Article about Musselburgh RFC

Musselburgh RFC is Not a Good Club


Musselburgh RFC is a great club. Over many years, Musselburgh has applied initiatives that other clubs could only wonder about. We faced many difficulties but used ingenuity, guile and inventiveness to overcome them. Such action required dedication, commitment and a great deal of effort. We’ve had in our midst, members who could see where we wanted to be and encourage others to help them get there.

As one of very few current members who started my rugby experience playing at Shirehaugh (Part of Monktonhall Golf Course). I have seen many changes over more than half a century. As a twelve year-old I turned out there when I was in my first year at Musselburgh Grammar School. To suggest we played our home games in Siberia would not have been far from the truth. The changing facilities were two wrecked wartime Nissen huts (a prefabricated steel structure, made from a half-cylindrical skin of corrugated steel. Originally designed during the First World War). They were so badly vandalised that the gables, doors, windows and wooden flooring had long gone. The first priority was finding somewhere dry to leave one’s clothing. Even wearing two vests under the strip, the playing conditions were unbearable. I was told by the late, great, Alex Baxter that training for the Club was facilitated by some oil lamps and a ball painted white.

The move to Stoneyhill was revolutionary but, as the name suggests one could be excused for thinking the pitch there had been laid by Agricola as the foundation for a Roman road. Year on year topsoil had to be added in an effort to give the pitch an acceptable surface. Our irregular goalposts, fashioned from pine tree trunks, were taken down at the end of each season, checked for decay and painted. Eventually, we were able to acquire the steel posts we use today.

The first time I had a hint that we were a forward thinking club was when we installed floodlights. We were the first club in Scotland to invest in floodlights. The only other lights were supplied by the SRU. Ramsay Smith was the driving force behind this and worked tirelessly to make them happen.

The 1st XV played home games at Stoneyhill and the other teams played at Pinkie. Changing facilities in the Institute were not good with four shower heads to accommodate two teams. One could not be shy about rubbing shoulders with complete strangers when naked. For winter training we had two large light shades on the Institute wall which threw poor light out to around the 15 metre line. We would paint a ball white to facilitate the hard of seeing. A well developed skill was the knock-on which brought many scrums so forwards training was of paramount importance. As the ‘no-kicking’ law had not been introduced at that time, the kick-off went straight into touch so each game effectively started with a line-out. They were a shambles and inevitably a knock-on would occur. That brought a scrum and from there the ball would be kicked into touch. So games became line-out, scrum, line-out, scrum on and on. Eventually some team might get a push-over try. How boring.

In these days the captain did any coaching but his true destiny was to get the 1st XV winning. Teams were picked by a selection committee so some fine selections were made dependent on a vote for each player. Some selectors had a say who might never see a 1st XV game all season because they were with the 4th XV every week. 

Serious discussions prevailed to find a way forward for our rugby. We knew things were not all that good but didn’t know what to do about it. When league rugby was introduced, we struggled a bit and moved down the leagues at a meteoric pace. However, the rot was eventually stopped and we steadily rose again. The first formal initiative was to introduce Mini rugby and the following year Colt rugby began. When the Colt rugby was introduced, we were the only club around to run such a team. All the games were with Border clubs where Colt rugby was well established. This was an excellent stepping stone into senior rugby. All the above teams had appointed coaches, sometimes more than one. So, consider the administrative nightmare when we suddenly moved from having no coach to finding, maybe, twenty coaches at all levels.

These initiatives were the start of us trying to play serious rugby. A dedicated 1st XV coach was appointed and things really began to change. The numbers at training grew like topsy and serious work was done, sometimes well into the night. Our players became faster, fitter and more skilled. This continues now and recent teams have a much higher skill level than hitherto. Even down the Club, good skills prevail.

It’s evident that Musselburgh was never considered to be a fashionable club. we have no full international portraits hanging on the clubroom walls although several past players should have been capped.

