Chapter Three

HISTORY OF DUNBAR RUGBY FOOTBALL AND SPORTS CLUB

Chapter Three


In more recent years the Club has also officially taken a more extrovert approach to town life. In such events as the Dunbar Civic Week, stalwarts of the Club with suitable female accompaniment have added to the pageantry by illustrating themes on decorated floats such as Battle of Dunbar, Rugby B.C. and Keep Britain Tidy. The least likely as an idea to tackle for a Rugby Club might seem to be “White Horse Inn,” but this was the most popular of the themes because to maintain realism a barrel of beer was provided for those on the back of the lorry; which lorry and its hospitality came, as so much has done for the Club over the year, from Belhaven.

Only on the week of writing this, the Club has staged the “biggest bonfire “ever held at Dunbar for local children with hot dogs and other stalls in aid of charity. So can the Club foster local goodwill and counter any possible accusation of a slightly philistinic approach to all matters.

To get back however to where we were, it must be recorded that Joe Miller and Manuel Gibbs having in turn handed over the Secretary¬ship of the Club ”to promote their domestic bliss ” (another quote) returned later in turn to take spells as Treasurer. The trouble with the Treasurership seems to be that if, as seems natural, a young banker is prevailed upon to take it on, and that is almost at once the signal for his moving to another area. Peter McFarlane, Walter Naismith and W. Campbell are examples of this procedure and the recent retiral of the long serving Jas. Brown (distinguished as the Club’s fastest touch judge ever) is another case. Alastair Stewart is current incumbent. Other items revealed in the early Minutes include 1948 ” owing to the very flush state of Club funds it was proposed by A. D. Hunter and seconded by A. Stewart that the charge for the Club Dinner be met out of Club funds. There were no dissenters.” This should amuse older members who have been more or less press-ganged ever since by the two gentlemen concerned into attending what has been known as the “Old Lags Dinner Dance.” This annual event seems to have been expressly designed to use what at best is cajolery and at worst is fraud or blackmail to extract the maximum of money (by gifts and their subsequent auction at prices that even in 1999 will seem extortionate) from players of yesteryear-so ever since they’ve been mulcted to boost the never again admittedly flush Club funds. A Club Dinner is now only held every two years when Skerries come and it may be that the joint Dance for all sections of the Club on the occasion of the Jubilee will give some new ideas for an annual celebration. It must, however, be said that the Dinner Dance aforesaid, so long run by Sandy Hunter and Allan Stewart, has provided older players with a good opportunity to meet each other and to remember that Dunbar Club still exists; as well it has removed the cash from their pockets at precisely their weakest moments.

To get back to 1949, the Treasurer’s report sadly states at the next meeting that the funds had dwindled down to a credit balance of £1. 6. 0. This adverse state was ” principally accounted for by Annual Dinner £10. 14. 6. Transport to 7’s £3. 10. 0. Transport to away game £12. 10. 0. Rent and upkeep of ground £17. 3. 2d and team photo¬graphs £11. 5. 0.” That was one of the years that Dunbar won the Junior 7’s and since the transport consisted of a Rolls Royce Taxi on two even¬ings, the cost thereof does not seem excessive. Anyway the results appear to have justified the means; and it was decided to make mem¬bers who received photographs pay for them.

By 1949 the Minutes record efforts to arrange an Irish Trip and Flannel Dances being held (Tickets 5/-) to help to finance the venture. Even then overdue subscriptions were a perennial feature of the record.

A Club tie-green with a single silhouette of Dunbar Castle on it -was brought into being about 1950 and this was soon succeeded by a green tie with white diagonal stripes and several white castles; special ties have been designed since including the attractive Goat and Castle one provided to mark the 21st game between Skerries and Dunbar in 1973, but the current Club tie of blue background with its narrow white, red and green band and castles as before is so suitably distinctive and appropriate for all occasions that it has so far survived on merit.
As far as strips are concerned, from the beginning the striped green jersey was mandatory but otherwise stockings and shorts were of Jacob’s motliness. About 20 years ago some semblance of uniformity with navy blue shorts and green and white stockings was more or less achieved. But one day the colour-conscious and generally conservative Jimmy Purves-present Club Captain and oldest players still not strengthening the lower echelons-decided to brighten the scene at North Berwick by wearing white shorts and encasing his shins in scarlet. History doesn’t record whether Jimmie that day was even more dazzling in his running than usual, but his one-man fashion show took a trick with the spectators and a new era from waist downwards began.

In 1952 North Berwick Club was founded and this obviously had an effect since before that time 13 Dunbar players came regularly from that district. The third XV was then discontinued for a time, to be restarted in 1964 under the tutelage of Alastair Laing, another of the post-war generation who has kept up his support.

