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Neil DRYSDALE reports on city derby

NEIL DRYSDALE,

Hugh Barrow, a long-time staple of Glasgow rugby and one of the oval-ball sports most diligent archivists, is licking his lips over this weekends resumption of hostilities between his club and GHK when the teams meet, for the first time, on league duty, in 14 years at New Anniesland. This, after all, is a tussle which has provoked fierce passions ever since the sides originally locked horns back in 1885. And, although the crowds might be smaller these days than they were in the halcyon period when close to 10,000 supporters pitched up to watch Accies tackle High, nobody should be in any doubt that the history behind this tussle guarantees full-blooded action on Saturday.

As Hugh points out, this isnt just another game. Not when one considers that these clubs have secured their national Championship on 19 occasions, have produced 127 Scotland players, half-a-dozen British Lions, and supplied no less than 18 SRU presidents. Along this long and winding road, they have contributed much; they were there at the birth of the Scottish Football Union [now the SRU] and they also attended the meeting to form the International Rugby Board, declares Barrow, a former secretary of Glasgow Hawks, who has strong Accies connections. They once commanded fixtures second to none, having taken on the likes of Northampton, Cardiff, London Scottish, the Barbarians and Oxford and Cambridge Universities. The derby matches were even played on Christmas Day and the state of the teams sometimes bore witness to that fact!

Nowadays, both sets of combatants are involved in the first division of the West League, but they still contribute significantly to the grassroots circuit by providing a seedbed of talent for Glasgow Hawks, who have been Scotlands most successful club organisation during the past decade. And, as Cammy Little, a former GHK and Hawks stalwart told The Herald, the advent of professionalism has not dulled the instinctive competitiveness which exists between the sides. As well as the obvious geographic relationship, with us being next-door neighbours, I think it all comes back to history. Legends such as Angus Cameron, Herbert Waddell, John Bannerman, Max Simmers, Jimmy Ireland, Laurie Duff and, of course, Wilson Shaw, played in these matches, and that meant a great deal. There was a real sense of history in the pavilions, with the old photos and international boards and the jerseys, not to mention many of the men themselves still being present.

My first experiences of these derby contests were at third XV and second XV level [in the early 1990s], which was particularly brutal, usually due to the lack of notice which was paid to referees and the lack of any desire within the pack to play any rugby there were just too many scores to settle from Byres Road or the latest club disco.

My favourite memory of playing the Accies was one of the last games before the Hawks were formed [so it must have the 1996/97 season]. Kiwi, Kevin Green, was coaching them, as well as Glasgow at the time, and Glenn Metcalfe was playing on the left wing. The league game was at Old Anniesland, but they hatched a plan to get a psychological boost by changing and preparing in their clubhouse at New Anniesland, before jogging over to our pitch, effectively treating it as a home match. They took a bit of stick for that, but they established a decent lead at half-time and we were playing into a strong wind in the second half, so it looked as if they had the upper hand. Well, we fought back, the momentum shifted, and I will never forget Walter Malcolm and Fergus Wallace running everything at them. We eventually won, to the delight of half of the big crowd, who stayed to watch the Accies make the long, humiliating trek back to their patch. To add insult to injury, the gate between the two grounds had been closed and locked (by a mischievous groundsman), so they had to divert, via the main road!

Few individuals relish being on the receiving end of such a schadenfreude-laced afternoon, but the players banter was infused with a bonhomie once they had retired to the nearest hostelry and the Scottish circuit used to be replete with tough-as-teak characters, who could cope with the flak. Chas Afuakwah, the sinewy Accies forward, went to the High School in the early 1980s and his brother, Richard, attended the Academy, so there was scarcely a time when the barbs werent flying around. And that simply added spice to the ingredients in their family dynamic! No-one wanted to walk into the bar and be derided for losing. Glasgow is a small place and it wasnt as if you could get on a bus and disappear, nor did you want to be reading the papers the next day if you had been beaten, recalls Afuakwah. But my memories were always of hard, fair games, played with genuine endeavour, and, from a personal point of view, the opportunity to come up against the likes of Shade Munro, Alan Watt and Fergus and Murray Wallace was terrific. In the bigger picture, rugby was the winner, and if you took away the emotion, it was two teams in different strips vying for points. Mind you, very few of these encounters were in the league, because one of us always managed to get relegated as the other was promoted, and vice versa, so it became a huge source of irritation to many of us that we knew there were players, on both sides of the fence, who, if we amalgamated, would make us a real force to be reckoned with.

Eventually, of course, that situation sparked the creation of the star-studded Glasgow Hawks and one still wonders how they might have fared if they had been left to their own devices. But this isnt a time for rancour or recriminations, but merely to observe that, amidst the World Cup, New Anniesland will be worth a visit

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