Again the initiative and industry of Ramsay Smith brought forward the construction of our clubhouse which was subsequently extended and had changing rooms added. These were incredibly difficult economic times for the Club because the erection of the clubhouse and the floodlights happened almost simultaneously. All this was being attempted on a zero budget and an SRU loan. But, every time I walk into the clubhouse I remember what was done and by whom. a great many people have contributed to the construction and development of the clubhouse and the Club, in general.

I”m a bit saddened that Ian Dewar, who did ever so much for us and now has his name on the bar which he constructed, was never asked if he wanted that done. Then he was never invited to see his name up so, to this day, Ian, who now lives in Kelso, has never witnessed the way he has been recognised. If we have a weakness, it’s failing to thank people who have done us proud.

Opening the bar business was a horrendous experience but, from the beginning, it was well supported and at last, we were generating an income. I remember the first sevens day when we raised £1000. It was a fortune at that time.

Having mini-rugby and Colt rugby well established we were still failing to get the numbers to out Colts. Then Alex Stewart wrote an article entitled ‘The Missing Link’ where he proposed assuming responsibility for the Grammar School teams. That was a brilliant initiative and wasn’t done anywhere else. Yet again we blazed a trail which many others subsequently followed. Many very good school teams emerged and the Colts produced stronger and stronger teams. 

Still, we didn’t get any recognition from Murrayfield but when the SRU Treasurer, Freddie McLeod (soon to become president) wanted to get serious about school rugby at Club level, he asked me to provide details of the costs incurred. We were recognised as being the most committed to and best organised for rugby at that level. 

Over many years we have had industrious members who willingly applied their skills to the betterment of the Club. Players come and players go but some stick around to support the Club in some way. There are members who have moved into high positions in industry and now have funds to support us financially. Such people remember what they experienced as players and want others to enjoy the same benefits now. I’m greatly inspired when I come into the bar midweek and find professional members sitting with young players, usually colts, counselling them and advising about career opportunities, university courses and a possible passage through life. Such advice is priceless for the young players who are starting out in adult life.

If one cares to come to Stoneyhill on a Saturday when we have a home game, the rugby played is a far cry from what was played when we first arrived at Stoneyhill. This is because we have, over many years, invested in the skills of developing players. Add to that the level of commitment in time and energy that the players give. The skill levels, fitness levels, knowledge and willingness of current players is greatly enhanced and some very attractive rugby is now played throughout the club. Our 1st XV punches well above it’s weight and the players get a great deal of kudos being part of a team of such standing. Anyone harbouring the aspirations of management should try coaching a team, at any level. It develops all the management skills. There’s a lot more to rugby than chasing a ball up and down the pitch.

Some years ago, a Colts reunion was organised one Saturday and was held in the Ramsay Smith room. It was suggested to me that, because I had started Colt rugby, that I should attend. It was a great event and I shook many a hand. Many of the lads had gone on to do great things in industry and those who worked as tradesmen tended to be self-employed. During a quiet moment, as I stood at the door, I surveyed the people crammed into the room. Most had been, at one time or another, through my hands; whether it be Mini, Midi, or Colt rugby, I had coached them, run the streets with them and passed them on to higher callings. As I stood there, it occurred to me that there was not a bad person in the room. They were all good citizens, working away and paying their taxes. Some had families now, most were married and all seemed to be incredibly happy with their lot. I formed the opinion that by coming to Musselburgh Rugby Club, there is just the chance that one might be in good company.

I am also now of the opinion that we should continue to use our initiatives for the benefit of our Club and forget the mutterings that occasionally come from Murrayfield. The SRU have an agenda which does not reflect our needs but we can continue to be better, richer, and serve our members in ways not yet envisaged.

The bar service has greatly improved in recent years. The clubhouse is now a place to be enjoyed, Pre-match dinners have improved, most home league games are sponsored. The players outstanding order at the recent Annual Dinner suggests that they appreciate the Club, respect the facilities and now conduct themselves in a responsible manner. All this is to the benefit of everyone and I stand by my original statement: 


Musselburgh RFC is a great club.


Duncan B McMillan

May 2017


Posted on: June 15th, 2017


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