by STUART RUTHERFORD
IT wasn’t so long ago that having the opportunity to run out on the international pitch at Murrayfield was nothing but a fanciful dream for Portobello RFC; in fact, being able to play any rugby at all appeared to be a major challenge.
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
Like the mythological creature featured in Rowling’s bestseller Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Porty [as it is affectionately known]; was reborn from the ashes, and in the ten years following the fire the club has gone from strength to strength off the field, with a thriving minis section the most obvious demonstration of that. There has also been several strong seasons for the 1st XV on the pitch, including a trip to the National Plate Final just a year after the blaze in 2008, although that side of things has not always been plain sailing.
Barry Sinclair is the club’s current director of rugby. He has been involved with the club – as both a coach and secretary – since 1969, and is well versed in the ebb and flow of life at Cavalry Park, and is understandably delighted with how things have gone this season. Not only have Portobello made it to this weekend’s BT Bowl Final [11am kick-off on the international pitch at Murrayfield], but they have also earned promotion out of BT East League Division Two as runners-up to Broughton.
“The guys have shown a huge determination all season. We travelled to our next door neighbours Lismore for the East region semi-final and it was a filthy, rotten day. We scored right at the death and I think that’s when we perhaps got a sniff that silverware might be in the offing,” he says.
“I think we really got a lift from that match, and so after defeating RDVC [Royal Dick Vet College] we travelled up to Elgin. Following a five hour journey we were met by a very forward driven Moray side, and we really struggled to deal with that – but as I say, we’ve shown this resolution all year, and we were able to kick on and grab a fantastic result in the end.”
Although the pilgrimage to Cup Finals Day has added sparkle to a thrilling season, it is the team’s league form which has really impressed, especially given the struggles faced by the club in recent campaigns. Following relegation to East League Two in 2015 there was a distinct danger of things descending into free fall; and had they not won at Trinity Academicals on the last day of last season they would have faced a second consecutive demotion.
“We were struggling and in a pretty low place. We had even been deducted points when we failed to raise a team to travel down to Langholm. I think on only two occasions did we get more than 18 players out on a Saturday. But we managed to stay up by the skin of our teeth and so started to build towards this season,” says Sinclair.
“We had a guy called Gavin Hume lined up to coach – who had played Scotland age-grade rugby – but sadly after about a month of pre-season he realised that it was just going to be too much of a commitment. So, after a couple of training sessions with fairly low turnouts, the squad got together and acknowledged the fact that we might not be able to get another coach in at such short notice – and they were able to just buckle down and coach themselves.”
“We’ve had great commitment from all the players, which is something, perhaps, past coaches have not had the luxury of. Early on in the season we were maybe a bit apprehensive about the situation, but after a few good results which put us in a position to challenge at the top of the league, we decided to stick with it.”
“Our captain, Cree Britee-Steer, has been instrumental in our success. He has taken on most of the responsibility in terms of coaching, and he has really pulled the players together. Whilst our vice-captain, Darren Roe, and another senior player, Cameron Walker, have also stepped up and taken the boys through some tight games.”
The capital side may bring in a coach when they move up a level next season, but the DIY approach will continue against Blairgowrie this weekend, when they will be hoping to make amends for their last appearance at Scottish Rugby HQ nine years ago, which ended with an agonizing 27-21 defeat to Aberdeen University.
“We were caught out very early on against Aberdeen. They scored three tries in the first twenty minutes and we were never able to really recover. They were your typical student team: young, athletic and very fast,” recalls Sinclair.
“I’m hoping that this time around things will be a bit different; but that doesn’t mean we will change the way we are playing and hopefully the bigger pitch at Murrayfield will give our guys a chance to really showcase their stuff.”
“For me personally, it would mean so much if we were able to bring home silverware to Portobello. Not just because of what the club went through ten years ago, but also having been around the players for the last two seasons and seeing how much hard work they have put in. They definitely deserve it.”
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