Ayr stalwart Pete McCallum hangs up his boots after stellar club career

Back-row forward won multiple medals and was capped by the Scotland Club XV

Pete McCallum
Pete McCallum in action for Ayr against Melrose. Image: George McMillan.

PETE McCallum has decided to retire after an illustrious career which has seen him win multiple trophies with Ayr, be part of the first ever Ayrshire Bulls squad and earn Scotland Club XV caps.

For a number of years he also captained the teams that he was in and always had the respect of his team mates – and opponents – due to the way he carried himself and the way he never took a backwards step playing in the back row.

McCallum’s final game was earlier this month when Ayr were beaten by Currie Chieftains 35-25 in a cracking Scottish Cup tie at Malleny Park, but he leaves the Millbrae men on a high having been a part of their National One title-winning season.

“I have loved the last few years – playing rugby and playing for Ayr specifically has been such a big part of my life,” said McCallum, who works for family firm McCallums Food away from the pitch. “They always say you know when the time is right to stop playing and although I am only 31 and could probably go on for another couple of years, that time for me is now.

“My wife Katy and I have a little girl called Molly now, so priorities in life have changed a bit while, rugby-wise, I have helped Ayr back to the Premiership where they belong ahead of the post-Super6/Series era, so the club is in a great place and can kick on without me as there are some great young players involved and they are well supported off the field.

“No doubt during pre-season and at the start of the 2024-25 campaign it’ll feel strange not being involved for a few weeks, but I’ll get used to it and I am lucky to be able to have so many great memories to look back on which were done alongside some of my best mates.”

McCallum headed along to Ayr to play in the mini section when he was in primary seven at school, having played football before that. “My dad Chris had played rugby at Ayr [packing down regularly in the second row with Stafford McDowall’s dad Fergus], he never forced me into following in his footsteps, but once I got involved with the club it became the sport for me,” McCallum recounted.

“I played up through all the different youth age-grades and then in 2010 just after I had left school I made my 1st XV senior debut off the bench versus Selkirk when Kenny Murray [now the Scotland under-20 head coach] was in charge.

“I was just a youngster coming into a squad that had won the Premiership in 2008-09 and then the Scottish Cup in 2009-10 and there were some excellent back-rowers about at the time, so I knew I’d have to work hard to nail down a regular matchday spot.

“Although I wasn’t a regular in the first couple of years, the club was really on the up at the time and I probably could not have come through at a better time in Ayr’s history, because the standard of player that was around was so high and I had so many great people to learn from.”

As McCallum continued to battle to play regularly, Ayr won the Cup again in 2010-11 and before losing to Gala in the 2011-12 final.

In the 2012-13 season, Ayr would go on to win the Premiership and Cup double and by that time McCallum was much more regularly involved.

He was part of the squad who won the Cup final at Murrayfield in the most dramatic of circumstances, the game going to extra-time before they beat their big rivals at the time, Melrose, 28-25 to seal the double.

“I was on the bench to start with, but big Scott Sutherland got injured early on in the second half and I ended up playing 60-odd minutes that day,” McCallum said.

“At that time the mentality was in the squad that we expected to win every game we played. We felt like we had won some matches before we even kicked a ball, it wasn’t arrogance, we just had a real winning environment where everyone set high standards for each other and we just wanted more and more success.

“We had some brilliant battles around that time with the likes of Melrose and Heriot’s while Currie were there or thereabouts with Glasgow Hawks at times too and club rugby was great to be a part of at that stage.

“Everyone wanted to try and knock us off our perch and take our scalp, but we took great pride in our performances.”

By the 2016-17 season, McCallum was captain of Ayr with Calum Forrester [now with GHA] head coach and they were fighting it out with Melrose again.

They went down to The Greenyards and won the Premiership play-off final 12-8 in a real tight one during which the skipper spent some time in the sin bin.

Melrose got their revenge soon after when they won the Cup final between the two sides 23-18, but there was still to be another double to come on McCallum’s watch.

“Pete Murchie [the ex-Scotland cap who is now Glasgow Warriors assistant coach] was the head coach by the 2018-19 season and it was great to do a double again,” McCallum said.

“By that season it was us and Heriot’s scrapping it out for silverware and there were two great finals again.

“We won the Premiership play-off final [19-18] at Millbrae and then just managed to get past them at Murrayfield [27-25].

“At that stage we knew that Super6 was starting up soon afterwards, so club rugby was going to change going forward and it was great that, after a decade or more of success at Millbrae, we were able to end that era with even more glory.”

McCallum was captain of the part-time professional Ayrshire Bulls in the inaugural season 2019-20 which was brought to a halt by the pandemic.

During Covid times work within the family business ramped up for McCallum and then, when rugby returned competitively, he was dealing with an Achilles injury.

He was part of the Bulls squad that won the Championship in 2021, defeating Southern Knights in the final to keep the Ayr-Melrose rivalry going, but he did not play a minute of the season.

A return to the Ayr Club 1st XV came ahead of the 2022-23 season and, after they made progress that year, under new head coach Grant Anderson in 2023-24 they went on a brilliant unbeaten run for a large part of the season to secure the National One title.

That has given McCallum great recent satisfaction – and he has also been looking back on his Scotland Club XV days from pre-pandemic with satisfaction too.

“The Club XV was a great thing to be a part of,” he stated. “You were suddenly coming together with guys from other clubs who you were used to being up against and at that time there really were some cracking club players in Scotland.

“I captained the team on three occasions – we never won in any of those unfortunately!

“However, the 2016 season sticks out because we beat English Counties by quite a score [57-27 at Gala’s Netherdale ground] and I scored a try in the first minute and then we defeated Ireland [19-13 in Cork].

“Special times and it has been a special few years.”

About Gary Heatly 457 Articles
Gary has loved rugby ever since he can remember and since 2004 he has covered the sport and others in a professional capacity for many publications and websites and runs his own company, GH Media.

2 Comments

  1. No, he actually played his last rugby game yesterday playing 1 half of the title decider of Reserve National League 1 at Peffermill
    Why finish your career playing 1 half of a 2nd XV game???
    I think we know the answer to that.

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  2. It was always a pleasure to cross swords with you ( thankfully for me from the safety of the Touch line)
    A great servant to your club. All the best to you and your family for the future.
    Well done

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