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Amateurism's glory days were dogged by some professional killjoys

Time was Scottish rugby indulged in behaviour that made it look ridiculously outdated.

But enough of 2008; let's look back to the days when the governing body weighed in to stop Glasgow Academicals, the country's club champions in 1926, meeting the touring New Zealand Maori, who were a terrific attraction on their seven-month trip to Europe.

At a time of industrial unrest, a general strike, and when rugby league was gathering myriad converts in the north of England – several, mainly Borders-based Scots switched codes – maybe the Murrayfield panjandrums had good reason to fear the arrival of the southern hemisphere icons. Mind you, the French and Welsh had no such qualms and authorised a basic daily sustenance payment which ensured the Maori squad could undertake their schedule.

The SRU had been appalled in 1905. The All Blacks, wonders of the Edwardian sporting age, had asked for a guarantee of £300 for meeting the Scots at Inverleith. The match attracted more than 20,000 fans to an invigorating contest; the visitors pushed all the way before recording a hard-fought 12-7 win.

Their huff extended to 1925 when the New Zealand "Invincibles" embarked on their try-studded triumphal procession in Europe. The Scots, who had kicked up all manner of objections – on the basis that amateurism should mean no pay, no play, no way – were ruled by individuals such as their notorious secretary, James Aikman Smith, so there was no meeting the Kiwis' finest. But, a year later, when the Maori arrived in the UK, one might have thought greater flexibility would prevail.Several members of the Maori party had a deep-rooted affinity with Scotland, as they had been billeted here and had served alongside Scottish regiments in the Great War. One might have felt the slaughter of so many millions would have persuaded even the most hidebound heidyin to accept that rugby was a decent means of reconnecting with a 'normal' way of life. But this was Murrayfield, at a time in the sport when more than one player had to pay for an unreturned jersey after the war.

Glasgow Accies and the Maori authorities officially sought permission from the SRU for a match at Anniesland. Yet there were people at Murrayfield whose attitude beggared common sense. A relative of one of those authorities told me he partially understood the union's concerns: "They didn't want players to think they could get away with being paid money for playing rugby but, in my experience, nobody wanted that in the first place. However, they felt that they had been stung by the All Blacks in 1925 and were determined it wouldn't happen again."

Hence, the application by Accies secretary W S Dobson was rejected as a non-starter. In correspondence between the club and the NZ officials it was clear both parties were enthusiastic – it would have been a first. Instead, Dobson had to tell his opposite number that the SRU had refused to sanction the match, and the chance of an event which would have probably drawn a five-figure crowd was gone.

Aikman Smith was one of life's great autocrats, a man with starch in his veins, let alone his collars, but the fact the Scots and Maoris had fought together in the Allied cause prompted a simple question: "Was preserving amateurism really as important as backing those who died in the trenches?"

If so, the folly of Scotland's sports bureaucrats is nothing new.

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