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The Community Clubhouse: Stewart’s Melville Rugby Club  

PRE-SPRING ‘24

Sitting on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Stewart’s Melville Rugby Club has operated for nearly 150 years and counts current and former Scottish international players among alumni.

Steeped in heritage and tradition, the club acts as a home for those who love the sport. We spoke to some of the players and coaches to get their take on what it means to them, why they play in occasionally freezing weather three times a week, and what it brings to the local community.

HOME

Alex Hagart is Head Coach at Stewart’s Melville. A former pupil at the school that’s attached to the club, he competed for both the school and senior teams before his playing days were cut short when he was 19, after an operation on a back injury.

“I dodged a bullet once, and I felt like I didn’t really want to have to dodge another one, so I got into coaching,"  he said.

Hagart has been involved in the club three times a week for the last 22 years, which on the surface may seem like a huge time commitment. Hearing him speak about Stewart’s Melville though, it becomes clear that it’s about more than just the sport.

“We're not the most successful or richest club in the world, but I think people want to be here because it’s about more than just winning, it’s about having a really good group of friends. A lot of people involved in the club have a similar story to me. This is their home,” he explained.

This idea of finding a home is one that Jamie Sword, the club captain, echoes.

“I was six years old when I started with tag rugby. I don’t think I’ve had a free Saturday morning since I was about ten years old, but I wouldn't have it any other way! I think I just instantly knew it was the sport for me, the values that it holds, the people that are involved with it. It just fits, it’s perfect. That brotherhood, that togetherness, that unity. A team together is so much stronger than its different parts.”

Like many others, Sword first became interested in the sport because of his father and friends.

“The club have supported me through some really difficult times, and we've enjoyed some great times with each other as well. To me it's incredibly special and it's a place that I hold very, very close to my heart. It's just full of the nicest people you could ever meet, and I'm sure a lot of rugby clubs are, but this is my home.”

UNITY

Rugby is undoubtedly a highly physical game, but the way people conduct themselves is just as important as what goes on on the pitch for Sword.

“There's an old saying which is that rugby is a thug's game played by gentlemen, and I think that encapsulates it perfectly because you might have a really physical game, but at the end of it you shake hands with your opponents and have a beer in the clubhouse. It’s quite rare to have that in a sporting environment. It's not built on segregation; it's built on a unity of what binds us is more than what separates us. And I think that to an outsider that’s a really the unique selling point of rugby as a sport.”

COMMUNITY

Sport undoubtedly has the power to bring people together, and Sword elaborated on how the game benefits whole communities.

“Take the Scottish borders, for example. These are towns that were built around the rugby club. Every house is built overlooking the rugby club. It is an intrinsic part of that community, and it doesn't just provide a place for people to go and play rugby, it provides a source of friendship, a source of family, and people have jobs linked to the rugby club.

It is really the heart of the community and I think that is the legacy and the reason that connections to rugby are so strong in Scotland. It's not just a sport, it's so much more than that,”
 he said.