In 1953 Joe Miller presented a handsome tankard to be awarded annually to the winners of the Club Sevens, a competition run within the Club between sevens chosen at random; this has proved increasingly popular over the years as giving all Club members an opportunity to try their fumbling hands and weary legs at the Sevens version in what might be called the relative privacy of Club quarters. All attempts so far to introduce an open Sevens Competition at Dunbar have foundered on the rock that the Joe Miller Trophy day is inviolable, those who, probably rightly, push the idea of Dunbar-now suitably Club-housed – inviting other Clubs to a contest at home recognise that an alternative date must be found, not a substituting one.

Plans to erect a so-called grandstand beside the pitch at aptly named Winterfield began early and came to fruition about 1956-though the erection with its back to the prevailing West wind had to be removed by Town Council edict during the summer. In 1958 the helpful Council staff did not wait for the R.F.C. men to put it up-they replaced it them¬selves for the season. That was the year of the Great Gale and the “Grandstand” corpse lay thereafter at the Craig-en-Gelt door. A long period of difficulty arose-the Council said that the Club had plenty time between October and January to see that fixtures were secure-the Club said its difficult was to tell from above whether a stob is driven in 1 ft. or 3 ft. eventually and later the present structure was erected without the condition of seasonal removal.

Outstanding features of the fifties include the long service given as Captain of 2nd XV by Willie Main-year after year he seems to have been willingly or unwillingly driven back into that harness. Another is recorded in 1958 when Terry Stewart was congratulated on being “the third of three famous (or infamous) brothers to Captain the Club.” In 1959 too Tommy and Mrs. Craig left Craig-en-Gelt to general Borrow¬ings and although successors served the Club well, no member would gainsay the special treatment and understanding it received at the hands of the Craigs.

By this time the Club had an active social committee; it organised winter and summer, functions and money raising activities; so that, in spite of a decision to subsidise new jerseys to the tune of 15/- each (to ” improve the scruffy turnout “), by 1961 Club Funds stood at £431. 5.8.

To diverge from official records for a moment, during this period a popular rendezvous for Club members after games was the Imperial Hotel, North Berwick, where mine host, Sidney Gibson, tolerated the Club so kindly at probably little profit to himself. Many Club members there visited the Saturday dances in the Pavilion at North Berwick for their idea of an enjoyable evening. About this time the plan was instigated to form a Ladies’ Rugby Club in Edinburgh to be known as the Amazons, and whether there is any connection between the Pavilion escapades mentioned and the fact that Dunbar’s immediate challenge to the Amazon Club when formed resulted in a provisional fixture is not recorded. In any event, the S.R.U. disapproved of the idea for what are no doubt good reasons; and the ultimate fixture; a soccer game that resulted did not apparently raise much enthusiasm or hot blood.

None can say that there are not elements of foresight in the leader¬ship the Club has enjoyed. In 1961 it is reported that the Chairman mentioned the Club’s forthcoming Jubilee celebrations and “it was agreed that the redoubtable Manuel L. Gibbs should produce a book of fact and fiction relating to the Club’s history which, it was generally agreed, would without doubt become a best seller.” Sadly, ten years have passed since M.L.G.’s demise but material collected by him has been utilised in the early part of this booklet and the present scribe feels that since Manuel is no longer here to fulfil his assignment, the racy style and candid comment of Sandy Hunter as shown (some¬times unrepeatably) in the Minutes indicate that he should really have been chosen as substitute Club-chronicler.

