Rugby following in football's footsteps

NOTHING should be surprising about rugby in the bold, new, professional era unless it is the fact that most happenings are predictable to students of sport with a knowledge of the genesis of... Scottish football.

Don’t take my word for it. Just ask John Mackay, an old friend who has once again proved a rock for yours truly in turbulent sporting times through his background as a Hibs historian and former treasurer of Boroughmuir rugby club during a seven-year stint controlling purse strings at Meggetland.

It was this week’s revelation that Royal High had got hitched to Corstorphine (or vice versa?) that necessitated a call to John to put it all in perspective in his capacity as someone with a foot on two sides of a sporting divide.

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After all, as the Chinese proverb says: ‘Wise men learn from history; fools learn from experience.’

Would my learned acquaintance, whose three books are entitled ‘The Hibees’, ‘Hibernian: the Complete Story’ and ‘Hibernian: the Easter Road Story’, tell me this is the beginning of the end for rugby, the start of a long, slippery slope which ultimately leads to the deflating of the oval ball - for good?

Or is rugby merely adapting to changing times the way football did as an older professional sporting brother by approximately a century?

"Of course rugby will survive, just as football did through similar times," was John’s reassuring message before once again guiding me on a magical tour of how the development of the two footballing codes can sometimes take a breathtakingly similar route.

So what about amalgamations. Are they good or bad?

According to Mackay, what rugby is witnessing now is perhaps more accentuated by the fact that mergers of the type that has just occurred are rare in Edinburgh with one exception being the coming together of Stewart’s FP and Melville College FP which was connected with a marriage of established schools in the Capital.

"In Glasgow there were nine or ten leading rugby clubs not so long ago but these have been whittled down by mergers because Glasgow is not so much of a rugby city as Edinburgh," he points out.

"Therefore, the tradition of the Capital makes a merger which will lead to a name perhaps disappearing more of a shock but nonetheless a situation in keeping with the times because there are two many clubs to be at the top of a pro game.

"Really it is all part of a jockeying for position near the forefront of the game, reflecting the desire of the participants to remain central players and that is something that happened in football.

"The best examples involved teams like Moss End Swifts and Lassodie.

"Moss End Swifts were a real force in the 1880s and despite coming from the village of West Calder they defeated Hibs the year after the Easter Road side were crowned Scottish champions and took the world title off Preston North End. As for Lassodie they came from a village in Fife and were nevertheless able to compete - until time caught up with them as well.

"Basically what is happening today in rugby is a variation of the football experience because prototype professional football clubs found they had to amalgamate to exist.

"Here, other examples include the link-up of East End and Our Boys to form Dundee in 1912 and the coming together of Aberdeen, Victoria and Orion to form the Dons in 1903. In all instances, because of the changing market place, clubs found they had to adapt or die with the country sides the most vulnerable.

"It is all a matter of scale and the current football equivalent is the polarisation which sees the Old Firm draw around ten times as many fans as the rest of the league.

"In Scottish rugby today it is unrealistic to expect to have 110 or so clubs all competing so there will be further polarisation and I can see the benefits of Corstorphine and Royal High combining to create a more viable club drawing on a decent-sized population base in West Edinburgh.

"Whether it goes further remains to be seen but if a semi-pro Scottish League happened to take the place of the so-called super teams then it is realistic to expect bigger named outfits to come together because there isn’t room for all of them.

"There would need to be link-ups involving, for example, Boroughmuir and Watsonians, or Edinburgh Acads and Heriot’s FP to sustain a semi-pro game - not that I am necessarily advocating going down that road."

My own view is that Scottish rugby’s destiny of a semi-pro league of teams made up of further amalgamations could soon be examined in greater depth than ever before.

An integrated league featuring existing club players and pros not required for the international season early in the New Year will soon kick off and if it proves popular then who knows where that may lead?

What’s certain is that in any shake-up the new Royal High-Corstorphine outfit intend to be playing a prominent role, by taking what they obviously see as a pro-active approach.