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Changing the goal posts

Soccer is supreme in Glasgow but now rugby is in the running in schools, writes Roddy Mackenzie

There could hardly have been a sharper intake of breath had Billy McNeill, the victorious Celtic captain of 1967, plopped the European Cup down on the headteacher's desk at St Roch's Secondary, in Glasgow.

Here was the Calcutta Cup, rugby's most famous trophy. This was almost sacrilege in a city where football holds sway.

Kenny Murray, the Scottish Rugby Union's regional development officer for Glasgow City, Argyll and Bute, Dunbartonshire and Lanarkshire, had been permitted to bring the trophy into the school as part of an initiative by the governing body to get more city schools playing, and it briefly held pride of place in Chris Nairn's office.

A rugby team has only been established at the school for little more than two months but it is taking a strong grip.

"It was fantastic to have the cup sitting in my office," says Mr Nairn.

"And to see the faces of the boys was great.

"There was a hush - almost a reverential approach - and that wasn't because they had been warned to behave. The boys realised the significance of it and the fact they weren't allowed to touch it simply added to the mystique.

It's one of the oldest trophies in the world in any sport."

The headteacher is now digging out his tracksuit at the age of 53 to go back to coaching rugby after a 10-year hiatus. Neil Johnston, the teacher who started rugby in the school, is leaving to take up a post at Park Mains High.

There are now 22 boys at S2-S4 level training regularly and the school has established a close link with the HillheadJordanhill club, where they train on Wednesdays and Sundays under coach Tony Green.

There is also a close bond with Cartha Queen's Park and one of the club's part-time development officers, Andy Lamont. It is at Cartha's ground that St Roch's have managed to play their two matches so far (against Holyrood Secondary and Drumchapel High).

"These two coaches have been pivotal to the whole thing," says Mr Nairn.

"It's disappointing to lose Mr Johnston but I'm happy to get back to coaching. I couldn't let the boys down as they have such a great enthusiasm for the game and a willingness to learn.

"The important thing was that the boys approached the teaching staff and asked if they could start playing rugby. They had the initial enthusiasm and that helps tremendously, as they are playing because they love it.

"Why shouldn't boys in traditional football areas play rugby? It's great to see boys in Glasgow taking it up. And why should boys from the likes of Niddrie and Pilton in Edinburgh not play rugby?

"There is a professional team in Glasgow now and the talent that is in the schools cannot be overlooked.

"The SRU has to be applauded for realising there is huge untapped potential in Glasgow and Edinburgh and starting to do something about it with the emerging schools' programme."

Mr Nairn does not know of any state school in Glasgow that has its own rugby pitch, as football's red ash is dominant, and that is why the schools have to rely on the input of the city's rugby clubs.

"The project at St Roch's is still in its infancy but it has tremendous potential," says Mr Murray. "The headteacher is involved, which is a bonus, and the local club is helping. That is very important.

"The SRU is keen that the clubs take a lead role in their community and offer coaching and a regular chance to play. It is also looking for clubs to have full-time or even part-time paid development officers so that they can take the initiative.

"There is no development officer in place at the moment at HillheadJordanhill but hopefully that will change in the next six to 12 months.

"Cartha Queen's Park currently has two part-time development officers who are helping to develop the game at schools such as Holyrood Secondary, Shawlands Academy, Drumchapel High and Govan High.

"There is a lot of potential in Glasgow. There are so many schoolchildren in the city and many have not played the game.

"Who knows? There might even by a superstar to emerge from one of the schools."

Mr Murray knows that rugby will never overtake football in Glasgow schools but is convinced the sports can co-exist. Sparking their enthusiasm for the sport is the key.

With that in mind, the school hopes to organise outings to the national rugby stadium for next season's Six Nations Cup games.

"It is difficult for the game to take hold in Glasgow because only a handful of schools have rugby on the curriculum," Mr Murray explains. "But it's a case of identifying a teacher and getting them involved with the local club to hopefully set up coaching.

"There is no Glasgow schools league at present and we tend to hold four or five festivals a year and work on that basis.

"There are schools that have limited fixtures, like Ross Hall Academy and Drumchapel High, and they would play matches against each other.

"The schools would also try to arrange fixtures against private schools but it would be mostly second or third XVs as first XVs would generally be too strong.

"The important thing is to get as many schools playing and enjoying the game and then to take it from there."

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