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98 Years of Co-Optimists rugby

Our Scottish Heritage

Co-Optimists RFC: 1924 – 2022

 

 

The origin of Co-Optimists rugby is one of Scottish rugby folklore. Founded in September 1924, the objective was to promote rugby football in specific locations where it was not the premier sport. In order to do this, a unique brand of rugby needed to be introduced. This resulted in Scotland’s leading invitation-only rugby club. The idea was to primarily use players from local clubs around Scotland, with the occasional international player included within the squad. This is still the case 98 years on. The well-known rugby journalist “Jock” Wemyss and Watsonians player George Murray decided to name the club after a popular variety act of the time. The act is now long forgotten, but the Co-Optimists have retained the legacy and remain the leading ‘invitation only’ rugby club in Scotland.

 

The annual fixture against East Lothian is the highlight for many Co-Ops’ players and supporters. 1924 saw the first ever match for the squad, and that fixture remains in place today as a piece of tradition untouched by the modern era. 

 

The Co-Optimists have a remarkable record considering that it has no ground, no membership fee, and only one regular fixture. The Club has participated three times in the famous Hong Kong Sevens. 

 

In 1980 the Club was beaten in the final 12-8 by Fiji on a water logged pitch.

In 1981 they lost to Australia in the semi-finals by 18 points to 10. 

In 1986 the Club returned to participate in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sevens after an absence of five years, making it to the quarter finals.

 

Other accolades over the years include:

  • 1936 Langholm Sevens: Champions 

  • 1940 Jed-Forest Sevens Champions 

  • 1937 & 1938, 1947, 1975 Selkirk Sevens Champions 

  • 1925, 1939, 1960Edinburgh Charity Sevens Champions 

  • 1925 Edinburgh Borderers Sevens Champions 

 

In 1993, the Co-Optimists achieved the pinnacle of their Sevens success by winning the prestigious Melrose Sevens Tournament for the first time in its history – a feat they will look to emulate this year. Some of that squad subsequently represented Scotland at the Rugby World Cup Sevens at Murrayfield the following week.

 

Teams are principally chosen from Scottish players, but many notable internationalists have come from further afield to support the famous invitation-only club. Many famous faces have worn the navy blue, including Scottish internationals Arthur Smith, Sandy Carmichael, Ian McLauchlan, Douglas Morgan, Andy Irvine, Ian McGeechan, David Sole, Finlay Calder, John Jeffrey, Sean Lineen, Gavin and Scott Hastings, and Rob Wainwright. 1984’s Grand Slam winning squad have each represented The Co-Optimists at one time or another.

 

The coveted invitation has also been accepted by players of over thirty English clubs, including Bath, Blackburn, Coventry, Fylde, Harlequins, London Scottish, Loughborough Colleges, Manchester, Orrell, Sale and Wasps as well as Welsh, Irish and ‘far flung’ clubs. Amongst the many famous players to join The Co-Ops are Phil Horrocks-Taylor, Micky Steel-Bodger, Dickie Jeeps, Mike Weston, John Currie, Jamie Salmon, Nigel Melville, Alan Old, Tony O’Reilly, Andy Mulligan, Moss Keane, Mike Gibson, Tom Kiernan, Jonathan Davies, Alan Pask and David Watkins.

 

As stated, the Co-Ops do not have a ground to call their own. This means all fixtures have been played ‘away’. As advocates for the game of rugby, the team has been more than happy to travel fair distances to showcase their abilities. One of the more notable fixtures being against London Welsh at Twickenham. The Co-Ops have also played against Cardiff at The Arms Park, and in 1987 played Llanelli at Stradey Park in the Carwyn James Memorial Match. Other fixtures have been played at Blackburn, Newcastle and Northampton . The club has fulfilled numerous fixtures abroad, too. They’ve twice visited Spain - The summer of 1982 saw the Co-Ops participate in a tournament with France, Ireland and a Catalonian Select to mark the opening of the 1982 World Cup. In 1985 a two week tour was made to Zimbabwe where the club was unbeaten and twice won against the national side. The same Zimbabwean side who subsequently met Scotland in both the 1987 and 1991 World Cups. The Co-Optimists were captained by Jim Aitken, the 1984 Grand Slam skipper.

 

With the advent of professionalism in to the modern game, a limitation was put on The Co-Optimists’ fixtures. The traditional East Lothian match continues as it has since 1924. The club now plans to participate wherever possible in charity matches, anniversary celebrations and – in keeping with tradition - will invite primarily the elite from the Scottish scene.

 

Everyone at The Co-Optimists wish to thank you for the past 98 years, and we look forward to extending this legacy with you over the next 98.