Despite Glasgow University Rugby Football Club disbanding in 2008, they have recovered to thrive on and off the pitch
Over the last number of years, the story of Glasgow University Rugby Football Club has been one of significant success. Founded in 1869, the organisation predates Glasgow University Sport Association, GUSA, itself, and has fielded 13 full internationals over the course of its 147 year history. A series of unfortunate off-field incidents resulted in the disbanding of the club in 2008 but after a successful fight to secure its long-term future, the GURFC was officially reinstated in 2009 and has since undergone a revival.
Following reinstatement, the 1st XV were forced to start again from the bottom of the Scottish BUCS system. Undeterred, the side gained three emphatic promotions to find themselves back in Scottish BUCS 1A. After a re-jig of BUCS leagues over the summer, traditional rivals Edinburgh and Strathclyde have moved up into Division North B, along with St. Andrews and four English universities. As a result of these changes, the 1A title is more of a target than ever before.
Captain and Mechanical Engineering student Jonathan Spence, feels that the 1st XV’s progress over the last number of seasons can be attributed to higher standards within the squad, aided by the appointment of a dedicated and highly qualified coach in the Scottish Rugby Union’s James Wade, who has helped significantly with team structure and attitude. This improvement in organisation and quality has been evident on the pitch this semester, with the 1st XV recording bonus point victories over Edinburgh Napier (twice), Dundee and Heriot Watt, scoring 234 points in the process. The only sour point to date, was a narrow 32-25 defeat at Aberdeen, in a particularly physical affair.
When questioned on the ultimate aims of the season, Spence was matter-of-fact: “Our side’s goals are simple, we want to win the league and also win the Glasgow Cup. We have been presented with a massive opportunity this year; to top the table and progress into the national league.” With a core of experienced players and an injection of talented freshers, the squad certainly have all the ability necessary to achieve these goals. The inaugural Glasgow derby with Strathclyde in mid-September attracted over 600 spectators and a victory in the coveted Glasgow Cup, against the same opposition, in March would be a suitable reward for the squad’s endeavours.
Importantly, it is not just one team but the club as a whole that has flourished in recent times. Membership has grown significantly, from around 25 in 2009 to 130 as of September this year. Impressively, three teams represent the University every Wednesday in BUCS competitions and a 4th XV competes regularly in intra-mural fixtures with the Vet, Medic and Dentistry faculties. To fulfil such a congested fixture list, while achieving results of a high standard, the professionalism of the 1st XV has filtered down to all squads and training regimes sit in stark contrast to that of previous years. Pitch sessions for all members on Monday and Friday evenings are led by some of the highest quality coaches available in the Glasgow area, and are supplemented by two weight sessions per week for a select performance squad, allowing skills and conditioning to be constantly honed.
Still often unfairly tarnished as a result of the indiscretions of previous members, the club has moved forwards off the pitch as well as on it with a thriving social scene. While many Wednesday nights feature traditional socials that have been a part of the club since its founding days, the committee has diversified in an attempt to keep the social calendar fresh. Mid-October saw the inaugural GURFC Darts Night held in partnership with the charity, ENABLE, which was founded in 1954 by a parents’ organisation, to ensure that people who have learning disabilities have the same choices and opportunities in life as everyone else. An increased amount of joint socials with other university societies shows that the rugby club is not as parochial as is often imagined. With so many personalities to cater for, it can only speak of excellent organisation that a balance is now being found between performing on a Wednesday afternoon and celebrating in the evening.
Fourth year English student Matt Horsman has gone full cycle within the club, from enthusiastic fresher to chairman for 2016/17. When asked to explain the club’s recent surge in popularity, Matt reiterated the attraction of an improved standard of rugby and the extensive social scene, but ventured further to address the inclusiveness of the GURFC: “We don’t have rules or stipulations on who plays at our club. If you’re keen to play rugby, and willing to join, then we want you involved. We have everyone from absolute beginners to Scotland age grade players here.”
A welcoming atmosphere is imperative for any successful University sports organisation and the benefits of participation are numerous. Joining such a large club is an excellent way of meeting like-minded people and, for Horsman and the majority of current members, there is little doubt that the closest friendships that they have formed at university were struck on the pitch at Garscube, rather than in and around campus.
The GURFC has expanded and improved beyond recognition in recent seasons, and as a result, the future looks bright. The next few months are crucial on the pitch, as all three BUCS squads look to press on in their respective competitions, with the 1st XV, in particular, striving for league success. Off the field, the committee continues to work hard to satisfy the growing membership and to showcase the considerable qualities of the club to the wider University community.