On and off the pitch, my first season as President of London Scottish has certainly been an eventful and challenging one. So it is with great pleasure that I write to you at the start of a second season, with our place in the RFU Championship League secured, a new squad signed up under the management of Director of Rugby Bryan Redpath and coach Joe Gray, and the excitement to look forward to of a new competition, the re-vamped Premiership Cup, where London Scottish will play at Premiership Clubs Exeter and Bath in the opening pool phases in September. It promises to be an exciting start to the season for London Scots fans, and I look forward to seeing you down at the RAG as we embark on a new campaign. There is a lot of change underway in the English professional game as it navigates its way through club insolvencies and negotiates a new Professional Game Agreement with the RFU. It will be crucially important for London Scottish to confirm our standing and place in the top echelons of the game with a strong performance in the 2023/24 league season.
For me, having only just been installed as President at last year’s AGM, the 2022/3 season started with the sad news of the untimely death of incoming Chair Roddy Caxton Spencer. Roddy was a long-standing member of the club, and a Board member who had recently taken on the mantle of Chair, so his passing was a shock to us all and the loss of his leadership and direction caused severe disruption to our plans for the season, necessitating a number of important changes in our management team and Board membership. Roddy had been instrumental in the signing of our new partnership agreement with Harlequins, he was bringing additional funding for the professional team and we were starting the season out at a new training ground at Grasshoppers in Osterley. Pre-season training and early fixtures showed signs of our potential with a highly encouraging victory away in Edinburgh and entertaining friendly with Harlequins. Our hopes were high.
However, with so much change on and off the field, it was perhaps not surprising that it took a long time for our squad to come together, gel and complete a full 80 minutes of competitive performance. Too often in the first half of the season we proved ourselves willing and able to compete, even against the stronger sides in the league, but were undone by individual moments of madness, odd chances that went begging and passages of play where the team collectively lost its direction. To some on the sidelines it felt that we were finding new ways to lose games we could have won or at least taken points of consolation for the league position, and I lost count of the times when opposition committee men would reassure me after the game, that ‘there’s no way you are going to go down playing like that’. But performances like those culminated in our narrow defeats away to Doncaster and Jersey (15-14 and 24-22) which left us adrift in 12th place at the bottom of the league. Gallant and heroic losers, scoring exciting tries and playing ambitious rugby, but with lots to do to retain our place in the Championship.
The final weeks of the season brought welcome relief to this pattern, where the team displayed a steely resolve and a collective commitment to achieve our own London Scottish ‘Great Escape’. Narrow defeats became narrow victories (away at Hartpury and Nottingham) and the crowning moment of glory was the overwhelming defeat of our co-tenants Richmond, 49-3 in a relegation dogfight. Finally, we found a fluency of style and could select from a consistent pool of London Scots and Harlequins loan players and it showed on the pitch. I am not sure I remember all of the return trip from Nottingham (19-20 victory) after our Friday night return on the team bus (2am at the RAG!), but I am grateful to all those in the stands who kept me sane and a little bit calmer in those 8 painful minutes of injury time which transformed our season.
It certainly seems strange to celebrate a season where we finished 11th/12 in the league, but in the circumstances we felt like winners. Huge congratulations should go all those involved in the squad, ably led by departing skipper Joe Rees and to the coaching staff who instilled that ‘will to win’ and ‘never say die attitude’ that proved essential to our survival. Player of the season went to Cam Anderson, whose season of top performances at full back or centre were rewarded with a professional contract at Harlequins for 2023/4, demonstrating the value and potential of our agreement in developing players.
So much that goes on in a rugby clubs takes place behind the scenes, in the preparation and training of the squad for the fixtures, in the organisation and management of the home games and associated hospitality events and in the generation of the commercial income that is vital to our ongoing financial sustainability as a professional club. To all those involved in those unseen moments (season long for many), we owe a huge debt of thanks and in particular this season to our incoming Finance Director Sam Hovey and Chief Executive Nick Grecian. Thanks also to those who have departed during and after the season, to Nick Igoe our long standing finance director and to Norrie Jackson, the indefatigable fund raiser without whom this club would have folded many years ago. And where would we be without our sponsors, renewing their commitment to the club at a time of disruption and challenging performances? Our thanks as always to them for their support and especially to Tunnochs, Distillers and DMG whose long term support has been invaluable.
And so we turn to a new season where we strive to begin from a stronger base with a broader and deeper London Scottish squad and a greater understanding of the scope and potential of our coaching and player loan agreement with Harlequins. Pre-season has started earlier, with the squad returning in better condition than a year earlier. We are also delighted to have been able to expand our use of the Kings House School sports facility to include training for our professional squad from September. This brings together all our club on one site, our minis, juniors, age grade players, our amateur Lions (promoted again in 2022/23 and now gearing up to compete at Counties 1) and our professional team. We hope this will do more to promote the ‘One Club’ culture we all aspire to at London Scottish and which was emphatically endorsed in our membership survey last season. We remain an ‘Elite Community Rugby Club’ offering playing opportunities to our members throughout the rugby pathway, with a long heritage and Scottish character to all we do. Please support our club again in 2023/24, renew your membership and have a great season watching London Scottish across its teams.