INSPIRATION was swirling around Glasgow yesterday as the Warriors produced no surprises in revealing Alastair Kellock as their captain for the coming season but then gave a left-field nod to Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the iconic Glasgow School of Art.
While websites groaned under the weight of demand for Glasgow 2014 tickets, rugby was strengthening its own foundations in the city. One of the biggest complaints of pro rugby since its Scottish launch in 1996, and twists and turns through various metamorphoses before emerging with the city sides we have today, was their lack of identity and belonging.
For well over 100 years people have passionately followed rugby in various parts of Scotland, but in these parts it was to the likes of Glasgow Accies, Clarkston (now rolled into GHA), West of Scotland, Ayr and Kilmarnock that they turned, not “Glasgow”.
While Edinburgh continue to struggle to create an identity grasped across the capital, Glasgow are leaping ahead. On-field success helps, naturally, but moving to a new ground at Scotstoun provided a unique focus for rugby and a new kit deal with innovative Italian manufacturers Macron has allowed a freedom to feed the desire of players, coaches and supporters to connect with the city’s culture.
So, Glasgow have new home and away strips with Mackintosh’s distinct linear art worked into the jersey front and back. It is more apparent on the white away kit, but still subtle, and equally so is the small badge behind the neck which bears the initials “GDRU”. That links the present with the past Glasgow District Rugby Union, the historic organisation that brought together all clubs, big and small, in the area prior to an SRU reorganisation that dropped the district format.
“I think it’s great,” said Kellock. “It’s a subtle thing, but the Mackintosh design and the badge are both attempts to show where we come from and how proud we are of this city and our district. It’s what we are about.”
Inspiration comes in many shapes and forms, but few are visibly bigger than Kellock himself, as noted by art students who gawped at his 6ft 8in frame ducking along small Dickensian-type corridors at the top of the art school for publicity pictures.
Head coach Gregor Townsend was happy to continue with the Scotland lock as his skipper on taking over from Sean Lineen last summer and felt no need to change tack for the coming season. Townsend said: “This was an easy decision to make. Al is an inspirational leader and does so much for the club both on and off the pitch.
“He sets an example to others and he has undoubtedly played a huge role in the growth of the club over the last few years. This appointment will provide continuity for the club as we look to build on our third-place finish last season.”
In terms of stats, few hold a candle to Kellock. Twice named captain of the RaboDirect PRO12 Dream Team, Kellock holds the league record for most appearances as captain with 86 league games and 35 Heineken Cup encounters to date, while also winning 50 Scotland caps.
But what Townsend, Lineen, the other coaches and players appreciate more is his work off the field to help bring success to the city. Kellock started his pro career with Edinburgh, his late uncle having inspired him to take up the game and follow him into Stirling County colours.
He insists that he was not signed by Glasgow from Edinburgh as a 24-year-old specifically to captain Glasgow, but the word from Lineen and coaches within Murrayfield eight years ago was that he had, in fact, been identified as a leader in Scottish rugby at a time when they seemed few and far between.
He duly took over from Jon Petrie a handful of games into his first season with the Warriors, and it is impossible to overstate the role he has played in developing the team spirit at a club that has travelled from Hughenden to Firhill to Scotstoun, and around ten different training facilities across the central belt and west coast in the eight years since.
But what is also clear is that he has no plans to step aside any time soon. When he signed a two-year contract extension, to take him to 2015-16, there was talk of him continuing his association with the club when his playing days ended, as if that might be soon and the last year or two of his contract would be more off-field. But questions that began yesterday with “you’re 32 now, so...” swiftly brought a furrowed brow. Similarly, a suggestion that it might be in Glasgow’s interests for him to hand the captaincy to someone else to develop leadership experience, brought a steely stare.
“I am a long way away from finishing and I like captaining Glasgow,” he said. “Maybe then [retirement] is when you have that discussion [about a new captain], but I have plenty left in me.
“It’s not that I am going into my last season. We are developing leaders all the time but we do that anyway. I personally think it is working and so does the boss.
“We had the captain conversation a few weeks ago in his office and you carry on as normal. We have a leadership group and it is about bringing younger guys through all the time. For example, I think Chris Fusaro is an exceptional leader and he is only 23, and I see him getting stronger and stronger. He is a possible future captain but there are captains you could pick all over the place.
“In my time in Glasgow it has changed considerably. When I started there were two or three senior guys who were good leaders. We now have leaders across the squad. That is one of the reasons we have had success.”
Another reason is the inability of any player, including the captain, to rest on his laurels. He now has another Gray challenging his position. Tim Swinson emerged last season with Glasgow and Scotland as a quality lock, and his battle with Tom Ryder on the tighthead side of the second row is an appetising one, but Kellock is acutely aware of the speed with which 19-year-old Jonny Gray will wish to challenge for Kellock’s jersey.
“You may not believe me,” the captain said with a wry smile, “but it’s not that I am watching Jonny or feeling the pressure from him. I’m actually enjoying working with him and trying to pass on some of the stuff I have learned over the past 12 years. He is fantastic to work with and he is pushing me hard as well.
“There are comparisons with his brother, especially in the gym, but if anything Jonny wants to learn more about the lineout. Big Richie was never that bothered and was happy for me to call the ball to him occasionally, but Johnny wants to run the lineout and you’ll see him doing that for Glasgow this season.
“But that’s great. We have to have competition and I don’t take anything for granted. He will push me hard and I will push him hard.”
A rugby school case of inspiring master and enthusiastic pupil?
“He is respectful at the moment,” added Kellock, with a grin, “but if he is anything like his brother then that will change quickly.”
One suspects Mackintosh would be proud.