History of the men’s Premiership ahead of 50th season
The Men’s Premiership returns to action for the 2023/24 season on Saturday 3 September as it enters its 50th year of competition.
Starting in the 1973/74 season, Scottish Rugby organised full member clubs into a competition format comprised of six divisions, disbanding the previous ‘unofficial championship’.
Originally, below the six divisions were a series of District Leagues, covering smaller geographical areas, organised by District Unions, sometimes involving second teams.
Over the last 50 years, the have been many variations of the league structures, and most recently they have been reformed and integrated into a Premiership, four National Divisions plus regional leagues.
The formation of these new leagues in the 70s brought about a new level of organisation and competitiveness to the game.
In the early years of the Premiership, the league not only fostered healthy competition but also became instrumental in identifying and developing talented players who could go on to represent the men’s national team, including some of the greats of our game, such as Jim and Finlay Calder, John Jeffery, David Leslie, John Beattie, Richie Gray and Stuart Hogg
Drew Johnston of Musselburgh has many fond memories of his time playing in the Premiership in the late 80s.
“Back in those days, all the international players played for their club sides. I was trying to count up how many internationals I’ve played against, and I reckon I’ve played against about 75 in my time”, said Drew.
“It was a fantastic experience rubbing shoulders with heroes that you’d watched growing up. We tried not to be over awed. Musselburgh’s first game in the Premiership after we won promotion in 1988 was against Stewart’s Melville. It was a fantastic game! They had the likes of Jim Calder and Alex Brewster, lots of experienced players but we managed a draw. It came down to the last kick of the game, our scrum-half Donald McDonald, who kicked a conversion from the touch line to draw.
“Playing in the Premiership in those days was a fantastic experience. We had a great time playing in Hawick, again lots of talent in that team. Although we dropped out of the Premiership in that season, I have such wonderful memories and to have been a part of it was tremendous.”
The Premiership league has remained the pinnacle of domestic club rugby, providing a stage for fierce rivalries and memorable clashes, particularly in the Borders.
In 1973, Hawick became the first Premiership League winners competing alongside West of Scotland, Gala, Glasgow High, Edinburgh Wanderers, Melrose, Boroughmuir, Jordanhill, Watsonians, Heriot’s, Langholm and Glasgow Academicals.
The Borders outfit topped the table alongside West of Scotland, both sitting on 19 points with nine games and a draw each, but Hawick took the win on points difference (122-105).
A grand total of 12 clubs have claimed a Premiership title in the last 50 years.
Hawick sit at the top of the winner’s board with 13 Championship titles, followed by Melrose on 10 and Heriot’s on five.
After a 22-year wait, Hawick won their thirteenth title last season, and now enter the 2023/24 season looking to both defend it and repeat history from 50 years ago, alongside celebrating their own 150th anniversary.
Looking at the game today in its 50th year, the ten competing teams are: Hawick, Selkirk, Jed-Forest, Kelso, Edinburgh Academicals, Currie Chieftains, Glasgow Hawks, Marr, Heriot’s Blues and Musselburgh.
Kelso are the league newcomers, securing their promotion from National 1 last season in a nail-biting feat against Highland RFC (5-7).
The opening round kicks off on Saturday 3 September with all five fixtures kicking off at 3pm.
The defending champions welcome Glasgow Hawks to Mansfield Park, with fellow Borders outfits Jed-Forest and Selkirk hosting Edinburgh Accies and Currie Chieftains respectively.
Finally, Heriot’s Blues will face Marr at Goldenacre and Kelso travel to East Lothian to take on Musselburgh.