In 1965 is recorded a congratulatory note on Mr. Rupert Chalmers Watson being awarded the O.B.E. by Her Majesty Though even the most fervent supporter of D.R.F.C. could not pretend that this honour was based on long service to the Club, it reinforced realization of the Club’s good fortune in receiving so freely so much time and energy from some¬one so highly regarded in other spheres. It was not to be forgotten that the Prime Minister and Club members both had special and similar arrangements for turkeys provided at Christmas time.
Another item about that time refers to complaints about blank fixture dates: J. Urquhart Campbell, Fixture Secretary, “gave a bril¬liant explanation as to why such dates occurred, after which only a few quizzical eyebrows remained upturned in the audience.”
We are now coming near enough the present for memories to reach and for simple extraction to become a little too close dated not to be dangerous; perhaps the Minute Book should be laid aside where it shows Club Treasurer Jas. F. Brown reporting a loss for 1968 of £24, the President appealing to members to stump up their subs., and problems of caravans being on the pitch at the beginning of the season -not so very far away from the present worries in fact.
But the history of the Club is really one of problems solved and progress made. One of the most important events in this connection was in 1971 when a Ladies’ Section was formed under the Presidency of Mrs. Bald. Already their Club’s only Honorary Life Member in recognition of much good work, Mrs. Bald presides over a group of ladies who give invaluable service providing teas and buffets on special occasions in the Clubhouse, in running sections of the annual money raising fete and also special functions of their own and, it may be admitted, in having a general civilising influence on the Club. While it might be supposed that most Rugby wives and girl-friends would at times feel more like Rugby widows, there is a real Pro-club attitude to be detected amongst those who support Mrs. Bald – perhaps the phrase ” if you can’t beat them, join them ” should be the Ladies’ Section Motto. At all events, it is to be hoped they enjoy their association one quarter as much as the Club benefits.
For some pages now little has been mentioned, in this record, of the field of play. Appended at the end of the booklet is a list of Captains and tabulated results of seasons from 1949-1973 as well as a note of some of the Club’s “battle honours.” From this can be seen that, apart from one or two lean periods, the Club usually won about three-quarters of its matches, though the Haddington match sometimes eluded its grasp.
Whilst the lists of players of repute who have served the Club in different outstanding ways would be very long, mention might here be made of the Dunbar front row of the 60’s-with J. Cowie, T. Brown and F. Graham, a formidable combination indeed and the basis of the possession that made the years round 1965 so successful.
J. M. Purves was and is Club Captain, a position started some ten years ago and in which, as a sort of link between the players and the Management Committee, he may be destined to stay for some time yet. Others active along with the President in team selection are Colin McKenzie, W. Wilson and N. McPhie. Norman McPhie is head¬master of Dunbar Grammar School. Rugby was not always featured as prominently in Dunbar School as perhaps it has in others locally, though the game has been played since 1955. At that time Charlie Flaherty, then Robin Roxburgh were masters in charge of sport. It is greatly to the credit of the Club and its enthusiasts of all types that the record referred to is as good as it is although the flow of young local players has been spasmodic. In a place where more of young people are brought up than there is afterwards work for them to do (particularly, we may claim, for some of the more adventurous Rugby types) the Club has had and always will have to face losing probably more good players through change of residence than it gains. This was shown at the opening of the new Clubhouse, when a strong President’s team was assembled of past players (still able to run more or less at speed) and a close game resulted in spite of lack of any together-practice by the exiles.

Suffice to say that though the Club has had its vicissitudes in its standards of play, the combination of Dunbar Grammar School becoming more Rugby conscious (what could be a better school game with a place somewhere on the field to fit any boy who really wants to play, be he a goliath or a nymph?) and the new feeling being engendered through having the Clubhouse (with what that seems to impart in Club spirit) should ensure that Dunbar’s skills and abilities can rise even more quickly than the general standards in other clubs; and the Club may be able, if not to repeat the result of 1937 when in an admittedly shorter season and possibly with an easier fixture list it was unbeaten, at least to aspire to first Division status in the Junior League in the short term.

To come right up to date, after last season when two of the best players in the Club were both scrumhalves, John Hutchison now plays for Boroughmuir and Ian Rennie serves the scrum. Competition for places in the first XV is, as it should be, keen, and most players have a second XV man breathing down their necks with the current possible exception of Tom Bruce and Tom Tait, Captain and vice-Captain respec¬tively Ian Rennie and line out second row man J. Davey. The President’s son Keith was Captain in 1972-3 but spent most of the season with a broken leg. This year happily he is recovered. Douglas Robertson leads the Second XV usually to great things, Brian Houliston is O.C. Thirds, and the Fourths are Flick Fairbairn’s special charge.

As far as the Clubhouse is concerned a book could be written about its construction and the inevitable complications, delays and (in a few cases) stupidities involved. However the end result is a great success and a credit to the many-though not so many as there might have been-who took some part in its fulfilment. Haddington already had a Clubhouse and the first step was to find out what snags to avoid and what successes to follow up; J. Laidlaw, who had designed Had¬dington’s H.Q., was appointed architect.

The new changing rooms, showers, games room with bar and back room stores etc, have been built in an imaginative and solid way next door to and connecting with the old wooden Golf Club building – in which in its renovated form, meals are served, T.V. is available and there is a committee room and other storage space. The whole looks over the first XV pitch and adjoins the cottage of Mr. and Mrs. Flockhart.

Mrs. Flockhart acts as caretaker for the Clubhouse. That the Club¬house was completed for its opening night on 13th October, 1972, was a great effort: the cost, though very real, was about one third of what it could have been if there had been no voluntary work or special terms and donations.

