THERE will be a St Andrews Day event with a difference in London this evening when Andy Murray is toasted by a rugby club as part of a new drive to fly the Saltire high in the English capital.
Murray’s mother Judy will attend the ‘St Andrew’s Day at the Savoy’, organised by London Scottish FC, to receive ‘The Great London Scot Award’ on behalf of her son, while Scottish actress and model Sophie Kennedy-Clark collects the Great London Scot Award for Women. They will be joined by Scotland rugby captain Kelly Brown, former Scotland football manager Alex McLeish, Ryder Cup-winning captain Bernard Gallacher, ex-Scotland winger Kenny Logan, comedian Fred MacAulay and Sir Craig Reedie, vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, among others.
The rugby club has launched the event as part of its drive to use the club to promote Scotland and Scottish produce and put itself back at the heart of the wider Scottish sporting community. Chairman Sir David Reid, the former chair of Tesco and now Kwik-Fit, hosted an event at Gleneagles recently to thank the many Scottish firms that had answered his call to join the ‘Best of Scottish’, and while the rugby news continues to centre around when Scottish might make the final step back into the Premiership he insisted that generating new off-field support was the bigger priority.
In an exclusive interview with The Scotsman, Sir David explained: “The work that has gone into lifting this club back from the tenth league of the English game to the second is nothing short of remarkable, but the club’s position now cannot be sustained without serious support from ‘our’ community.
“Now for London Scottish, that community is both London and Scotland, and we just feel it is time we made more of that.
“For many people the cherry on the cake of the club’s return would be the Premiership, but it wouldn’t be a disaster if that didn’t happen. At the moment we aren’t good enough to finish in the top four regularly, so when we do that for not one year but two or three, then we’ll look at what it will take to go to the Premiership, and it would be more money, better stadium and facilities and better players.”
The club has also unveiled plans for ground development and is currently sitting fourth in the Championship, despite losing head coach Simon Amor to England sevens just after the season kicked off. But for Reid this masterplan runs far deeper than this or next week’s team.
“It’s about rediscovering our Scottishness,” he continued. “I developed an understanding of the food chains we have in the UK with supermarkets and some great Scottish brands, some small producers and some large, like [butchers] Simon Howie and Donald Russell from Inverurie to Tunnock’s and Highland Spring, and we went to them and said ‘look, we’re not asking for tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds, but come with us and put in something that reflects where you want to be. We can promote your products and I came up with this phrase ‘Best of Scottish’. We believe that we’re the best of Scottish, so help us and we’ll help you.’
“It doesn’t apply to only the food chain now either, as we’ve brought in financial guys and property guys, and the St Andrews Day event is our MD Kenny Baillie’s latest idea for bringing it altogether and promoting Scotland in the south and attracting more people to the club.”
Ian Macleod Distillers are the most recent to join the journey, with Glengoyne Whisky, while the only bar in London where you will find Tennents is apparently at the club’s Richmond ground.
Reid is a man with a plan, alright, but it comes from a desire first sparked when he made his London Scottish debut almost exactly 40 years ago.
A former Fettes College pupil who became a chartered accountant and would rise through the ranks of Tesco from finance director to chairman, he reckons he was a pretty decent hooker. He tells of how he played second fiddle to Duncan Madsen at Fettes, never getting a look-in, to read years later Scotland hooker Madsen revealing in a Rugby World interview that there was a far better hooker at his school, but he was picked because he was quicker around the field.
“I told him that was nice of him to say, but could he maybe use my name the next time!”
He has issued a challenge to find another London Scottish player to have featured in all ten, possibly 11, teams both on a rise from the bottom up and all the way back down again, his achievement coming during a career from 1973 to 1985.
As he talks about his own front row days, the great Test stars he played with and against - he still has the programme of a London Scottish versus London Welsh match that featured 15 current internationalists - and of watching his grandson now playing in the revamped youth section, his passion for the club radiates.
He avoids pointing the finger of blame as he talks about the devastation felt by club members when London Scottish’s grand plan led by Tony Tiarks to become one of the professional game’s leading clubs fell asunder on promises of money that never materialised. He was not close to it then, as his directorships of various leading firms and charities multiplied, but felt the club’s pain at being relegated ten divisions in the RFU’s punishment. Rangers supporters think they got it bad.
But nine promotions in 13 seasons have hauled them back, and despite initial tensions about the prospect of returning to the professional game a new board formed in 2008, and chaired by Reid and with a great leader in president Rod Lynch, has managed to smooth the transition to a professional team based on amateur traditions.
Reid was also invited to a new SRU advisory board, a group of businessmen and others interested in the game, set up by union chairman Sir Moir Lockhead and used as a sounding board, so the old strained relationship with Murrayfield has eased.
Tonight’s auction will be raising money for The Carer’s Trust, the charity of HRH Princess Anne, Royal Patron of London Scottish, and Yorkhill Children’s Charity, based in Glasgow, but the ‘St Andrew’s Day at the Savoy’ is about much more than a fundraising one-off. The London Scottish story has entered a whole new chapter.
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE