One last hurrah at Hughenden

THE famous old pitch at Hughenden will breathe an emotional last this afternoon as Hillhead/Jordanhill FPs entertain Aberdeen GS FPs in their final league match before the builders move in.

A pitch with a distinguished pedigree, Hughenden has hosted many touring sides from the All Blacks, Australia and a star-studded French XV to Fiji and Tonga. Hundreds of Scottish internationalists have graced the field in inter-city and district matches as well as global talents like Bryan Habana, the recent player of the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

Today, a clutch of Hillhead High School FPs from the golden 1950s period, when the team rose up the senior ranks in Scottish club rugby and Alan Cameron and Ian MacGregor represented Scotland, will have a reunion dinner, while Jordanhill FPs, merged with Hillhead in 1988, will also host a dinner to mark the end of the main pitch.

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Hughenden, itself, will remain as a sports ground and the rugby club remains one of the biggest in Scotland, but the mounting debts of Hillhead Sports Club, now over 100 years old, have forced the sale of land along the stand side of the ground for the building of flats on a third of the pitch.

A new all-weather hockey pitch is to be installed where rugby is played this afternoon, which will allow Hillhead's men's and women's teams to return to Hughenden, and two new rugby pitches will be created adjacent to the clubhouse as part of the refurbishment. It will not help answer the SRU's long search for a suitable venue for the professional team, but will, hopefully, breathe new life into a number of sports in the west end of the city.

Hillhead/Jordanhill's president Michael Paterson said: "We are only one sport at Hughenden and it should become a better sports venue in the long-term, but there is a real sadness about this weekend and losing the pitch that has meant so much to rugby people in the west coast particularly.

"Hughenden was opened on 24 May, 1924, after the ground was purchased by a war memorial committee, and many sports flourished here, but it went on to become a major part of rugby in Glasgow. It's a bit emotional for me too because my father Hugh was a Hillhead FP wing-forward, and my son David is playing centre this weekend – I was the odd one out because I went to Jordanhill.

"It remains a great club with four senior men's teams, women's teams and a thriving junior section, so rugby will be at Hughenden for many years to come, but I think this weekend we'll see quite a bit of reflection and perhaps some sentimentality as well."

Shade Munro, the current Glasgow forwards coach, played at Hughenden many times, as did his father, also Shade, and grandfather John Bannerman, one of Scotland's greatest-ever players. He admitted: "It is really sad that they have had to sell off land at Hughenden to keep the sports club going.

"That pitch is a big part of rugby in Glasgow – it's the spiritual home of Glasgow rugby in my opinion. Hughenden has hosted fantastic matches, seen some great players and with Glasgow in recent times it really brought people from all over the west coast to rugby. There was a lot of disappointment in some respects when the pro team left Hughenden. It will definitely be sad to see that famous old pitch go."

Hughenden really began to develop as Glasgow's rugby home from 1958 when the inter-city matches with Edinburgh shifted there from Anniesland, and over the past four decades it has hosted terrific district matches with their capital rivals, the North and Midlands and the South.

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The special moments which will live long in the memories of those who were there came in November 1979 when New Zealand won a tight match 12-6 at Hughenden, December 1984 when a great Australia team claimed a 20-12 win over Glasgow and in October 1989, when Glasgow defeated the Fijians at Hughenden. The Tongans were also defeated there in 1974, 33-16, while a classy French XV beat Glasgow convincingly 36-9 in 1987. That is less memorable perhaps.

Hughenden has also provided a platform for burgeoning world stars. In 2004, it played host to the IRB Under-21 World Cup pool match between New Zealand and South Africa, featuring a clutch of stars from the recent World Cup, including Habana and Luke McAlister, the current All Black, and the final itself where New Zealand beat an Irish team featuring Jamie Heaslip and Andrew Trimble.

Hillhead and Jordanhill have also produced their own internationalists, Ian McLauchlan the biggest name from the latter and the likes of Jimmy Cotter and 'Copey' Murdoch a famous stand-off/full-back duo from Hillhead in the 1930s. The late Rev James Logan Cotter, to give Jimmy his full title, is believed to have been the only ordained minister to play for Scotland, and he was also the grandfather of current BBC commentator Andrew. Allan Hosie, the former international referee and SRU president, came from Hillhead and the most recent addition to the Hughenden 'Hall of Fame' is Dougie Hall, the Glasgow and Scotland hooker.

There is sadness in Glasgow at the loss of a great rugby pitch, even if it has had difficulties in retaining a high-quality surface, and concern at the inability to make the Hughenden sports fields a more profitable part of the city's sporting community. There have been calls for the SRU to step in and help fund development of the ground into a modern professional home, which would have helped the Warriors' nomadic existence of the past decade, but the union was at various times either unwilling or unable to find the finance to do so.

A dispute over rent owed led the SRU to move Glasgow out of Hughenden over a year ago, to nearby Firhill, and the sports club then looked to developers for help with the debts. The appearance of new flats down Hughenden Road will later this year attest to the success of that move, and the positive new bid to reinvigorate Hillhead Sports Club, but it will also mean a tangible part of Glasgow rugby's history disappears.