IF the pandemic has taught rugby in Scotland anything, then it is the reliance of the game on volunteers to do the hard work off the pitch.

In clubs across the country, local stalwarts keep things going when it would be so much easier just to pack up and blame Covid-19. 

I am thinking particularly at this time of Barry Sinclair, the Portobello RFC member who died earlier this month at the age of 70 after nearly 60 years of involvement with the club. His loss was deeply mourned in the Edinburgh and Lothians rugby community, and the Scottish Rugby Union paid him tribute with a generous obituary on its website.

I am quoting from that obituary: “Barry was part of the many highs and lows at Portobello.

“In 2007 Portobello RFC’s clubhouse was burned down in an act of vandalism, with 50-years’ worth of the club’s proud history – trophies, photographs and memories – destroyed in the process.

“In the days that followed, many questioned whether the blaze would herald a forbidding end to Portobello’s rugby future, but that did not account for the incredible spirit of the club’s membership, or the determination of Barry Sinclair.

“With Barry driving much of the work, the club went on to rebuild the clubhouse, and in the years following, Portobello twice went on to reach the Shield and Bowl finals at BT Murrayfield, with the club coming out on top as the BT Bowl winners against Blairgowrie in 2017 winning 23-33, a day which meant so much to Barry.”

I distinctly remember driving down to see the horrendous damage done to the clubhouse on the day after the fire, and it was Barry who showed me around. From that moment, I never had any doubt that Porty would be back, and so it proved.

Barry also did a lot of unsung work on various committees and I am glad that he received recognition  that included a lifetime achievement award. 

There have been many other tributes to Barry and I am sure there will be more at his funeral which is to be held at 11am on Friday, January 7, at Warriston Crematorium in Edinburgh. As his obituary states: “All welcome, family flowers only, donations welcome to the Murrayfield Injured Players Foundation.”

It is men and women like Barry Sinclair that our sport desperately needs all the time, never mind this era of the pandemic.

There’s a club on the west coast which is a solid example of club stalwarts making a difference. I’m thinking of Cartha Queen’s Park RFC (CQP) on the south side of Glasgow, and not just because its President is my old chum Ed Crozier, the former SRU President.

They have four senior men’s teams with CQP 1sts playing in the Tennent’s National League Division One against the likes of Melrose, Kelso and Boroughmuir, and they have a 2nd XV playing in the Tennent’s West Reserve League Division One with their Shawlands team playing in West Region League Division 3.  In addition there’s the Shawlands Sharks over 35’s team run by Mark Todd.

CQP’s women’s section have two teams in leagues, the 1sts in the Tennent’s Premiership and 2nds in the Tennent’s West Region League. CQP also have a full set of youth, boys and girls and mini /midi sections and have just employed a development officer, Aird Jardine.

That’s a phenomenal amount of players needing support and coaching. I happen to know that there is a plethora of volunteers in CQP’s various different sections, and while it would be invidious to select individuals, I must single out 1st XV head coach Thomas Davidson who along with team manager David Forbes organised the food bank collection.

Women’s First XV head coach Steven McLoughlin and assistant coach Michael Bruce and the convenor of the Junior Section Stephen Running, who is also the Minis convener, are just some of the many volunteer coaches that keep CQP ticking over at their Dumbreck base.  The coaches and the committee members all work hard for the club which has emerged from lockdown in good shape.

Ed Crozier told me: “There’s life after being president of the SRU and I am enjoying my third year as President of CQP.

“It’s a wonderful community club which received Rugby World’s team of the month award during lockdown for community involvement – the club raised  £20,000 worth of groceries for a local Foodbank in Ibrox last Christmas and separately raised £10,000 for the Movember Foundation.”

Last word to Crozier – he usually gets it anyway: “Every rugby club in Scotland is worth its weight in gold in aiding recovery of Scotland’s health and well-being and every club the length and breadth of Scotland and the UK relies on these unpaid volunteers.

“They are priceless and support every part of the game from the grass roots up.” 

I could not agree more, Ed, any my only worry is how we are going to retain club stalwarts and attract more in future, for it is not just on the pitch that we need people to protect the future of the club game in Scotland.

Any ideas?