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Sport not about life and death, lest we forget

There is a tendency to use words such as "tragedy" and "disaster" in sports coverage these days if somebody kicks the ball through their own net or misses a last-gasp penalty.

On June 28, 1918, 34 former pupils of Glasgow High, Glasgow Academicals and Kelvinside Academy - now Hawks' three associate schools - were killed at Gully Ravine in Gallipoli. Among them were Scotland players Eric Young and William Church
On June 28, 1918, 34 former pupils of Glasgow High, Glasgow Academicals and Kelvinside Academy - now Hawks' three associate schools - were killed at Gully Ravine in Gallipoli. Among them were Scotland players Eric Young and William Church

Yet, when the players of Glasgow Hawks and Aberdeen Grammar join together and hold a minute's silence before Saturday's RBS Premiership match, they will be paying homage to the hundreds of their schools' young men who perished in World War I.

Back in the spring of 1914, there was little indication of the impending apocalypse. At that stage, there was no Hawks, but you had such institutions as the Glasgow Academy, Glasgow High School and Kelvinside Academy, while Aberdeen Grammar was encouraging the development of their rugby brethren in the north-east.

Yet, in the next four years, all these schools suffered a grievous loss of life as the guts were ripped out of a whole generation. When the conflict commenced, off they went, the blithe boys, to France, Australia, Palestine and almost every corner of the globe. And, in so many cases, the journeys they undertook did not require a return ticket.

Even at this distance, the figures, which have been collated by Hugh Barrow, the estimable Hawks secretary, make utterly grim reading. "By the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, some 1132 former pupils of these schools, associated with this weekend's match, had made the ultimate sacrifice, not to mention the many more who suffered horrific, life-changing injuries," said Barrow.

"The statistics make stark reading. There were 480 former Glasgow High School pupils killed; 327 from Glasgow Academicals; 131 from Kelvinside Academy; and 194 former pupils of Aberdeen Grammar School also lost their lives. This was not just restricted to our associate schools, but lock forward, Angus Hamilton's old school, