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November Rugby Memories Meeting

05/12/2019

The Stirling Rugby Memories group met at the end of November with former international referee Jim Fleming giving some fascinating insights into his time as a referee. He talked of how proud he was to be awarded an M.B.E. for services to rugby, and he note that this meant he could be referred to as the “Miserable B..... E..... ”. Jim began to referee in 1973 then officiated at four world cups and has great stories to tell of all of them. He didn’t envisage moving up this ladder at the start, and put this down to just being in the right place at the right time. Though to be fair, Ian McGeechan, international rugby coach and visionary did say that Jim was probably the best referee Scotland has ever produced. Jim  described a match when he awarded a try to Australian great, Michael Lynagh, a fantasic try scored under immense pressure and to win a match was met by eerily silence from the large crowd– it knocked Ireland out of the world cup – being played in Ireland! 

Jim’s first international match allocation Ireland v England was cancelled because of snow and he wondered if he would ever get another chance – he did, and many of them, though it did not seem so certain to him as a young referee when opportunities  were much fewer than they are today. The next day he was brought down to earth when his referee coordinator phoned to say that since he was now free could he referee Leith Accies v Selkirk so he found himself in front of a dog and few spectators instead of in front of the large crowd in Ireland. He recalled having to provide his own kit in these early days. When given the opportunity to referee professionally Jim decided to retire at the age of fifty while still at the top of his game.

Jim gave ideas of how the game could be improved but emphasised the referee is only there to apply the laws, the players must be keen to play in the spirit of the game if a good spectacle is to follow. He recalled when he refereed a Bledisloe Cup match New Zealand against Australia with 112,000 spectators but once he blew the whistle to start the match his focus was all on the game and not the noise of the fanatical crowd. He could still apply the laws fairly even under such pressure and consequently was asked to cover many internationals, Sevens tournaments, including Hong Kong and Melrose finals, representative fixtures as well as the odd Barbarian games. Jim continues to support referee development in the Scottish game.

Archie Drummond and Greg Welch then gave an illuminating talk and discussion about the proposed Community Sports Hub planned around the Hillfoots Rugby Club area in Tillicoultry. The rugby club has been central to the development but ski-ing, canoeing, horse-riding, hill-walking, and cycling are among many of the sports being targeted. The aim is to build accessible gym and changing facilities which make use of the tremendous sporting potential of the Hillfoots community around Alva , Dollar and Tillicoultry. This sounds like an exciting move which could support community sport in the area but perhaps also provide a stepping stone for elite sporting performance as well. We wished them well in their efforts.


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