ABout biggar RFC
Biggar RFC is a welcoming club for all interested in sport and with rugby its particular focus.Biggar RFC is based at our Hartree Mill site and is a focal point for our local athletics and football clubs, making BRFC a true Community club. The clubhouse facilities are well used by the club for pre- and post-match entertaining and social events but several other local groups including Biggar Young Farmers, Guides, and Scouts are frequent visitors while other groups such as Dog Shows and Tug-of-war are welcome at the club.
Over the relatively short number of years it has existed it has integrated well into the life and fabric of the town of Biggar and the surrounding area. Reflecting this, members and players are drawn not only from Biggar itself but also from the towns and villages that make up the large rural area of Clydesdale and beyond. Throughout its catchment area, the club receives great support and sponsorship from residents and many elements of the business and farming communities.
WHAT’S ON OFFER?
The club has three adult mens teams, a Ladies XV, A Biggar Bairns pre-school club (for ages 3-4), a Mixed Micro side (P1-P3), Mini sides at P4-P7, Girls’ teams at U12, U14, U16 and U18, and Boys teams at U13, U14, U15, U16 and U18 (two U18 sides). This is a total of 19 sides playing rugby of a weekend.
With our adult players and over 250 school age playing members, the club plays various age group fixtures each weekend at clubs and locations throughout Scotland. This is made possible due to the dedication and efforts of a large number of coaches, parents, volunteers and helpers, without whom the club could not function as it does today.
The club operates an Academy programme which runs post school sessions for youngsters. This is managed by Nic Humphries whose experience ensures all involved gain expert input on fitness, skills, health and nutrition.
The Club benefits from a relaxed and welcoming environment. Adult and Colts train on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and usually play on Saturdays. Secondary school children and girls train on various nights and usually play on Sundays. Primary school girls and boys train and play on Sundays although some sections also train midweek. We have a budding Ladies section who now train on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
where it all began
The notion that Biggar could support a rugby club came about in conversation between a number of individuals who had played the game in their youth but elsewhere in Scotland. That their jobs brought them to Biggar was a big advantage in the early days as there was a large number of contacts in clubs around the country but particularly in Edinburgh and the Borders.
Five of those individuals were Dr Mike Bewsher (GP and ex-Melrose), Tom Wight (farmer and also ex-Melrose), Les Clerihew (vet and ex-Stewarts FP), Archie Stott (knitwear director and ex-Hawick Quins) and Richard Carr (brewery rep and ex-Harlequins) and it is this ‘famous five’ who were the main protagonists although Andrew Stewart (banker and ex-Melville College FP) and Jack Yuille (seed salesman and ex-Ayrshire footballer) were also heavily involved in those early days.
An initial meeting to assess interest was held in the Elphinstone Hotel and was attended by a pleasingly large turnout of locals made up of prospective players from other clubs who had played in their youth with some experience, to youngsters from Biggar Young Farmers and school boys with limited experience.
The meeting covered a whole range of topics from where the club would play its games, the colours to be adopted and where changing and post match entertainment would take place.
Some discussions had taken place prior to the meeting and Biggar Farmers Club had been approached to ascertain whether or not The Showfield could be used for a pitch. This proposal had been agreed upon and so this was dealt with quickly as was the venue for changing. This would take place at Biggar High School.
The meeting was unanimous in accepting the very kind offer from local hotelier, Tom Barrie, of the Elphinstone Hotel to make the Elph the venue for post match fare.
One item took longer than others however with the choice of colours the most contentious issue. Archie Stott had been gifted a set of old jerseys from his beloved Hawick Quins. These were light blue in colour, and while this was not a popular choice Archie believed that they could be dyed to most other colours easily but black best of all and so this choice, of black jerseys, was a fairly unanimous decision. The colour of shorts and socks was less straightforward but eventually, and in order that Biggar could never be mixed up with arguably the best rugby nation of the time (the All Blacks), shorts were to be black and socks red for an added touch of colour!
The first match took place against a Stewarts Select with Biggar just being edged out by. One team soon became two however as the popularity of the club and the game saw loads of players turnout for training and games – many incidentally had previously played football but they found the rugby ethos, and particularly the social side, much more to their liking.
For five years the club played its rugby at The Showfield and used The Elphinstone Hotel as its base. In 1978 with members initially split on the need to purchase our own pitches but with The Farmers Club reluctant to allow access to their ground for more or better pitches, a permanent home was sought and this ended up being the grounds at Hartree Mill.
A 10 acre site was purchased from the Scott family and was quickly transformed into two pitches with a smallish training area. A car park was also levelled off and with an electricity supply installed some basic floodlighting followed. It was very much game on! The pitches were officially opened by Mrs Joan Stewart (widow of Andrew) with a huge turnout of players and members to witness the celebrations.
