with a completely different outlook on life had a massive influence on me. I realised that these people weren’t that different to me, they just had a different attitude and different priorities, and I decided that was the way I wanted to go.
“I think I’m quite a determined person. I’ve always been a bit of an underdog and desperate to push myself forward, and that’s definitely a trait I learned from rugby.
“For me, there wasn’t enough opportunity to get involved in rugby in the area where I grew up. I thank my lucky stars that I was in school that one day when BATs came along and I got back involved off the back of that, but I’m sure there is more we can do to let kids see what the sport is about.
“When I was growing up, Scotland were pretty crap – we didn’t win a lot of games – whereas now you have Finn Russell and Darcy Graham tearing it up and they play a good brand of rugby, so maybe it is a good time to get more kids participating.
“I appreciate it is hard to get that initial interest, but a couple of Scotland players turning up at my old school would definitely make a big difference.
“I’m lucky that I’ve crossed paths with some great coaches along the way, as well as have the support of some brilliant friends, not to mention my nana and papa – Carol and Harry – on my mum’s side.
“Harry comes to all my home games and is a massive supporter which is a big driver for me because it is something I love doing and it means a lot when people who are important to me are there and part of it.”
Chieftains host Hawick at Malleny Park tomorrow [Saturday] afternoon, when a comprehensive home win could see the Edinburgh side draw equal with the Borderers at the top of the Premiership table with three rounds of regular season matches to go, but Anderson will be a frustrated spectator.
“I’ve got a calf strain that I picked up against Glasgow Hawks before Christmas which I’ve just not been able to shake off,” he explains. “The plan was to start on the bench this weekend but I’ve had to pull out, unfortunately, because I’ve not been able to train this week.
“I’m gutted because I really wanted to play in this fixture in particular but I should be back in plenty of time to play Marr [currently second in the table] in two weeks’ time.”