Livingston Rugby Club president Peter Bon has traced the club’s current upturn in fortunes back to a chance meeting in tragic circumstances.
The funeral of Donald Naysmith in March brought together many former players whose conversation about the club’s dire situation led to a commitment by many of those operating at higher levels to return to their rugby roots. Naysmith was a former captain and president of the club, as well as a representative on the Scottish Rugby council, and he was held in high esteem by all who knew him.
At that point, a dismal season for the club was drawing to a close, and Bon admits that the outlook was bleak.
However, from struggling to field a team last season to having up to 40 players now training regularly, the transformation has been marked. And that is most evident on the pitch with five bonus-point wins from five starts in the East League Division One campaign.
“It goes back a few seasons to when we went to play Hillhead/Jordanhill having to win to gain promotion,” said Bon. “We lost and that seemed to be the start of the downward spiral. Some players were looking to play at a higher level. The core of the team moved on and that left a group of good, raw talent but no mature, experienced players to bring it through. It came to a head last season when we were struggling to put out two teams.” Despite being on the wrong end of several big scores, most players soldiered on although some became disillusioned and stopped training.
The gathering of the group of players who wanted to pay their respects to Naysmith presented an opportunity to discuss the plight of the club and led to a commitment to address the situation. “A couple of players had already pledged to come back, but Donald’s funeral proved to be the catalyst for some of the others to join them. They were there as a group and it is unlikely that would have happened in any other circumstances. A lot of these people would never have seen each other.”
There was a collective will to return to the Almond Park club and help develop some of the young talent. That is now occurring with players of the calibre of Andy MacMahon – who featured for Currie in last year’s British & Irish Cup – lining up alongside youngsters including Ewan Naysmith, son of Donald.
Other experienced players looking to help the club in the twilight of their careers include several who have joined MacMahon in returning from Currie. But arguably the most inspirational is revitalised prop Scott Paris, who gained a massive amount of weight after a career that included spells playing in France and South Africa. He has now shed 16 stone and is back plying his trade in the front row where he packs down with several others who have operated at a higher level.
“The young lads are now getting the benefit,” explained Bon. And there have been additional spin-offs for the club. “The important thing is that we now have a well run, well disciplined second team and competition for places. It means that the coaches have been able to implement a no-train, no-play policy.”
Success has also seen more spectators attending matches and using the club bar.
And things continue to look up for Livingston with Scotland women’s international Sarah Quick appointed this week as the club’s development officer. Her task is to identify West Lothian’s next wave of rugby talent.