Barbarians: A club in touch with history

FROM the first international teams representing Scotland and England in 1871, to the Barbarians, the Raeburn Place rugby ground in Edinburgh has welcomed the great and the good of the oval ball game.

And that trend is set to continue tomorrow when the famous Barbarians Select take on Edinburgh Academicals to mark their 150th anniversary – an unprecedented achievement in Scottish rugby with only England's Blackheath club achieving greater venerability.

Fresh from securing their place in Scottish rugby's Premiership Division One, Accies captain Dan Teague will lead his team against an amalgam of internationalists and up-and-comings.

Notables include former Scotland captain Gordon Bulloch, who leads a Baa-baas line-up also featuring fellow Lion Tyrone Howe from Ireland.

Another chapter will then be added to an illustrious history and down those years, Raeburn Place really has seen it all – even contributing to maintaining law and order in the area.

As example of that occurred during the mid-1980s while Accies 2nds were playing Livingston on the stand pitch.

Suddenly the air was rent by the sound of a burglar alarm and, from an adjacent house window, a Livingston winger saw a figure emerge.

Instinctively, that player – who came to be identified as Colin Gilfeather – took off in pursuit and, with the miscreant attempting to escape up a slippery hillside at nearby Inverleith Park, it was no trouble for a rugby player wearing studded boots to win the chase and overhaul the would-be escapee.

The incident provokes reminisces from Accies' former sponsorship convenor, press officer and general committee member Magnus Moodie, who was present that day and recalls: "One of the worst aspects for the burglar was being taken back to Raeburn Place where he was held down on the touchline with little other option than to watch our 2nds playing until the police arrival – no doubt brought merciful relief given our form at the time!"

For keen Accies watchers such self-effacement is central to a club ethos that has stood the test of time and makes them one of the most affectionately regarded wherever rugby is played. As another close club associate, Jake Young, who refereed international rugby out Heriot's, but who, from 1966-93 was head of PE at Edinburgh Academy, puts it: "One of the things rugby people associate with Accies is that for all they play seriously they never like to give the impression it matters all that much to them regardless of whether it does – and mostly it does!"

As Young also acknowledges, times change and Accies have been astute at adapting.

Moodie, a Capital solicitor, remembers entering the senior club in 1979 and becoming aware of Accies reputation for – his words – "high jinks".

"There was a tale of how one of our players didn't do his prospects of further representative honours much good when, on the flight home from a tour, he thought it would be a good prank to inflate an emergency life raft on board and use it to push committee members back up the aisle towards the rear of the plane.

"Can you imagine how all hell would break loose, and rightly so, if somebody tried that caper from the immediate post-war era nowadays?" The paradox is that all the while in tandem with such occasional nonsenses down the years, Accies have still turned out more Scotland caps from a home-based club than any other and, when David Callam gained Test recognition in 2006, he became the 105th internationalist from the main feeder school.

Society's attitudes to traditional high jinks may have changed but Accies continued to embrace the social (albeit in relatively modified fashion!) and the serious.

"One of the biggest compliments Accies ever had," says Moodie, "came on a day when our Stewart's-Melville neighbours didn't have a 1st XV game.

"Three of their best players, internationalist Dougie Wyllie and the Scott brothers, Andy and Julian, pitched up at Raeburn Place keen to guest for our 4ths saying 'a visit to the Accies is always a pleasure.' This was around the time, too, when Accies were fielding international players of calibre on a weekly basis: David Sole, John Allan, Rob Wainwright, Dave McIvor and Alex Moore.

Also, Rowen Shepherd was a regular before being capped on joining Melrose and Norrie Rowan, already capped out of Boroughmuir, had a spell at Accies.

"The reason the club had to have a press officer like me was because of the volume of media interest in so many of our players at that time and one who got away was Damian Cronin, the Grand Slam lock from 1990.

"Cronin made clear his intention to join Accies while apparently underestimating the journey back and forward to the hotel he'd bought as a business venture in Dingwall so well known that he was actually bracketed with the club name in an Autumn Test programme at Murrayfield.

"Damian represented the Lions in New Zealand in 1993 but being called an Accies player in an international programme without actually wearing our jersey in anger goes down as his greatest claim to fame in my book," muses Moodie.

So, big names on every corner ... then along came professionalism. Gearing up for that challenge, Accies started the 1996 season by entertaining a Saracens side who travelled north with a squad containing the cap record holders of France and Australia, Philippe Sella and Michael Lynagh. Even with only the last named turning out, Accies went down by a creditable 14-40 but any ambitions on the pro front were soon to disappear.

