Book review: The Accies: The Cradle of Scottish Rugby

By David BarnesBirlinn, £25****

DAVID BARNES has good literary form behind him having written Jim Renwick's biography but this 339-page tome on the history of Edinburgh Academicals is an altogether weightier undertaking. If anyone has written a book on any Scottish rugby club with comparable thoroughness then I have yet to read it.

Of course in charting the ups and downs of one club, Barnes is actually giving the reader a history of the game in Scotland. Accies is the country's oldest club and the sort of things that happened at Raeburn Place were echoed in clubs the length and breadth of the land.

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Obviously this book is aimed at an audience of former pupils and players. It gets far under the skin of its subject matter and there may be a little too much detail for the casual reader. That said, Barnes' conversational style means that it never feels like heavy going and, when I started recognising faces and figures from the 1970s onwards, it was difficult to put the book down.

Even the early years are leavened by countless anecdotes. Who knew of Sir Walter Scott's early involvement in the game? Initially matches made do without a referee, the two skippers adjudicating in any dispute. On an early Calcutta Cup encounter, one Scottish player notes: "Our opponents were flesh and blood like ourselves who could be mauled back and tackled and knocked about like other men"; a sentiment that Frank Hadden will doubtless be repeating very soon.

Larger than life characters leap out of every chapter, such as Charles "Hippo" Reid, "a giant among men", to George Philip Stewart Macpherson (better known as GPS) who is deemed, "arguably the greatest player the country has ever produced" and right up to the recent past with two Richardson brothers, Jeremy and Charlie, being sent off in the same match.

During the late 1990s the club was famous, or infamous, for fielding a hugely talented backline that was unstoppable one week and yet unable to get out of first gear the next. Rowan Shepherd talks of the fast men donning smoking jackets after one match, mostly with the intention of annoying their own forwards although the full-back had moved to Melrose before winning his Scotland caps.

Incidentally Mike Blair played for the club in one Murrayfield Cup final at full-back; a statistic for all pub quiz enthusiasts.

This book was commissioned to celebrate Accies' 150th anniversary which took place last year, but a speech by Mr W Maxwell Simmers of Glasgow Academicals on the occasion of Accies' centenary celebrations 50 years ago neatly sums up the Edinburgh club.

"The Academical… emerges as a likeable chap, a great sportsman and a citizen well above the average." As David Sole says in his introduction, enjoy!

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