Malcolm Chalmers-Watson is to be complimented on his efforts as special treasurer; his files relating to the transactions needed a suit¬case, not a briefcase. To be singled out for mention should be Roy Knox, Colin McKenzie and J. Cowie of Club members on the supervisory (and often manual) side with a special accolade for J. Callow, a non-¬Rugby playing expert in building work also came along regularly to supervise, instruct and promote the job as well as doing some of the most skilled and tricky work himself. Two other omni-present operators were the valorous Valler and the stout-hearted Stoddart.

The sort of problem met with is illustrated by one photograph, which shows four cement mixers on the site and hand mixing in progress. There is a record of many names of men who worked really hard; and, like a conscience, they know themselves better than I can mention how they each helped to bring the Clubhouse to its completion. The Ladies’ Committee meanwhile made curtains and had the inside ready for the great day. The opening ceremony, after the game against the President’s XV, was performed by W. I. D. Elliot, ex Scotland (and occasionally Dunbar) wing forward, pulling the first pint amidst a teeming multitude of ex and current players. During the proceedings time was found to announce special messages of goodwill from, among others, Ronnie Laing in Melbourne, Australia, and Bill Donald, Hong Kong – both, incidentally, North Berwick boys whose penetrating prowess on the wing meant many tries for Dunbar and who did a lot here before they went so far. A fortnight later a reception was held at which John Law, Secretary of S.R.U., made a short speech and to which as many as had helped the Club to achieve its purpose and could be thought of were invited, not excluding the ladies who had foregone the company of their men folk while the great work was being done.

It is to be hoped that all Club members and players, past as well as present, will use the Clubhouse whenever suitably they can, so encour¬aging more activity still. A voluntary rota of dedicated members is always on duty when the Clubhouse is open to attend to the needs of those who come in and it is a friendly place with a purpose!

The building and organisation of the Clubhouse was the signal for a reorganisation of the Club’s affairs-the Management Committee, pre¬sided over by the President and served by Secretary Mitchell Mill, an early player returned to the scene, and the Social Committee under Roy Knox being the main avenues of action-though much duty still devolves on General Secretary, Sandy Hunter; Club Captain J. Purves has Team Secretary’s nightmare job-while fixtures and their results are J. Cowie’s responsibility.

Then Skerries-May 1951 saw the first letters from Sandy Hunter to Des. Cashel] of Skerries and the first match was played at Skerries on February 1952, which Dunbar won 9-3; Skerries then were Provincial Town Cup holders so the Club was, as it is again, difficult to beat. Dunbar has, however, won 13 games and Skerries 8 to date but we must look to our laurels in the future.

Of course the games are important, the friendships more so, between players and ex-players of both sides. Stories are already legion dating from the earliest day. In the Marine Hotel, Skerries, it is remembered that on the Saturday morning of the first visit the hotel ran out of milk how this was noticed is not to be readily understood as even Dunbar Club in its most stay-at-home moments is not particularly addicted, I’d say, to that liquid. However it was so and of course the reason was that the milkman was still at the party.

Another story refers to a wet night after which Skerries’ pitch was found to be unplayable-an alternative pitch at a theological college was found to be flooded only in one corner though at the diagonally opposite side of the pitch was a nearby well. Unabashed, Willie, the Skerries’ factotum, got help to move one lot of goalposts across ten yards to the side but left the other standing because of the wall. Mark¬ings and flags were suitably repositioned and the game went off as well as could be expected on a parallelogram of a pitch. Reports say the Irish opposition got used to the idea more smoothly than the Dunbar squad. On another occasion a rather less than sensible member of the party from Dunbar knocked in some of his comrades’ bedroom doors late at night though he wished them no ill will. Next day he explained his tiredness with the complaint that the noise of joiner-work quite prevented his proper rest in the Holmpatrick Hotel; we are still friends!

The trips by both sides have now fallen into a pattern of travel on Friday morning, a game on Friday afternoon, a dinner in the even¬ing with dance-on Saturday the International with evening spent in each other’s company and a reluctant return to reality on Sunday. Both sides know what to avoid now; or think they do!

On one earlier occasion Skerries’ Annual “Fireman’s Ball ” was accidentally held to coincide with Dunbar’s visit. Dunbar Visitors managed to gain entry to the function at a late hour and though there was, of course, goodwill all round, it was decided never again to allow the two occasions to overlap. For just when fire was mostly likely in the town, it was obvious that the firemen were particularly unlikely to be able to cope.

