Rugby: Heriot’s clock up 600th league game

Ian Milne. Picture: Robert Ormerod
Ian Milne. Picture: Robert Ormerod
Have your say

A journey which started back on October 6, 1973 with a 9-18 defeat at Jordanhill 
College will reach a notable milestone when Heriot’s visit Currie in rugby’s RBS 
Premiership on Saturday.

Leave aside permutations that see three teams still facing the possibility of being dragged into a relegation play-off with Boroughmuir already down.

And the fact that four sides go into the final day with a chance of being the two who join champions Ayr and runners-up Gala in the British and Irish Cup next season.

For Heriot’s’ feat of being the only club never to have been out of the top flight surely merits recognition on a unique 600th league outing.

Along the way, of course, there have been brushes with the drop – two in particular. And, coincidentally, that figure corresponds with the number of titles won by Heriot’s – in 1979 and exactly two decades later.

We asked some Heriot’s luminaries to recall their favourite league tussles and arguably the greatest of them all – triple British Lion ANDY IRVINE – took us back to the inaugural season.

If an opening First Division campaign that also featured Watsonians, West, Edinburgh Wanderers, Hawick, Glasgow Accies, Boroughmuir, Glasgow High, Melrose, Gala and 
Langholm started inauspiciously for the Goldenacre club, then it certainly ended with a bang.

Recalled Irvine: “It seemed we were down and out, but we got an 18-18 draw at Hawick the previous week to set up a winner-takes-all relegation 
battle at home to Langholm.

“At half-time we trailed 6-18 and the key moment came when Ian Smellie scored in the corner with a few minutes to go.”

In fact, the score was tinged with controversy, international ref Eric Grierson waving aside protests that the winger had collided with a corner flag in the act of scoring.

From 22-21 ahead, though, Heriot’s again fell behind and according to one report it took an “easy” (really, in the circumstances?) 20-yard penalty from Irvine to keep his team up.

Move on to 1998 and Heriot’s had to win a play-off 23-12 against Kelso at Prestonpans in another controversial fixture.

Recalled international flanker ANDREW DALL: “Kelso were without Iain Fairley and Adam Roxburgh who were withdrawn to prepare for a Scotland tour.”

Nevertheless, Heriot’s delivered and that was the catalyst for a title triumph one season later with Dall again recalling: “We had a big win (75-25) at Stirling County and I will never forget scoring our fourth try for the bonus point which gave us the title.”

At stand off that day was GORDON ROSS and the win brought back memories of starting out in senior rugby a couple of years earlier.

“My first win for Heriot’s was against Stirling, which came a week after debuting at home to Jed-Forest.

“After missing my first kick I remember Hamish More 
(ex-Heriot’s) shouting ‘give up Ross’, so it was good to waddle in for an intercept try the 
following week!”

A stalwart of Heriot’s’ previous title win, clinched with a 32-6 victory that sent Haddington down, was IAIN MILNE. However, the current club vice-president has particularly fond memories of beating Hawick 24-12 earlier that season.

“I think that match didn’t do me any harm in terms of going on to get capped by Scotland a few months later,” said the man known throughout rugby as “The Bear”.

Added Milne: “The previous year we had been seriously hammered by Hawick and we resolved to do something about it as quickly as possible. All the graft paid off and we went on to take the title.”

The man who will lead Heriot’s out on Saturday, GRAHAM WILSON, is determined that the landmark will be commemorated with a win to ensure the season ends better than it started.

“My most memorable match came after we had started 2012-13 with two losses and then went to champions Melrose.

“In injury time with the sides level our penalty kick fell short; Melrose ran that attempt back and we turned them over for the winning score.

“That defined our season so far but hopefully there is more to come at Currie on Saturday,” said Wilson.

For this correspondent, though, there haven’t been too many occasions like the Saturday in 2010 when Heriot’s beat Melrose 26-25 after the Borderers missed a last-gasp kick at exactly the same time as, on an adjacent Goldenacre pitch, the 2nd team kicked a penalty to beat Melrose counterparts . . .26-25. Never a dull moment in 600 instalments of the 
Heriot’s league story.