In The Chair: Heriot’s hooker Michael Liness discusses mullets and red cards

Edinburgh Blue Gentleman's Barber Shop chats to a long-standing customer and Goldenacre stalwart ahead of Saturday's Premiership Grand Final

Michael Liness Edinburgh Blue
Heriot's hooker Michael Liness gets his hair cut by Fiona Whiteford at Edinburgh Blue Gentleman's Barber Shop. Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson

AHEAD of Saturday’s Tennent’s Premiership play-off Grand Final at Millbrae, a key man from each of the participating teams headed along to Edinburgh Blue Gentleman’s Barber Shop on Dundas Street in the capital – which is owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Colin and Fiona Whiteford – for a trim and a spot of banter.

First in the chair was Heriot’s hooker Michael Liness [ML], who also happens to be a long-time regular at the shop. Fiona [FW] was wielding the scissors.


Edinburgh Blue Gentleman’s Barber Shop – Est: 1998

FW: I’m so glad you don’t have that mullet any more! Colin loved  it – he used to encourage you to keep it – but I hated it. And I’m sure it was bad for business, because we sponsored you with that crap haircut. I never understood why you wanted to have one.

ML: It was because Robin Snape [former team-mate at Edinburgh Accies] had one and he was always saying things like ‘real men have mullets’ and stuff like that. So, one day, I just thought: ‘I’m going for it’. It was the year we were in the British and Irish Cup, so I was trying to stand out!

FW: Were you hoping it would get you a professional contract?

ML: Totally!

FW: But it didn’t work?

ML: Well, I didn’t get a contract, but I think it had an effect. I remember speaking to Tom Wilson years later, and he said he was petrified when he played against me for Melrose just after I got it. He said he remembers me walking out at The Greenyards and he just thought: ‘Holy shit, look at that boy’s lid he must be mental to have a haircut like that!’ In the first ten minutes there was a scrap, so I ran in to split it up and I grabbed Tom, and he absolutely crapped his pants because he thought this redneck was going to kill him!”

FW: Why did you get rid of it?

ML: We ended up on this terrible run at Accies. We didn’t win in the league for something like 18 months and ended up in a relegation play-off against Stew-Mel. One night at training, Berti [Iain Berthinussen] turned to me and said : ‘Mate, your mullet is bad luck.’ The next day I came straight here and got it cut off.

FW: And did you win after that?

ML: Yeah, we beat Stew-Mel to stay up.

FW: But that wasn’t the end of it?

ML: I moved to Heriot’s at the end of the next season and it made another appearance there. I remember Jack Turley [Heriots’ Kiwi skipper] saying: ‘Bro, that’s a a sick lid’. He loved it, but as it grew out it got a bit of a nightmare, after the game it was still wet and people were looking at me saying ‘that’s disgusting’.

The final straw was when I got red-carded against Watsonians. I went into work on Monday and Jamie Syme [his boss at Crossfit MTS]  was asking what the chat was. I told him that I had a hearing on Wednesday and all he said was: ‘The hair needs to go, nobody is going to believe you don’t deserve a ban with a mullet like that.’ 

FW: What was your red card for?

ML: I put my foot on Craig Borthwick in a maul. I didn’t see him coming and before I knew it I had stamped on him, and the referee sent me off. It was downgraded to a yellow card at the hearing. They accepted that there had been no real malice in it. So, getting the haircut worked!

That was the last of the mullet. I don’t think we’ll see it again

FW: That’s not the only red card you’ve had is it?

ML: I got two in quick succession  one was in October 2017 and the other was at the start of January 2018 – and they were both overturned at the hearing.

The other one was against Boroughmuir when Johnny Matthews melted Adam Sinclair with an illegal clear. Sinky screamed at the touch-judge, then sat up, swung his arm and caught Johnny right in the dish. The touch-judge was straight in, saying: ‘No 2 white punched No 2 blue.’ I was telling them it wasn’t me, I was nearly in tears.

We always get pancakes in the changing room at full-time and I was so annoyed I booted the tray of pancakes and they went all over Tom Wilson’s blazer.

In fairness to Johnny Matthews, he put in a submission saying that it wasn’t me who threw the punch. So it got overturned, and Sinky got banned instead. I was back in the team to play Ayr the next week, which wasn’t great because we got pumped!

Michael Liness
Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson ***

FW: You’re not getting any younger. It’s about time you had a grown-up haircut. You were just a wee skinny boy when I first met you, what happened to you?

ML: I came to Edinburgh when I was 17 and had a season at Bats before moving on to Accies for seven seasons, and this is my fourth season at Heriot’s.