On another occasion early on, when nylon stockings were plentiful in Eire but not to be got here, Dunbar’s dutiful husbands on leave decided to stock up, but arrived at the Customs unprepared for the cost of levies. Quick thinking, however, developed a scheme whereby the 34 members present took their time going through the Customs shed. Those ten who had no contraband passed through first and on return to the train rubbed off the chalk marks and handed the same luggage to the next ten members. The method was repeated without impediment, he Customs’ officials examining the same bags four times. In retro¬spect it may be doubted whether they were as easily hoodwinked as the story indicates or whether they were just full of goodwill or perhaps slightly in awe of such a resolute party practicing such insincerity.

It is difficult to give an impression what the links with Skerries have come to mean-perhaps the games were started to give Dunbar the opportunity to go away together and so engender Club spirit. This has happened, as well a real inter-Club camaraderie has been brought about and it is much to be hoped that no more interruptions to the series occur.

Symptomatic perhaps of these feelings is the fact that some Club members have gone to Skerries for holiday’s outwith the Rugby season and one keen Dunbar man actually honoured our friends by spending his honeymoon at Skerries.

The Club, of course, much values its more local associations and in particularly congratulates its old rival Club, Haddington, on tempo¬rarily at least (and we must admit it) moving into rather higher reaches than we presently attain, and its newer friends of North Berwick on achieving present parity.

This disjointed account of some aspects of the last fifty years will, it is hoped, have struck a few chords of memory in most readers’ minds. It is intended to do no more (and certainly not to be an authoritative record of the Club’s history and attainments); but it has failed in its purpose unless it has also given the impression that the Club is composed of a lot of different people who get pleasure and benefit not only from it but by giving their time, energy and enthusiasm to it.

The story is of a joint effort of many, but anyone who has played or taken part in any of the Club’s activities over the last 40 years at least will know that our President’s contributions to its success has been outstanding in sustained leadership, personal involvement and unselfish dedication to the Club’s interests. That this leadership has built traditions, Club spirit and real assets ensures, as far as it can be assured, the future of the Club; and so this recountal ends on an optimistic note, looking forward with confidence into the future when the qualities that Rugby Football engenders will surely be needed and the Dunbar Rugby Football Club should be well placed to promote them hereabouts.

The story is of a joint effort of many, but anyone who has played or taken part in any of the Club’s activities over the last 40 years at least will know that our President’s contributions to its success has been outstanding in sustained leadership, personal involvement and unselfish dedication to the Club’s interests. That this leadership has built traditions, Club spirit and real assets ensures, as far as it can be assured, the future of the Club; and so this recountal ends on an optimistic note, looking forward with confidence into the future when the qualities that Rugby Football engenders will surely be needed and the Dunbar Rugby Football Club should be well placed to promote them hereabouts.

RHYME PROPOUNDED AT OPENING OF CLUBHOUSE
13TH OCTOBER 1972

There was a time in days of old,
When Rupert couldn’t feel the cold¬
When story teller Manual Gibbs
Was still too young to tell old fibs
And when the oh! so fit Chit Dann
Had only just become a man
That time in case you do not know
Was nearly fifty years ago
Then Dunbar Rugby was going strong
And beer was beer and shorts were long!
But times move on-some teams played well
By training in the Royal Hotel
Pete Robertson and Jimmie Hood
Played cleanly when they thought they should.
And Rupert reached his seventh Heavens
Then Dunbar won the Junior Sevens.
Then later Sandy’s speed would win
Us games-he used to be quite thin ;
While Jimmie Stewart could sidestep neatly
And Allan knocked them down completely,
And afterwards we better felt
With Tom Craig in the Craig-en-Gelt.
Time moves again and Dunbar’s team
Has always in the scrum had steam.
I mean that Cowie, Graham, Pullar,
Ne’er let the other side be cooler
While in the backs McKenzie, Bald
Kept going when lesser engines stalled.
This Club of action is a mixture,
But valued in the Skerries fixture.
And here our Sandy Heffelm’n is
He toasts us with a glass of Guinness.
I cannot mention all by name
Who join this galaxy of fame?
Few have done more in Rugby’s service,
Than our Club Captain Jimmy Purves
He shows no older he has grown
He scored the winning try alone.
Some players old can now pretend
How fit they were e’en at the end
How well they handled, tackled, kicked
So, p’haps, the other side was licked.
The team today’s as good, you’d see
As we now say we used to be
And Keith and John and all the boys
Show fitness, speed and skill and poise
With their new Clubhouse they should get
At being a Douglas Elliot,
And Rupert, watching, when he’s old,
Forgets that Winterfield’s so cold.

PS. Now that we’re a sort of Licensed Club
I hope that you have paid your sub
There’s no reminder when it’s due,
Jim Brown has other things to do

Written by the Late Tommy Dale.