Underdog tag spurred on our Glasgow title team, says Derek Stark

GLASGOW celebrating silverware at this time of the year is not unusual, and the pro team begin their quest to claim the 1872 Cup tomorrow almost exactly 20 years since one of the finest moments in west coast rugby.

The Scottish Inter-District Championship provided a great focus for rugby supporters across the country as Christmas approached and was also watched intently by the national coaches as it threw up early trials before the Five Nations squad was to be selected. In 1989, Gavin Hastings was playing full-back for an 'Anglo-Scots' team that included Chris Gary and Damian Cronin, Paul Burnell and Derek White.

The South boasted Craig Chalmers, Gary Armstrong, Tony Stanger, Iwan Tukalo while John Jeffrey; Scott Hastings, Sean Lineen, David Sole and Kenny Milne were at the heart of Edinburgh's strength, and with the capital having won the previous three titles the expectations were that they and the South would contest the 1989-90 affair.

The North and Midlands and Glasgow were not viewed as serious contenders, Glasgow having won the championship outright only twice before, in 1955-56 and 1973-74 and the North and Midlands only shared the title thrice, the last in the 1970s.

However, Derek Stark, a 23-year- old uncapped winger then, remembers how there was a terrific underdog spirit in the Glasgow camp which was gripped by skipper Fergus Wallace and had, in Richie Dixon and David Johnston, the then Stirling coaches, two great minds at the coaching helm.

"When you think back they were clear reasons why we did well, and Fergus particularly sticks out in my mind as a memory from that year," Stark recalled this week. "It was incredible that he never got capped and there is no doubt that had he been playing for the South or Edinburgh he would have been.

"But he was a real driving force in that success and big stand-out in the championship. There were not many capped guys in the squad at all – Matt Duncan started but got injured after the first game – but the guys came together very well. We were always considered the underdogs and so we were probably well used to that, but there was a real spirit that year as the game went on and the last game against the exiles was a great example – the Glasgow underdogs against the glamour boys from England."

In their opening match against Edinburgh at New Anniesland, Glasgow led heading into the last few minutes with Kevin McKenzie, who would go on to play for Scotland, and current West coach George Breckenridge among the scorers, but a late drop-goal from Pete Steven grabbed Edinburgh a 19-19 draw.

Again, Glasgow scored 19 points against North and Midlands in a match played at Hawkhill, home to Leith Accies, after Murrayfield was snowbound, but kept their opponents to just ten, and when they claimed the scalp of the South with Ayr pair Stark and Phil Manning scoring tries for the second game in succession, in a fine 22-10 victory at the Greenyards, there was unprecedented interest in the final match at Burnbrae against the much-fancied Anglo Scots, who had won all three of their games.

Just as the opening match ended with a dramatic last-minute kick, so did this, only it was the boot of a Glaswegian, Dave Barrett, who struck the crucial points, a penalty that took his championship tally to 50 and sealed an 18-15 win and the district championship outright for the first time in 26 years. Glasgow used just 19 players in that championship run, Barrett, Stark, Ian Jardine, half-backs Breckenridge and Ewan McCorkindale, the Stirling County front row of George Graham, McKenzie and Brian Robertson, GHK lock Alan Watt and the back row of David McVey, Fergus Wallace and Derek Busby playing in all five games.

Many of those Glasgow players went on to win caps, but Graham had to wait eight years, returning from rugby league to make his Scotland debut at the age of 31. He went on to coach Scotland, with Frank Hadden, and is now enjoying a good run as coach at Gala in Scottish Hydro Premier Two.

Graham said: "I can still remember that last game at Burnbrae coming up against Cronin, Gray, Hastings, and going into that knowing it was a massive game. My wife Jeanette was heavily pregnant with our first child at the time, and I also remember the late great Ken Crichton – who was the real mastermind behind Stirling County as the club built towards the Division One championship – taking the Stirling boys through to Glasgow in his car and then us stopping off at Gargunnock for a few drinks to celebrate on the way home. That was amateur rugby wasn't it?

"It has been interesting being in the Borders and listening to people getting the South up and running again. It brings back great memories of that time. I think the South revival is the best thing that has happened to Scottish rugby for a long time and I hope it leads to the championship coming back.

"It would mean the same to the current club boys as it did to us then, even though the internationalists are not involved now, and would be a fantastic advertisement for club rugby. I think a lot of people would be delighted to see Glasgow, the North and Midlands, Edinburgh and the Exiles playing each other again."

Glasgow Inter-District Championship-winning squad 1989-90: Dave Barrett, Matt Duncan, Dave McKee (West of Scotland), Ian Jardine, George Graham, Kevin McKenzie, Brian Robertson, Stewart Hamilton (all Stirling County), Derek Stark, Phil Manning, David McVey (Ayr), George Breckenridge, Ewan McCorkindale, Alan Watt, Shade Munro, Fergus Wallace, Derek Busby (all GHK), Stewart McAslan (Glasgow Accies), David Jackson (Hillhead/Jordanhill).

Coaches: Richie Dixon and David Johnston. Team manager: Allan Hosie.