I started off as a back row but moved to hooker when I was about 19. I’d always just played with a rugby ball and had taught myself how to throw in at the line-out. I was throwing in for the twos at training one night and Graham Bonner, one of the coaches, asked if I had thought about moving to hooker. I said: ‘I’ll never move to the front row, it’s all fatties that play there’, but he persuaded me to give it a shot. Simon Cross was head coach at the time and he said: ‘I understand that you are in no-man’s land at the moment, but you need to make a decision about what you are going to do and be aware that there are millions of good back rows out there and not many hookers’. As a flanker, I was as slow as a week in the jail, so it was definitely the right thing to do. But it was hard work, hours and hours of throwing and scrummaging. Initially I wanted to keep running around like a back row as well as doing all the stuff you need from a hooker, but is soon became clear that I was going to need to bulk up a bit.

That first season was hell. I remember playing against Boroughmuir and Sean Crombie put my head up my arse in a scrum. That was the first time I had ever been put up in the air at a scrum and it was horrible. I was thinking that I am never going to let that happen again, and I was quite relieved when Crombie went off   but then Neil Cochrane came on and did exactly the same thing. Brutal!

It is humiliating and scary. You also feel like your neck is going to snap. I was only young and I’d only just moved to hooker. But I did a bit of training with Andrew Kelly [former Edinburgh hooker]. And Lewis Niven [former Edinburgh and Edinburgh Accies tight-head] was a massive help – he spent hours with me. I was still too light to play hooker, I was only 85-90kgs, and I was playing against guys like Sean Crombie and Neil Cochrane who had been, or still were, professional players. I remember thinking: ‘Is this really worth it?’

But then I got into the Scotland Under-20s and that was a big learning experience  Peter Wright was really good with me – and I came back from the Junior World Cup thinking I had cracked it, until I played against Stirling County at the start of the next season. Alex Moffat – who was a pretty angry guy – soon put me back in my box. The next week I was up against Kev Bryce at Heriot’s and both my legs put together weren’t as thick as one of his, and when he went off Fraser Brown moved up from flanker to hooker. There was no respite. I was very fortunate in terms of the props I had at Accies at the time, in guys like Lewis Niven, Alex Allan, Phil Cringle

FW: So, do you still get bullied at the scrums?

ML: I don’t think so. I love all that stuff now. I think I’m one of the hookers in this league who really prides themselves on their scrumming. Not all of them do. There’s quite a few who scrape by the set-piece and are all about running round the pitch like a centre. I like to consider myself a set-piece hooker.

FW: All set for Saturday?

ML: I’m buzzing for it. I know a few of the Ayr guys pretty well from the Scotland Club XV stuff – Steven Longwell, Pete McCallum, Blair Macpherson – and they’ve had a good season. But we feel like we’ve timed our run pretty well.

The aim at the start of the season was to get into the top four, we wanted to make sure that we went out and did well in this last Premiership season before Super 6, but it was Ayr that set the pace and we were just plodding along in mid-table. But we hung in there and now, all of a sudden, this is it.

FW:  I heard that there is no love lost between Ayr and Heriot’s?

ML: “They finished top of the league in 2016 and we finished third, but we went down there and beat them in the play-off final, and they hated it. There is a massive part of them that hates that we went there and scored three tries through our rolling maul. I remember when we scored that third try and one of the old bufties was going mental: ‘That’s it Heriot’s, kick it into the corner, boring bollocks.’ I just turned to him and said: ‘Mate, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.’ And he just erupted and so did all his pals around him.

FW: So, you are in for a hostile reception?

ML: Bring it on! In all honesty, we beat Currie Chieftains [in the play-off] semi-final because of our support. Our fans just next to the clubhouse – ‘the jungle’ – were going mental. I remember at one point we got a penalty and the whole place erupted – I crapped myself – and I think Saturday is going to be unbelievable because we have got that travelling support. The boys who aren’t on the pitch know that they still have a role to play, and they’re going to make themselves heard. There’s a player’s bus and two supporters’ buses heading through.

“The Premiership is physical but this will be the next level.”

Michael Liness
Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson
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About Edinburgh Blue 1 Article
Located at the foot of Dundas Street, close to the centre of Stockbridge and Edinburgh’s New Town, Edinburgh Blue Barbers was founded by Colin & Fiona Whiteford, at a time when there were literally no other barber shops in the area. Over the past twenty years we have built-up a loyal following of local residents, business workers and city visitors. Our no-nonsense, no appointment necessary, approach seems to strike a chord with everyone. Simply walk-in, take a seat and wait your turn. And don’t be surprised if we offer you a beer in the summer, a hot-toddy in the winter, lollipops to your children, or are playing vinyl records in the shop. We think it’s these homely little touches that make all the difference.