RUGBY in the north east of Scotland will have to fill a significant void following the retirement of one of the best-known characters in the game.
After more than 20 years helping to enthuse and shape young players, George Watson took his final coaching session with the Aberdeen Grammar “Midgets”, the P1-3 youngsters, a week past Sunday.
Hailed by Scotland internationals Chris Cusiter and Ruaridh Jackson as a key figure in their development, and one who helped them discover the joys of rugby, Watson was stunned on Friday night to receive the SRU’s Spirit of Rugby Award at a Murrayfield dinner and be told that he had a hand in developing over 750 young rugby players in Aberdeen.
The 71-year-old admitted: “It is a real honour to receive the award. I have had so much enjoyment from coaching the youngsters over the years.
“It has to be about fun. The only way you will get the children coming back to training week after week is if you make it fun. Once they enjoy themselves and make friends, then they can be moulded into rugby players, but just getting kids active is important. Rugby also teaches them important lessons for life such as teamwork and respect.
“It has been great to see players who I have worked with over the years going on to great things like Chris Cusiter and Ruaridh Jackson, but as long as they all have good memories of their time that is the main thing.”
Watson had been nominated without his knowing by members of the club and long-time friends and supporters. The nomination stated: “He has made a major impact on rugby in the city of Aberdeen, and indeed on a worldwide stage via some of his former players.
“George’s involvement in rugby started when his primary school son, Craig, ‘volunteered’ him to help with junior rugby sessions. His contribution to Aberdeen Grammar Rugby FP Club has been both unique and invaluable.”
Watson was instrumental in setting up the mini section of the club in the late 1980s, encouraging and nurturing children from primary one to primary seven age, as well as refereeing, at the Rubislaw training ground in Harlaw Road, and also helping with rugby coaching at Robert Gordon’s College.
“Every Sunday during the school term – rain, hail or shine – George is ready and waiting to welcome children and parents to learn the basics of rugby,” continued the nomination.
“George has ensured that anyone and everyone can be involved, regardless of skill, and gives them the chance to develop a lifetime’s love of rugby which is more important than simply winning the next game. You can be a world-class schoolboy scrum-half or a non-tackling number 8, and George will treat you the same. As long as you show commitment and a desire to improve, he will work with you and encourage you to achieve your true potential.
“George has a coaching philosophy based on fun, fitness, skills, teamwork and standards of behaviour. In doing so, George has helped his charges instil this in other elements of their lives.”
Cusiter, who has gone on to play for the Border Reivers, Perpignan, Glasgow, Scotland and the British and Irish Lions, and is currently in Australia with the Scotland squad bidding to win his 60th cap against the Wallabies, commented: “George Watson, or Mr Watson, as I know him, was my first ever rugby coach when I started playing rugby in primary six at Robert Gordon’s College.
“He was a huge influence on me and one of the major factors in my enjoyment of the game. His energy, enthusiasm and patience were always there in abundance and he gave us confidence to play and express ourselves.
“I am certain it was the same for any young player who was lucky enough to have him as their coach. He is thoroughly deserving of such an award.”
Jackson, the Glasgow stand-off, added: “For me Mr Watson is a legend. He helped me massively in my younger days and I loved the way he went about training. To have the energy and enthusiasm that he does at his age is truly remarkable. The fact that he always got stuck in and joined in the running about during training games with the same energy as the rest of us crazy kids sticks in my mind.
“Although it’s sad to hear he’s stopping, I hope he gets the full praise he deserves, as he’s done an amazing service.”
Watson’s approach to the game and coaching has also left a clear legacy that many hope will remain at the heart of rugby in Aberdeen through new generations. He retired last week after 22 years’ dedication to the club, all unpaid, having played a key role in establishing a solid base for Aberdeen rugby, both through the children he coached and the many fathers he encouraged to become involved, and showed how to coach, including all the current team leaders.