The Glasgow Academical Rugby Football Section was founded in 1866 when a number of former pupils of the school met at the Academy under the chairmanship of the Rector, Mr Morrison, and adopted a resolution that an Academical Club should be formed
The rules were drawn up on the lines of the Edinburgh Academical Club and officers elected. By 1871 the Club had a membership of almost 200 and by 1889 it was well over 500. The Club now provides opportunities for cricket, ladies and men’s hockey, tennis, curling, golf and angling, but it is the rugby section that is best known and which has achieved fame throughout the world. Rugby football is the only game that has been played by the Club without a break except, during the war years, in its one hundred and thirty seven years of existence.
The Academicals played their first match in the season 1867-1868.
Scottish rugby in its early days appears to have been full of ‘disputed’ matches and in 1884 the Academicals and arch rivals West of Scotland both claimed to have won a match before it was decided to let it count as a draw. One incident worthy of note occurred in a match against West of Scotland in 1869. The ball was kicked over the West’s goal-line, but over a fence into the adjoining field, whereupon a West of Scotland player went to the fence, but Arthur , for the Academicals, got over and touched down. It was taken to be a try, but West of Scotland disputing the touch, a goal was not attempted. As the History of Glasgow Academy so rightly observes, ‘The dead ball line now fortunately renders it unnecessary for the players to indulge in obstacle races’.
The Academical team soon established itself as one of the best in Scotland and its record from 1867 to 1882 was quite remarkable in that in 145 matches in sixteen seasons it lost only 11 of them. In eight of these seasons it was undefeated, a record not fully appreciated by people outside Scotland. The Club became the first to send a team across the border into England and in December 1870 the Academicals played Liverpool and Manchester on their home grounds and both matches ended in draws.
It was also the first Club to play in London when it defeated Blackheath in March 1878. Ireland had been visited in 1872 when the North of Ireland was defeated in Belfast. The Club still has a remarkable touring record. Even in current times, since 1990, tours to Berlin, Hong Kong, France, Portugal, Bermuda, Holland, Zimbabwe and North Carolina have taken place.
The Scottish Rugby Union was formed at a meeting held in Glasgow Academy after the third international match against England, played at Partick in Glasgow in March 1873. The Academicals were one of the original clubs. The first rules of the Union were drawn up by a committee in which, two Academicals, J.W. Arthur and A.Harvey served.
However, from 1883 until the start of the century the Club played a less-important part in Scottish rugby and suffered some very poor seasons, but the new century brought with it a new era of prosperity for the Academicals. By 1905, under the captaincy of Louis Greig, the Club regained its rightful place among its Scottish rivals. Only one match was lost in 1904-1905 and the success of the side was based on all round excellence rather than brilliant individuals. Up to the outbreak of the First World War the team continued to play well and won the championship in 1912-1913 after being runners up on four occasions, and never lower than fifth place. The full 1913-1914 season’s team was engaged on active service and eight members were killed. Of the remaining seven, only one of them returned unwounded. Consequently, when rugby was resumed in 1919 a completely new side had to be developed, but the Academy continued to turn out magnificent players and by 1921-1922 the Club had won the Scottish Club Championship again, dropping to second place the following year, but remaining at the top until 1925-1926.
This era is regarded as the most successful in the history of the Club and in the five seasons they played 123 matches, losing 10, two to Oxford University, two to Cambridge University and only six to Scottish opposition. They scored in these matches 3026 points and had only 522 registered against them. In 1925-1926 season it was not defeated by any Scottish Club. Great players of this era included Herbert Waddell, J.B. Nelson, J.C. Dykes, J.M. Simmers, R.C. Warren, M.A. Allan and J.B.White who was the successful captain. The four outstanding backs, Nelson, Waddell, Simmers and Dykes, were all outstanding Scottish international, and the Waddell-Nelson half back pairing was the fear of all Scottish club and international opponents. Herbert Waddell went on to be a highly respected President of the Barbarians and on his death the Barbarians honoured him with a match at New Anniesland when they fielded a strong team of international players.
From1926 until 1932 the Club failed to win the Championship, but were never lower than fourth position. However, the later 1930’s were not particularly successful and World War II brought another halt to activities. The process of rebuilding was set in motion in 1945 and the Academicals were almost back to their former high position by the mid 50’s. In 1954-1955 under the captaincy of Jimmy Thomson, Accies were joint champions winning 19 out of 25 matches and losing only three. They held third position the following season but by the end of the decade the results were disappointing and season 1959- 1960 was, probably, the poorest in the Club’s history to that date. Sixteen wins from twenty three matches in 1968-1969 and nineteen from twenty four the following year restored some of the pride. This was followed by three more successful seasons in the early 1970’s.
In 1973 the National leagues were established and Accies, due to their performances in the past six years were awarded with a place in the first division. Sadly, this coincided with the retirement of a number of key players and decline in the number of young players coming from the Academy. The trend for Academy boys to go to Universities outside of Glasgow had commenced and still continues today. The Club had to consider going open and admit players who had not attended Glasgow Academy. This debate lasted some time and in hindsight Accies should probably have taken this decision some two years earlier. In 1977 Accies were relegated to the third division and a further drop in 1979 was only avoided on points difference. The following season saw the start of a revival and by 1984-1985 Accies were back in the top flight. In this period John Beattie gained a place in the Scottish team and went on to gain 25 caps and to tour with the British Lions. The remainder of the 80’s were up and down between the first and second divisions.
The early 90’s saw a consistent mid table position in the second division. In 1995 the leagues were reconstructed from divisions of fourteen to ten and eight. This resulted in Accies being in the third division. Immediately this division was won with 12 wins from fourteen games. A mid table finish in 1996-97 then became the Club’ last appearance in the top divisions – at least for a few years – as the decision was made to combine the first XV’s of Glasgow Academicals and arch rivals GHK (Glasgow High Kelvinside) to form the Glasgow Hawks. The Hawks went on to win the second division championship and the Scottish Cup in their first year. They have continued in the first division and have since been beaten finalists on two further occasions. In their first year they were regarded as one of the best club sides to have played in Scotland. Glen Metcalfe, Derek Stark, Gordon McIlwham and Murray Wallace were Scottish Internationalists and Tommy Hayes and Mike Beckham had played for the Cook Islands.
With the advent of the Hawks, Accies reformed as a league side the following year. Unfortunately they had to start at the bottom of Scottish rugby in Glasgow division 3. In the following five years they won promotion in each season and now play in National Division 2 – still a long way from the top but going in the right direction.
The club harbours good relations with our associate club, Glasgow Hawks, and actively develop players who have the desire and ability to go on to play at the highest level of club rugby in Scotland. The current coaching staff have committed to a series of goals to achieve in the coming seasons as the club strives for further promotion to the premier divisions.