When talk turns to rugby in Galashiels, it’s not long before the club’s success in sevens is brought up.
Despite success in the wider picture of the game, such as the Scottish Cup and the league competitions, it’s Gala’s record in the shorter version that has coloured the club’s history. From the earliest days Gala found the sevens formula much to their liking. They played Melrose in the final of the first tournament (in Melrose), away back in 1883, and over the years have been consistent.
The club’s policy of attracting quality guests proved highly successful, and over the years leading clubs such as Loughborough Colleges, Cardiff and Richmond turned on the style at Netherdale. Gala’s many successes at Netherdale reached a peak in the 1970s when Netherdale overtook Murrayfield as the prime tournament of the spring circuit. The Maroons won the Melrose sports for the third year in a row, and their own tournament on four consecutive years.
But the highlight in this memorable period was to be at Langholm where the Barbarians had come to mark the local centenary. A late try by Gala’s Duncan Paterson saw a memorable and deserved win. And this vintage period ended with Gala providing five men for the Scottish team in 1973 when the Scottish Rugby Union marked a hundred years of rugby with an international tournament.
Thanks to Laing Speirs for providing the background and to the former Gala players for sharing their memories (below)
‘My most memorable experience playing 7s for Gala is…’
P C Brown*
I have found it difficult to select any one outstanding memory of the wonderful Gala seven I played for from 1968 to 1973. There were so many fantastic, memorable incidents!
I played in 28 Border Sports finals, winning 23 of them, and now in my dotage, recall with great pleasure our unbeaten runs of four consecutive gold medals at Netherdale and three gold in a row at Melrose. High up there also is winning the Langholm Centenary Sevens, beating a very strong Barbarians team in a brutally contested final. Happy days!!
Captaining the Gala seven that won the 1964 Melrose Sevens and a getting a second Melrose winners’ medal.
Our late escape from Edinburgh Accies in the first round, then going on to comfortably beat a strong Stewarts FP side in the semi-final – the winners of the Murrayfield tournament the previous weekend – and finally knocking out a top class London Scottish side in a very hard fought final. It was a truly memorable team effort of which three are regrettably no longer with us.
Playing in the Sevens for Gala is memorable personally and emotionally, almost beyond words. But it was the joy within the Gala community, who made me so welcome, which I remember best of all. Collecting a lot of winners’ medals and the sea of smiling faces around me is as clear in my mind now as it if were yesterday. Finally, I still think of the two – Dunc Paterson and Kenny Oliver – whom we have lost too soon.
After suffering defeat by Cardiff in the final of our own Sevens in 1964, we went on the following week to win Melrose where my lasting memory is a brilliant dummy by Scott Amos in the last seconds of the final to score to beat a very strong London Scottish team who only seconds before had a break away but Nat Carson covered and stopped a certain score.
My greatest memory however would be the final at Netherdale against Loughborough Colleges in 1969 when we ran out winners 38-5 in which the brilliance of Dunc Paterson resulted in him scoring five of the eight tries of which seven were converted by Kenny Oliver – two outstanding performances by two great players who will never be forgotten.
Our first win at Gala Sevens and Hovis and I were celebrating our win at the final whistle – Dunc (Paterson) ordered us to stop it and calm down. He said: ‘you’re expected to win!!’. He was right, as you did not want to write the team talk for the opposition for the following week.
Another great memory was my first Melrose win and the joy on my fither’s face at the final whistle as the fans poured on to the pitch and he was one of them. But it was not only about the recognised seven during our successful run, it was also we had great backup players. Harry Carruthers springs to mind. He came on and could play anywhere in the back line and this was one of the reasons for our success.
Arthur (Hovis) Brown*
The unexpected victory against the in-form Loughborough College by 38-5 in the 1969 final at Netherdale will remain as a high point in my Sevens carrier and anyone that can relate back to that shock result will reflect on the five-try brilliance of Dunc (Paterson) and seven out of eight conversions by KO (Kenny Oliver).
Another great performance by a team mate that comes to mind was in the final against Bridgend in the 1971 Gala final. After losing John Frame and sub Harry Carruthers in the early ties we had to drag Nairn McEwan from his Dalgetty’s pies in the tea tent to play on the wing against J.J Williams the Welsh winger, and much to the joy of the Border crowd, Nairn ran around him twice to score and secure the victory 19-13.
When you look back, scoring any try was special but so was stopping them. My one great memory relating to that aspect of the game, with a little luck also playing its part, was when my tap tackle on Keith Fielding (Loughborough College and international winger) stopped a certain try in the Melrose final of 1970 for us to go on and lift the Trophy.
A great family memory I have of that final was captured in a photograph in the Sunday Press the following day with a picture of me sliding in at the corner to score in the final with a rather enthusiastic Gala supporter in the background jumping up and down on the enclosure seating. The caption read ‘Elderly gentleman gets rather excited’ – that gentleman was my Dad who was not over impressed with the description of ‘elderly’.
*Peter (PC) Brown, John Frame and Arthur (Hovis) Brown were three of the famous Gala sextet – which also included Jock Turner, Nairn McEwan and Dunc Paterson – who played together in the Scottish team in 1971 who beat England twice on successive Saturdays.
Drew Gill also played for Scotland, Johnny Brown was in the Scottish seven that played at Murrayfield in 1973, while Johnny Gray and Nat Carson – in addition to the above – were key players for Gala in both sevens and 15s over many years.
Today’s professional era has changed everything, but the Gala rugby community remains strong and hopefully – in the not too distant future – the ‘sea of smiling faces’ that John Frame refers to will return.