An additional area adjacent to the site was then purchased and while this added more ground there was no immediate addition to the number of pitches as the new parcel of ground was very uneven and lacked drainage. It did allow extra space for training however which was needed.
With the 1980’s proving to be an incredibly successful period – promotion was gained on no fewer than 5 occasions with a Championship won in season 1984/85. Coaching was undertaken by George Jack (the Silver Fox or GW) of Leith Accies and Eduinburgh fame.
The Elphinstone had provided a wonderful home for post match hospitality and celebrations but thoughts soon turned to the purchase or construction of a clubhouse. Several sites were viewed including the old Maranatha/Asthmatic Centre at the High School, the old bookies in North Back Road and the Old Bank House on the High Street, All were feasible but were ruled out for various reasons such as noise, access, location and neighbouring buildings.
Plans were eventually drawn up and with Willie Tait in the van as project manager (all the way from Bonnyrig!) the clubhouse founds were broken by Anna Boyd, wife of President Bobby Boyd who had been an incredibly influential figure in the club’s early days. The club membership pulled together as never before – tradesman gave freely of their time and equipment – and with a huge effort over many months the clubhouse took shape and was officially opened by SRU president Charlie Stewart and President Bobby in 1991. An SRU President’s XV was invited to play the Biggar 1st XV squad and this proved to be a real gala occasion attracting a huge crowd who saw at close hand some of Scotland’s very best players including Gary Armstrong, George Graham, Iain Paxton and Doddie Weir.
Successes continued to be part and parcel of rugby at Biggar with a George Jack driven initiative to include a Mini and Youth section at the club. Coaches were sought and convenors put in place. Each brought their own take on their roles with Keith Fulton (Minis), Ian Warnock (Midis) and Rod Craise (Colts) absolutely inspirational choices and individuals who drove the club forward.
Aside from further promotions in the 1990’s when the club reached the giddy heights of National Division 2 in 1995/96 and a National Bowl Final in 1997, the U18’s with Rod and fellow coach John Lawrie in charge became National U18 Cup winners in 1994/95 (and Cup finalists and semi finalists on another 4 occasions).
In 1984 Rab Young had become the club’s first age group internationalist when he was selected to play at U19 level but many players had been selected to play at Edinburgh District level and followed Rab to national age group honours. These included Darren Burns, Lindsay Graham and Alistair Warnock.
Ladies section member Donna Kennedy became the clubs first full internationalist when she was selected to play for Scotland in 1993/94 the year after she was joined by Anna Burns with Una Lavery selected for the bench for Ireland Ladies in the same match!
Season 2003/04 saw Biggar reach what had seemed an almost impossible dream – to play at the very highest level of rugby. Promotion to Premier 1 came when the club, with Ian Conn as President and Gary Parker as head coach, defeated Gala 31-0 on 3rd April 2004.
The whole town of Biggar was involved in the promotion winning match with black and red bunting and balloons adorning the shops, pictures and cards designed and coloured in by Primary school pupils posted on the changing room walls and, despite some truly atrocious weather, in front of a typically massive and vocal Biggar support. Ironically coach Gary missed the match because he was on international duty in South Africa. The celebrations went on long into the night as had been the case for every previous promotion!
Biggar retained their place in Premier 1 for two seasons. Their first season saw them defeat a host of ‘big’ name clubs including Hawick (in their first Premier home match), Boroughmuir, Melrose and Heriots.
Season 2004/05 was another major milestone for the club when Scot Lawson became the club’s first full internationalist when he was selected to play against The Barbarians at Pittodrie (a large number of Biggar members made the trip north to Aberdeen to see Scot play) and then against Romania later that year.
Fortunes fluctuated slightly in the noughties with relegation in 2006 but there was always some aspect of the club which increased its profile and standing.
In 2011 the Girls U15 side became Scottish Champions, a feat that would be repeated in seasons to follow. The U18 girls followed suit in 2016 and again 2017.
A massive clubhouse extension was undertaken via grant funding in season 2012 with the London Olympics providing a fantastic backdrop. The original clubhouse was designed and built for rugby when there were no replacements and no team managers, physios and bag men: just 15 guys! This building had served the club well with ideal social, catering and changing facilities, however, as the membership grew and the Youth section expanded, and rules changed to allow replacements, our changing and showering facilities became cramped, less suitable and largely inadequate. The 2012 extension to the clubhouse coupled with a refurbishment programme delivered major improvements to these facilities. It provided access to a total of six ensuite team changing rooms which ensure all – boys, girls and adults alike – have a suitable and safe environment for changing and showering.
