PORTOBELLO is a rugby club that knows a fair bit about adapting to survive – and ultimately flourish – in a constantly and rapidly changing world.
Back in May 2007, their clubhouse was burned down in an act of vandalism, with 50-years’ worth of the club’s proud history – trophies, photographs and memories – destroyed in the process. In the days that followed, many questioned whether the blaze would herald a cruel end to Portobello’s rugby future, but that did not account for the incredible spirit of the club’s membership.
Not only did they rebuild the clubhouse, but also the playing foundations which had once made the side so successful in the 1970s and 1980s. Support also came from some less likely sources, including famed novelist JK Rowling, who donated seven signed books to be auctioned off.
It proved to be the catalyst the club needed. There has been plenty of ups and downs on the park for the 1st XV during the last 12 years – they reached the Plate Final at Murrayfield in 2008, were relegated to East League Two in 2015, scraped a win in the final game of 2016 season to avoid a second successive relegation, won promotion back into East League One in 2017, and also won the Bowl that year – but, off the park, things have tended to be more consistently positive, with a thriving minis section the most obvious demonstration of the general health of the club.
Eddie Robb – the club’s youthful president, who also turns out for the 1st XV in the centre [when selected] – says the focus is on ensuring that Portobello can be a welcoming environment for everyone and anyone with an interest in the sport, and that means moving with the times.
“Historically, Portobello RFC has been a staple part of the local community, we used to field five senior teams on a Saturday, which is hard for somebody like me to contemplate,” he says. “I think those days are gone forever now, but our aim and ambition is to build things back up as best we can.
“We’re working hard to grow the mini sections with both boys and girls, as well as working closely with Portobello High School to continue player development and enjoyment of the game for kids through the teenage years, which will hopefully translate to a senior level where we can continue to develop the players. The 1st XV have aspirations of climbing up the leagues again, and with a young team and a young coach we’re starting to see real progress.
“This season has been hard going in the league, but to go from losing by 80 points to Barnton in the Shield last season to losing by just two points to the same team this year shows that we are becoming better equipped to compete at a higher level.
“Having said that, we are very conscious that having a busy clubhouse is absolutely central to everything we want to achieve, because that generates the buzz which players feed off, and also the revenue required to survive in the modern world.”
With that in mind, Portobello made the decision to install an iZettle payment system at the start of last season, which has revolutionised the club’s finances.
“It was a constant bugbear of mine to see guys leaving the club because they had no cash in their wallets,” explains Robb. “I felt we were missing a trick. We very quickly and easily introduced iZettle when I first came on as President about a year and a half ago and all members have made good use of it since then.
“The till system is much slicker now with all cash and card payments being tracked through the iZettle app,” he adds. “This means we can analyse pricing and stock as we require from the comfort of our own homes if we so wish.
“It’s also useful for bigger items like collecting subs. We’d been reliant on bank transfers or people having cash on them before, but now we can set up a product on the iZettle app and take card payment on the spot.”
Portobello currently sit third bottom of East League Division One with five wins from 19 games played. While they are ten points ahead of second bottom Livingston with a game in hand, a mooted league restructuring means that the threat of dropping down a division is very real.
However, with six games to go in the league (four of them at home), the team’s destiny remains very much in their own hands. After all, they are only six points behind Broughton with three games in hand, and nine points behind Forrester with two games in hand.
So, there is plenty of potential for some big nights in the Cavalry Park bar before the season is out, and with iZettle on board the place should be jumping.