THE perseverance of a passionate rugby fan in Cumbernauld is paying off in a thriving new community sports hub in the central belt, and now James McLaren is eager to convince the rest of Scottish rugby to sign up to the 3G revolution.
After Six Nations and World Cup qualifying campaigns that showed up Scotland national sides to be off the pace in terms of international skill levels, there is a growing body of opinion that the growth of third generation ‘3G’ pitches – 4G is a misnomer conjured up by firms seeking a commercial advantage – could play a major role in turning around the slide.
The SRU recently revealed tentative plans to replace the grass pitches at Murrayfield and Glasgow’s Scotstoun Stadium with new artificial pitches, either full 3G or a hybrid blend as laid at Twickenham. With 3G pitches now common in global sport, Saracens launched the first Aviva Premiership pitch in January and the Welsh Rugby Union now hoping that a new 3G might put an end to the Millennium Stadium’s pitch problems.
Closer to home, around 12 youth and senior football and rugby clubs signed up last year to invest in a new 3G surface on Gala Fairydean’s main pitch, now used regularly by all levels of football and rugby squads across the Borders, and attracting around 1,000 users weekly. Buoyed by that success, Scottish Borders Council and sportscotland this week announced funding for more in Peebles, Kelso and Jedburgh.
Most SPL clubs train on 3G and Spartans FC runs a busy 3G hub in Edinburgh. While no leading rugby clubs have yet turned to 3G for their main pitch – Edinburgh and Glasgow both use them for training – Broadwood Stadium, current home of Clyde FC, on Sunday hosted its first senior rugby match when Cumbernauld played against EMS Bron from France, as part of the town’s twinning celebrations, watched by SRU officials.
It was the first 15-a-side rugby match played at Broadwood and continued an enduring bond between Cumbernauld and their twin town side EMS Bron. The rugby teams have visited their respective twin towns on alternate years for the past 26 years. “The quality of the pitch made for an entertaining game of hard rugby which resulted in several tries, lots of running rugby and plenty of high-impact tackles. The result saw the French side halt their recent run of losses in the fixture, coming out 29-21 victors,” Cumbernauld Rugby Club’s official website reported.
“This is the way forward for rugby, without a doubt,” said McLaren, cousin of the former Scotland centre with the same name. “A group of people in Croy/Cumbernauld have worked with sportscotland and North Lanarkshire Council on the new ‘Antonine Community Sports Hub’ (the Roman Antonine Wall runs near the new Croy 3G pitch) since 2003, and there was hesitancy at first, with the SRU and some rugby coaches, but now everyone loves it. The sports hub has pulled people and sports together, and provided a huge boost to rugby in this area.”
Cumbernauld’s success story began ten years ago with McLaren, the president of Cumbernauld RFC, working with Croy Community Council, late councillors Francis Griffin and James Hunt, John McColl and George Houston, chairman of Holy Cross Primary School at Croy, in pulling the sporting community together to back a new facility.
It grew from a £250,000 grant from Aggregate Industries through hard work across the community to a near-£1million pot, including nearly £500,000 from sportscotland. A 3G pitch, fully IRB and Fifa-approved, opened last February, supported by a changing-room block with meeting room/learning space above. Financial support also came from the Waste Recycling Environment Network (Wren) and the Kelvin Valley LEADER Programme Rural Priorities Fund.
The initial cost of a 3G can vary from £600,000 to £1m, but maintenance costs are less than grass and, while the carpet needs replaced within ten years, the bulk of the costs of a new pitch are in the foundations; the carpet itself can cost less than £100,000.
With the Croy facility built, a key figure in bringing rugby to it was Graham Calder, the former scrum-half at Currie, Stirling and Dalziel, and then a PE teacher at St Maurice’s High School, who travelled around the region converting youngsters to rugby with coaching and involvement in the Scottish Schools Cup. He has since moved on to Coatbridge High, but has left a strong foundation of around 150 youngsters playing rugby at St Maurice’s (now an official ‘School of Rugby’), Abronhill – the school made famous by the film Gregory’s Girl – Our Lady’s High School and Cumbernauld High. There are plans to help Kilsyth Academy with travel costs to bring another 20 or so teenagers to an after-school club at Croy.
On Wednesdays, the youngsters are coached from 4-5pm by teachers at the Croy 3G, then head inside for an hour’s homework club and return to the 3G at 6pm for a coaching session with Cumbernauld RFC’s youth coaches. It has proven such a success with pupils and parents that, backed by North Lanarkshire Council’s Learning and Leisure Services, that the plan is to roll it out to Tuesdays and Thursdays in the next school year, and involve more local schools.
With the SFA and both North Lanarkshire Council and Leisure Trust developing nearby Broadwood Stadium, the sports centre and 6,000-plus all-seater stadium with a 3G pitch, plus plans for a top standard BMX race track, Cumbernauld now has one of the most impressive community sports hubs in the country.
“It is fantastic to see the buzz that exists around here now,” said McLaren. “I’ve travelled across Europe and the southern hemisphere watching rugby, and, with [cousin] James playing in France, I saw a lot of how they develop players there. I am convinced that the development of 3G hubs like this, involving a variety of sports [athletics is also involved at Croy], is the key for us to improve our game again.
“There are still dinosaurs in rugby coaching who would rather have games called off on their grass pitches than play on the 3G, because they’re just old-fashioned, dogmatic or whatever, but they will also moan about the lack of ability in our players and the gap between us and the top nations.
“I’ve heard the arguments about players having sore legs – that’s because of the quicker game you play on 3G, not the surface – or not being allowed long studs, which is ironic, because Fifa don’t limit stud length while the IRB do.
“Saracens players have raved about it down south, the Millennium Stadium is bringing 3G into the Six Nations and most professional clubs across the UK train on them now. It’s great that the SRU are catching up because we need it to attract youngsters to rugby and create better skilled players to compete at professional and international level, and it’s the same in football so we really need the SRU and SFA to work on a joint strategy for 3G development.”
One of Croy’s sporting legends was Celtic and Scotland striker Jimmy Quinn, more than 100 years ago, but, with young rugby player Ruaridh Limbert recently selected for the Glasgow pathway system, there are signs that the mining village may soon have more sporting heroes to acclaim.