Community spirit behind Glasgow East success story

RUGBY in the east end of Glasgow will celebrate a significant five-year milestone this weekend when one of Scotland's newest clubs stages its "Festival of Rugby" in Baillieston.

It is significant not only because the growth of the youth club has taken the sport into a predominantly football and Celtic FC part of Scotland's largest city, and taken root, but through the fact that its development holds much promise for the future of the Glasgow pro team and Scottish rugby as a whole.

The work of club founder Peter McEwan and husband-and-wife team Martin and Carol Thompson with Glasgow East RFC has certainly smashed the frequently-claimed image of rugby being an elitist sport in the west. McEwan started the club in 2006 and, when the Thompsons moved to the east end from the more rugby- acquainted Bearsden neck of the woods, it began to take off.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The club now runs teams for P1-3, P4s, P5s, P6s, P7s and U14s, boys and girls, with 15 coaches and another five adults currently going through their coaching and first aid courses.

Carol, a midwife in Wishaw and former trampolining coach, told The Scotsman: "My husband and I brought our son down to the club and quickly found ourselves heavily involved with it, and we now have a committee of five. It's almost a full-time job, but it's a labour of love really. There was no regular rugby around here at all for the kids but we know there are lots of kids who, once they try rugby, love it and find it's a better game for them than football.

"It's tough around here for a lot of people, so we work on finding sponsorship and help from parents so that the children don't have to pay. It's a 'free' club. Just bring some trainers or boots and you'll get to play. The mortality rate in Shettleston and the east end is far higher than anywhere else in Scotland, so if we an offer a free sport to run about in and be healthy well we think that's a real goal."

So do others. Glasgow East was voted Club of the Year by Glasgow Sports Council in 2010, and given a runners-up prize by Royal Bank of Scotland in their Rugbyforce programme, a competition run throughout the Six Nations across all of the UK, where clubs win money to help with a special RugbyForce weekend to refurbish their clubrooms.

The club is based at Barrachnie Park in Baillieston and the committee and parents have been busy renovating the old disused Shettleston Harriers building after being given a lease two months ago. They have so far re-wired, painted, tiled and heated the clubrooms, mostly thanks to volunteers, including many dads such as Dave MacDonald from MacD Electricals.

But, with the award of 1250 from RBS, the club is calling on all in the area to come along on the RugbyForce weekend, 11-12 June, to help take the refurbishment onto a bright new level.

Prior to that, however, Glasgow's Lord Provost will be at Barrachnie Park this Sunday for the BIG Festival of Rugby (12-4pm), where 12 teams will be competing for trophies provided by the Glasgow Fort Shopping Centre.

Martin Thompson has been busy securing funds and sponsorship. Highland Spring are sponsoring this weekend's festival, sports shop Decathlon have donated equipment, bags, cones, first-aid kit, bibs etc, and helped with printing on strips, while car dealers Kerr and Smith have agreed to become Glasgow East's main sponsor. The club will have a host of entertainment to keep all the family enthused on Sunday while the rugby is on, including pipe bands, bouncy castles, gladiators, a mountain climbing wall, face painting and more.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"For us, this is what it's all about for us," continued Carol. "Community spirit. We had 20 children in the club a few years ago and now we are up to 150 children playing regularly. Glasgow Warriors have also played their part with free tickets to games at Firhill while Darren Sinclair from Easterhouse was a Scotland team mascot at Murrayfield in only his second week down at the club, and is hooked on rugby now.

"We've had kids as mascots at Warriors and Scotland Under-21 games, and things like that help to keep the kids and parents interested and motivated. We've also been encouraging parents to get involved in coaching and put their names down for the courses, and we had 15 at the SRU's recent 'speed and agility' course. We get them disclosed and they do Rugby Ready courses - we have six child protection officers covering all age groups now - so that side of the club is developing, too."

Those behind the success of the new club are many and so are the benefits. The club is benefitting from the Scottish Government's Cashback for Communities scheme as it filters money through the Scottish Rugby Union and its development officers. One, Stuart Rose, has been a huge influence on the club and, while he is off to Canada, Ross Aitken is hoping to continue the good work. The club is also working with Active Schools co-ordinators and local schoolteachers to extend curricular and extra-curricular rugby coaching, now moving six-week blocks introducing rugby into high schools in areas such as Bailieston, Tollcross, Cranhill, Easterhouse, Dennistoun and Parkhead.

SRU Director of Communications Dominic McKay said: "Thanks to partnerships with local rugby clubs, local authorities and the dedication of volunteers, the number of people playing rugby is growing at an impressive rate, year on year.

"Growing the game is crucial to the health of Scottish rugby and we're delighted with the success of Glasgow East RFC and look forward to supporting their efforts in the seasons ahead."

In short, Glasgow East is an inspiration in a sport where struggles are plentiful.