club scene Livingston
Sometimes, positive developments can spring from tragedy. An air of sadness hung over Livingston RFC last March when the New Town organisation's stalwart administrator and all-round good egg, Donald Naysmith, died of cancer at just 56 years of age. On and off the pitch, the Almond Park club seemed in disarray. But Livingston have roared back with a vengeance in the last few months.
Thus far, in their RBS East League campaign, the West Lothian side have won 10 matches out of 10, their 100% record bolstered by the return of a string of former players, whose careers commenced at Livingston prior to them moving on to Currie. No fewer than five men – including such Premiership champions as Andy MacMahon, Neil Scobie and Aaron Johnston – have responded magnificently to their new challenge, but the renaissance which has happened behind the scenes has been as significant and explains why Livingston have just been awarded the RBS Club of the Month prize for October.
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"The team were going through a bit of a rough patch and it was terrible when we heard about Donald, so we thought it was time to give something back," says MacMahon, the Livingston captain. "This is a big community and there are plenty of positive developments going on, so there was real buzz when we heard we had won the award, even if it was a bit unexpected. We have to make sure we keep our intensity going, although we don't play again until December."
Livingston's template for the future is the natural consequence of having so many progressive individuals in their ranks and committee rooms. Their development officer, Sarah Quick, has represented Scotland 13 times and still turns out for Murrayfield Wanderers; their new president, Peter Bon, talks quietly and in matter-of-fact style about creating a Youth Academy, which will nurture the scores of primary and secondary-school children now attached to the club; and the likes of MacMahon realise that the only way for Livingston to thrive in the future is by tapping into the latent potential of the many schools within easy reach of their premises.
"We have one of the biggest youth sections anywhere in Scotland, and I think we are in a unique position, where we can sit down now and work out the players who might be involved with the Firsts in 2021 and 2022," says Bon, who envisages the senior players mentoring the teenagers and those who might otherwise be lost to the sport once they leave school at 16 or 17.
"It's an ambitious venture, but we are seeing these ideas coming into being in other sports and we have to think long-term. It's terrific that people such as Andy and Neil [and Aaron, Peter Bruton and Ross Neil] have come back and they have made a serious difference to our performances: last year, we were losing almost every week, but now we are unbeaten, so the Currie brigade have helped shake things up. But they all began here in the first place."
According to the redoubtable MacMahon, the new attitude on the grassroots circuit is professionalism with a small "p". That exemplifies why the skipper will not allow any complacency to slip into his side.
"This month, the coaches have instigated a plan and the players have all been tested, in such areas as pace, power and strength," said MacMahon, who twice savoured Premiership success at Malleny Park. "They will all be tested again at the end of the month, before we tackle Forrester FPs. It can actually be harder when you don't have games than when you do, but we have no intention of letting the intensity drop."
One suspects Naysmith would be proud of the resurgence. And one also gets the notion that none of these Livingston players are interested in the notion of second best from now on.