"Scottish rugby was ambushed by professionalism and didn't know what to do. Out of that certain people then had a vision which proved to be rather flawed in some ways although it was hard to know what course to take because with five teams in North Edinburgh alone parochialism meant paying players out of sponsorship was always going to be difficult," said Moodie.

What happened next was that Accies' evangelical streak for player development took over – most recently manifesting itself in the BATS which is an acronym for an Edinburgh Accies, Broughton and Trinity Accies combined youth side.

Moodie says: "While our fourths recently fielded a second row of Mike Smart and Ronnie McNab whose combined ages totalled 121, youth development has the high priority. The only sustainable course for Scottish rugby is through broadening the player base and one of our richest seams of talent is through an Army connection which has brought the Scottish-born sons of seven Fijian soldiers into our mini-ranks, some of them exceptional prospects.

"With work hopefully starting on our new clubhouse before the end of this year hopefully the future is bright for the next 150 years."

For Jake Young, though, any future success for Accies goes hand-in-hand with the plans of current coach, Ian Barnes, who has been linked with possible retirement.

"Nobody should underestimate the work of Ian in not only developing players but in using contacts to ensure some of the tasks essential to running a rugby club such as organising kit and ensuring balls are inflated but are often taken for granted elsewhere remain filled.

"When it comes to putting the polish on players Barney had a particular success with Chris Gray, who from out of Edinburgh Academy 2nd XV became a Grand Slam lock.

"It was Barney who spotted and cultivated (in a previous stint as club coach) the potential in Chris and in some respects he goes down as the best player I've seen produced at Edinburgh Academy. Not the most naturally talented, Chris got to the top in the end by making the most of the abilities he had.

"The best-ever to enter the Accies ranks in my book? That has to be (current Scotland scrum half and captain) Mike Blair though, funnily enough, it was when he moved up a division at the time to join Boroughmuir that his career really took off after being given free rein by their coach, Sean Lineen, to obey his instincts that were always to have a go."

&#149 TICKETS for Edinburgh Accies v Barbarians (kick off 6pm) are available today via the Edinburgh Rugby ticket hotline: 0131 346 5180. Prices are 10 (adults) and 5 (under-18s). Any remaining tickets will be available to buy tomorrow at the Raeburn Place ground.

The Edinburgh Accies hall of fame

GPS (Phil) McPherson, a threequarter, captained Scotland's first Grand Slam team in 1925.

PROP forward BRIAN NEILL captained Scotland when, in 1964, they drew 0-0 at Murrayfield with New Zealand – one of only two draws achieved in the fixture.

DAVID SOLE became the second Accies Grand Slam captain of Scotland while representing Accies in 1990.

MAC HENDERSON, capped in 1933, celebrated his 100th birthday in 2007 and is Scotland's oldest surviving internationalist.

Renowned as Edinburgh Accies' post war greats are the late flanker DOUGLAS ELLIOT and TOMMY McCLUNG, a centre.

BRITISH Lions include RODGER ARNEIL, a flanker, in 1968 to South Africa.

SCOTT MURRAY, currently Scotland's cap record holder, represented Edinburgh Accies in his early career.

HOOKER JOHN ALLAN played for Scotland in the 1991 World Cup semi-final out of Accies before moving back to South Africa whom he also represented becoming known as the "Jok-bok".

MAGNUS MOODIE, former prop who gained 22 points on a 2007 edition of Mastermind with the specialist subject "The World War Series of Harry Turtledove" names his favourite Accies team comprising of those he has watched and played with as: Simon Burns, Alex Moore, Rowen Shepherd, Jeremy Thomson, Kenny Hill, Jamie Paton, Derrick Patterson, David Sole, John Allan, Barry Stewart, Jeremy Richardson, Andy Adamson, Dave McIvor, Peter Drennan and Peter Thomson.

ACCIES: A CENTURY AND A HALF OF ACHIEVEMENTS

EDINBURGH Academicals Football Club was formed in season 1857-58 making them the oldest rugby club in Scotland and the second oldest in the world behind Blackheath.

THE club's name omits the word "Rugby" as it predates the division between the Association and Rugby codes of football, which took place in the 1860s.

THE first-ever international match took place at Raeburn Place in 1871 when Scotland (one goal and one try) defeated England (one try).

THE first Calcutta Cup in 1879, and the first Women's Rugby World Cup Final in 1994 were also held at the ground. In 2004, Accies played host to eight of the IRB under-21 World Championship's group games.

EDINBURGH Accies have had more players capped for Scotland than any other Scottish-based club.

TOM PHILIP, in 2004, became the 100th player from out of Edinburgh Academy to represent Scotland. The latest is David Callam (2006).

THE highest place achieved by Edinburgh Accies in league rugby is runners-up in Division One.