London Scottish 37 Doncaster 26 (22nd September 2012)
Without wishing to make this seem like a rugby blog, I opted for a match at London Scottish’s home in Richmond in lieu of any other games that caught my eye. I had thought of taking in Ashford v St Albans, but the lure of the incongruous sight of one end being dominated by giant fuel storage tanks for Esso’s Heathrow depot didn’t quite sway me.
I also looked around at other rugby options. I did give a thought to watching Blackheath v Old Albanians, not least because it looked like the away team would have been a load of ageing illegal immigrants – although actually they are an “old boys” team of a school in St Albans. Blackheath have a lot of history behind them, being the club that split from the FA in 1863 and so creating the rival code. It has to be said though, that Blackheath’s statement upon splitting of “the rules the FA intend to adopt will destroy the game and all interest in it” was probably not matched until Decca’s decided to reject The Beatles as a band with no future almost 100 years later.
Blackheath’s ground was a pain to get to though, and in any case not that good, so I opted for London Scottish’s place, which looked pretty decent on one side at least.
Both London Scottish and their co-tennants Richmond have “enjoyed” ups and downs of late of rollercoaster proportions. Both overstretched themselves badly in the early years of rugby turning pro. Bankrupt, officially both were swallowed up in merger with London Irish, who stepped into Richmond’s dead man’s shoes and took over playing at the Madejski, where Richmond had crashed and burned in 1999.
Both clubs reformed individually way down the rugby system, and have raced through the leagues like prescription strength laxatives, with London Scottish having just got back to championship level after eight promotions in twelve years. Richmond are one division behind.
At least folding didn’t mean the loss of the Richmond Athletic Ground, as that would have been a real shame. Pride of place is the 1000 seat mean stand. Dating back to 1958, this cantilever stand would no doubt have been seen as a bold vision of the future, with its sleek concrete ribbed looks and column free viewing for all. It may have been the first in the country, or that honour may go to Scunthorpe, who built one the same year, but Richmond’s is the oldest one still standing.
Sadly its daring “space age” looks have been tainted a tad by an awkward bar extension, not to mention the 54 year old concrete ageing about as well as 54 year old concrete normally does, but it must have seemed quite remarkable when it was built. It’s still quite a find now.
If such modernism needs balancing out, directly next door is a delicate old style pavilion, all gables and galleries, still used as dressing rooms for the teams playing on the pitches behind the stands. Three games were taking place alongside the main Scottish v Doncaster match. One played in eye-opening white & pink quarters – definitely a kit for real men who know nobody will give them any stick, regardless.
As interesting as this side of the ground was, it’s impossible to escape the detail that the other three sides had absolutely nothing there beyond grass and a rail round the pitch. To a football fan, used to even very low levels having at least hard standing and usually some cover on the other sides, it does seem quite odd.
Instead the space was filled with long marquee style tents (closed), which from the outside were frighteningly similar to my Stalag Fan Camp accommodation in Donetsk. They appeared to serve no function on this day though, although at least seemed to enclose the ground a bit.
On a pleasant afternoon weatherwise, the number of families almost gave the game a village fete feel to it, and the crowd of 1029 high enough to feel like something of an occasion.
At £12 to get in (and a choice of four matches to watch) and nine tries, it was certainly value for money. Doncaster, who’d lost all three so far in the season, looked to make amends early on, going over for two tries in the first quarter of an hour. A quarter of an hour later and the game had been turned on its head, with the home side narrowly in front, extending the lead with another try before half-time to lead 22-14 from 0-14 down.
Half time was spent, for me anyway, contemplating how you get rather more attractive women going to rugby than non-league football, as well as pondering how with three seemingly completely unobstructed sides to locate a burger van, it still managed to be behind a parked ambulance. I do sometimes wonder if having an obscured view while queuing for food is some health and safety regulation.
I did also wonder why I was the only person in this queue singled out by little kid collecting for a kids team’s U8 tour. Nobody else was approached before me, and he walked off as soon as he got my donation. Do I look rich, generous, or just easily hassled? Why do seven year old kids go on tours anyway?
The second half saw a brief comeback with an early Doncaster try before Scottish again pulled away. A very late bonus point earning try for Doncaster, in a half which lasted an unusual 48 minutes, made it look a little closer, and perhaps fairer. It was a day though when London Scottish hit the right notes, even if the bagpipe player in attendance often painfully didn’t.