HAWICK RFC will launch its season of 150th anniversary celebrations with the unveiling of a mural on a gable-end in Mansfield Road at 11.30am on Saturday, by the club’s longest-serving player, Kevin Reid. The artwork, by Scottish mural artist Chris Rutterford, has been kept top secret so there is great anticipation around who or what will feature, with the mural mounted on boards to enable a later transfer to Mansfield Park, when the local flood prevention work is completed.
Then, after the Greens’ Premiership derby with Kelso on Saturday afternoon, two very different looking teams will take to the town’s cricket pitch at Buccleuch Park on Sunday at 2.30pm to re-enact the first game ever played by Hawick, against neighbours Langholm, in 1873.
Local textile mills and expert seamsters have been working for months making strips as authentic as possible, and Hawick RFC President Ian Landles – a renowned local historian and former history teacher at Hawick High School – revealed that the game will be under similar rules as that first one. In short, that means there won’t be many, nor a referee.
“We are looking forward to what we hope will be an exciting occasion,” said Landles. “But, yes, we don’t really know what kind of mayhem we’re going to see to be honest. In those early days of rugby there was no referee – the captains of each side agreed on decisions – and it wasn’t too different to football in many ways.”
There is much recorded about the very first ‘foot-ball’ matches played n the Borders in the 18th and 19th centuries by hundreds of participants (in one game) i, which played a key role in the development of modern-day football and rugby. The collectible programme for Sunday’s 150th re-enactment stays faithful to the phraseology of the times. Reading from an historic report on the early games, written a mere 100 years ago, Landles gave a glimpse of what we might expect on Sunday.
“During the first few games it will have been readily understood that a too close observance of rules was not one of the chief characteristics of the play … the football came first and the rules of the game being a bad second some months afterwards. Of course, in the first game the sides were chosen but the only rule acted upon or indeed understood was that the players in the respective sides should play in different directions.
‘Drop-outs, touchdowns, throwing in from touch were then undreamt of, and neither did an offside rule perplex the judgment nor hamper the impetuosity of the more ardent players, but each man strove their hardest without regard to back or forward position’.”
Landles explained: “We’ve printed rules on the back of the programme to help supporters, and players, but we want to be quite authentic and so it will be very different to a game of rugby.
“The celebrations have been in the planning for more than three years, and the town has really got behind it. The hours and hours that have been spent and the generosity of Johnson’s of Elgin, House of Cheviot and Lovat Mill has been incredible – they gave us all of their materials for costumes for nothing. Claire Ramage and Liz Parks have been our fashion advisors and we got Mary Beck on board with a great team of seamsters. There are literally hundreds of hours that have gone into it. And then the challenge was to get enough bodies to fill the costumes, and play.
“We had lots of ideas for celebrating the 150th year and some made it in, and some didn’t, but I have the family link with my great grandfather, Andrew Landles, having played in that first game 150 years ago, so I was pleased this one made it. And very much against his better judgement, my son Mark’s going to play, so it’s going to be a nice link right through from then to now. I just hope we get a crowd that merits the occasion.”
The 150th celebrations will continue with a Bill McLaren Exhibition running from early October to late November in the Wilton Lodge Museum, celebrating the life and career of Bill McLaren whose 100th birthday would have been in October, featuring a reproduction of his renowned home-office complete with genuine memorabilia and opportunities for visitors to recreate his famous commentaries on Scotland games. When the museum re-opens after its winter break there will be an exhibition marking 150 years of Hawick Rugby Club running from early March to the end of June.
In November, a 150th anniversary book – ‘Voices of Hawick Rugby’ – will be published, featuring recollections from over 150 famous players, coaches, supporters and journalists; a special memorial seat will be unveiled commemorating Hawick players lost in the world wars on 11th November; and an already sold-out gala dinner held on Mansfield Park with famous faces from across rugby will take place six days later.
On 6th February, as part of the Hawick Archaeological Society winter syllabus, a lecture entitled ‘150 Years of Rugby in Hawick’ will be given by Ron Smith and Allan McCredie.
A commemorative match is to be played between Hawick and The South. We have had great difficulty getting a date for this but it looks like it will be held on the night of Tuesday 7 May.
A Hollywood style ‘Walk of Fame’ is also planned, immortalising in stone Hawick’s 69 male and female Scotland internationalists and some who represented other countries, and the celebrations draw to a close in May with a match between Hawick and a guest side made up of the best club players from the rest of ‘The South’ clubs.
Landles admitted: “It’s incredible the amount of work people have put into this and people are going to be blown away by the Bill McLaren and Hawick RFC exhibitions in particular.
“To be honest, there’s more than enough work just being president of the club without having 150 years on top of it! But after the years of planning, it’ll be good to get it all up and running this weekend. I’m just so fortunate that Margaret, my wife, is keen on rugby. If I had a wife that wasn’t, there would have been a divorce.”