Annan RFC have a few notable achievements to their name, ranging from holding the national record of seven straight divisional championships and promotions to being the first Scottish rugby club to launch a website. However, being named as BT Club of the Season at the weekend’s Scottish Rugby Awards has been hailed as the greatest moment in their history.
The Dumfriesshire outfit were recognised at the BT Murrayfield dinner following a season in which they won the BT West Division 2 title and continued to make huge strides in growing their youth and women’s sections.
Honorary president Alan Robertson, who joined the club when he moved to the town for work in 1975 and went on to spend 16 years as president, said: “There have been a lot of proud moments – our league titles and winning the Bowl at Murrayfield in 2003 – but this is more than the first XV winning games and trophies, it’s about the whole club and to be given this prestigious award is just awesome.”
It was double delight for Annan as the club’s vice-president Gary Coupland was named Youth Coach of the Year and that goes a long way to telling the story of how the club received the overall award. Coupland has already scooped Children’s Coach of the Year at both the Sport Scotland and UK coaching awards for his sterling efforts in building up the club’s youth grades – trebling the mini section and increasing participation by 600 per cent across all areas. Annan also have a thriving women’s section and a number of female members on the committee.
“The club is just buzzing at the moment,” said Robertson. “I went up to our Violetbank ground one evening and, as well as the first and second teams, there were youths, women and girls training and it was a fantastic sight. And everyone is playing rugby with a smile on their face.
“A lot of clubs struggle to put out second XVs these days but we have around 25 to 28 players below our first team and that’s great for competition.”
It was 1991 when Annan left the junior Border District set-up to embark on an epic run up the national league system, starting in Glasgow District League Division 2 and winning those seven straight titles.
After winning the Bowl in 2003 they moved up, through league reconstruction, to their high watermark, playing in what was then Premier Three. The combination of a demoralising first-ever relegation and a number of stalwart players coming to the end of their careers led to a bit of a dip in the club’s fortunes. Like many they realised that you could no longer sit back and wait for youngsters to flow into the club and became more proactive in getting them involved.
It was during these years that Annan unearthed their greatest ever find when Alex Dunbar, who hails from nearby Johnstonebridge, started his rugby life in an amber and black jersey.
The prodigious Dunbar moved on to Selkirk, who have benefited from a number of Annan products over the years, including Scotland B cap Shaun McGauchie, former Scotland Under-19 captain Sean Buckley and Paul Minto, who captained the Philiphaugh side in the late 1990s. Dunbar, of course, went on to win a professional contract with Glasgow and has 16 Scotland caps so far.
Robertson hopes that more future internationalists could be produced from Annan’s burgeoning development programme and added: “The increase in the women’s and girls’ teams has added a huge amount to the club. We had a women’s team a number of years ago but there was nothing in place underneath so when girls went off to university and such like it fizzled out.
“Now we have girls’ teams from under-12 up and when I went to see our under-15s win the Bowl this season I was astounded by the high quality.”