When two rugby enthusiasts came together back in September 1952 to try and establish Stornoway Rugby Club, it is doubtful whether they had any idea of the success story that was to follow. In that most defining of periods in local history - post-war Lewis - the foundations were set for what was to grow into one of the most highly-regarded rugby clubs across the north of Scotland.
The club's genesis lay in the foresight of Bob Bruce, a Scottish internationalist with three caps who moved to the area to work in a local bank, and Stornoway engineer John Morrison, who learned the game while in South Africa. Frustrated by a lack of competitive rugby, they endeavoured to do something about it.
And on November 1st that year, the first organised game to grace the shores of Lewis took place. The Royal Navy's "HMS Cook" took the field against the newly-formed home club, with Stornoway marking their inception in ideal fashion with a 16-0 win.
The club remained active throughout the 1950s with games being arranged against visiting Navy ships and RAF personnel. In November 1953 a rather bizarre incident occurred when the home side took the field prepared to pit their wits against HMS Welfare. While Stornoway had been busy psyching themselves up for a game of rugby, the visitors had been under the impression that the contest was to involve the round-ball discipline - no doubt much to the frustration of the islanders who were looking forward to the relatively rare commodity of a good, hard game of rugby. But, ever obliging, Stornoway agreed to play them at football. The final scoreline is not recorded, but would have made some interesting reading.
Into the 1960s, and this was perhaps the most disappointing period as they practically disappeared off the scene all together. However, in 1972 a new lease of life was breathed into the club in order to provide opposition to the Nicolson Institute, where the game had been introduced the previous year. The first game between the school and the "old crocks" was played at the Acres Playing Field on January 11th, 1972. The final scoreline was 12-8 for the school, but the game is more remembered for the number of pulled muscles and sore bones afflicting the now-ageing Stornoway squad members.
The Nicolson remained something of a breeding ground for the club over the years and much of that was down to the sterling efforts of a few individual teachers - in particular Angus MacCormack, Tom Clark and Eddie Young, the latter doing an enormous amount to foster the sport during his 20 or so years as rector.
Season 1978/79 saw the pinnacle of rugby in the school when a senior team from the Nicolson captured the North of Scotland Schools' Championship. This was a tremendous achievement and one in which Stornoway Rugby Club themselves played no small part by providing regular and tough opposition to the talented school side.
The early 1970s, however, was not the most successful of eras on the playing front. But by the midway point of the decade the prospects of Stornoway were taken to a new level. In 1974, following protracted negotiations with the Ministry of Defence, permission was obtained to establish the club's first permanent pitch on a corner of the airfield close to Steinish. Then, only a year later, the club were to receive a major boost when Comhairle nan Eilean Siar opened its doors for the first time, bringing with it a welcome injection of new blood. That platform allowed progress on the playing front to be maintained well into the 1980s, allowing the club to go from strength to strength.
Although the home ground secured near Steinish was somewhat exposed, the facility served admirably until it was lost in 1982 after the runway was extended at the behest of NATO. Fortunately, two years later, the new playing fields at Bayhead were opened and the location has remained the club's home pitch ever since, barring one or two excursion to the Acres pitch and even as far away as the Ness machair in the early 1990s when Bayhead was flooded.
Although the club moved to a new level in the 1980s, the perennial problem of a lack of opposition remained steadfast. Although the logical and desirable step of membership of the Highland District League would have solved it in the blink of an eye, the difficulties presented by travel commitments meant it stayed off the agenda - only for the time being, however.
But despite not being able to call on regular opposition, Stornoway managed the tremendous feat of winning the Brin Cup in season 1989/90. The final's only try was scored by Ainsley MacPherson, the now chairman, who was pushed over the line by his team-mates - although he himself maintains he waltzed his way over from 40 metres in Campese-esque fashion. As if.
The Brin Cup success firmly marked the arrival of a talented Stornoway side and served as an ideal springboard for what was to become the club's most successful decade to date. In 1995, Stornoway took the ambitious, if long-awaited, step of joining the Highland District League. And in their very first year they won the league championship - a feat they were to repeat another four times, the last being in 2000/01 season. They also lifted the Brin Cup again in 1996/97, beating Orkney in the final and also captured the Highland District League Cup in its inaugural year in 2000/01. The Stornoway silverware cupboard was now beginning to fill up rapidly.
Of course the 2002 50th anniversary will go down as the year of the Bahamas, when the islanders had the audacity to travel to the Carribean as part of the half-century celebrations. As one can imagine, this once- in-a-lifetime adventure took a gargantuan organisational effort and certainly captured the public's imagination. In all, 29 guys travelled and took part in two games in sweltering conditions against select teams from the island of Nassau, both of which were only narrowly lost. Perhaps more importantly, though, the players returned with a treasure trove of memories - not to mention a few incidents which, shall we say, have been lost in the mists of time.
The club's steady progress over the years was maintained in season 2002/03 as they stepped up to the North District League, a tournament which encompasses 12 teams stretching from the Highlands through to the east coast. Although heavy travel commitments is far from an alien concept to Stornoway, regular trips to the likes of Aberdeen and Peterhead required a new level of application both on and off the park - and one which the club are confident of meeting.
The move up a division also brought with it automatic qualification to the BT Cellnet Scottish Cup, and Stornoway were delighted when the first round draw pitted them against National Division Five side Helensburgh. That game was played on Saturday 7th September at Bayhead and will represent the club's most high-profile fixture to date - yet another fitting tribute in their 50th anniversary year.
As the club prepared to round off the 50th celebrations, it is testament to the club's commitment over the years that they celebrated its past in the full knowledge that a bright new future lies within their grasp. One can only assume that it is something the late Bob Bruce and John Morrison would have welcomed with open arms.
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