In 2015, with facilities at bursting point as the Youth section continued to increase in number and size – the club’s Youth section were now playing in the SRU organised Conference system which saw the very best youth players play at Biggar – another development was drawn up, this to remodel our playing facilities. The 2 year programme saw the creation of 5 full size pitches and numerous off-pitch training areas which are used not only by Biggar RFC but also the local football and athletics clubs. Of our 5 pitches 4 of them are floodlit with training lights allowing use of the facility all year round.
The much improved pitches has spurred the various sections to greater things and allows all to have access to (virtually) mud free training areas which in turn has seen an increase in Youth membership and the overall standards of play.
Instrumental in all this has also been the involvement of a number of Youth Development Officers funded jointly by the club in partnership with local businesses and with the SRU. The BRFC Academy, under the guidance of Nic Humphries, came on stream in 2015 and this too has helped drive standards up with members given training in skills, fitness, S+C and dietary input all of which is designed to help them live Above the Biggar Line and the Biggar Way. Nic is assisted in player development by Donald Voas (strength and conditioning) and Andrew Jardine (skills) while Community Coaches support the local primary and high schools with a coaching programme.
Season 2018/19 was another BIG season for the club when with a youthful squad coached by Gary Mercer, Davy Wilson and Doug Fleming reached another pinnacle when they became National 2 Champions leaving all other sides in the division in their wake and posting a magnificent set of statistics along the way.
The departure of coach Gary Mercer came as a shock but with Davy Wilson stepping up alongside Doug Fleming, ably supported by Craig Borthwick the 1sts XV made light of the new challenges offered by National 1. A great run of results took the side to the top of the National 1 table and after defeating Stirling County on February 2020 the club was presented with the National 1 trophy by SRU Council member Colin Rigby.
With two games to go their position at the top was unassailable and they were crowned Champions for a second successive season. No mean feat and one which only very few clubs manage to achieve.
Sadly Covid took over a couple of weeks following this achievement and then the SRU declared the season null and void, depriving the club of the title and promotion.
A lengthy battle ensued as the club, under the guidance of Secretary Mike Booth, fought bravely to have this decision over-turned. After succeeding in organising an SGM, the club’s attempts to have the decision over-turned fell as the votes cast by clubs were insufficient to have this happen.
The restrictions placed on sports and the world means that there was no meaningful rugby in season 2020-21 and so the club began preparations for the resumption of play for 2021/22.
The season ended in disappointment at 1st XV level when having been league leaders for much of the season the matches against Heriots and Gala both ended in defeat, meaning that there was only a top 3 finish for the side. It’s easy to make excuses but a number of crucial early season injuries followed up by a 3 point penalty incurred because of injuries to front row players and then a couple of lapses in concentration at important points led to the upsets.
Having said all that the club finished the season on a real high with selection for Scotland Sevens, 6 Nations and then Commonwealth Games squad for Emma Orr and also the success of the Ladies XV who not only gained promotion to the National League but also claimed the National Plate. The final was played at BT Murrayfield in front of a hugely excited and typically supportive Biggar crowd.
Emma’s selection was richly deserved as she had dominated league matches at club level and shone in her first outings with the senior Scotland Ladies squad, travelling abroad to participate in the Europe Rugby sevens programme. Her first full ‘cap’ was presented to Emma after the Scotland/Italy match played at Scotstoun Stadium.
There was great delight when, after her displays in the 6 Nations she was allowed to play for the club side in the Plate Final where needless to say she did much to control play.
The club embarked on a new project at the tail end of the 2021/22 season when the spectator shelter was extended and a new enhanced video platform was added. Add to that over season 2022/23 a further 2 changing rooms, referee changing, equipment store and battery storeroom have also been added to the main building while between pitches 1 and 2 we now also have a purpose built tractor and machinery shed. We recently installed photovoltaic panels on the clubhouse roof to take the first steps to make the Hartree Mill grounds carbon neutral. The addition of a battery store to store the electricity generated by the panels will also include new water tanks to increase the amount of hot water available post match. An electric car charging point is soon to be supplied.
We are presently embarking on another major expansion of the clubhouse which, when completed, will add another large social area and a brand new gym to our facilities. The social area will provide additional space for pre-match luncheons and other social occasions as well as being a space available for Community use. Importantly this will free up the existing social area for players so that they have a fit-for-purpose space for post-match fare. Currently players are often unable to sit down to eat and socialise properly due to the numbers of supporters who use the bar area.
The new gymnasium will replace the current gym but will be much better equipped and will be a much better size for players, club members and the public to access.
The new extension will have a knock on effect to our children’s play-park which will be re-sited, enlarged and hold more play items for the younger children to enjoy.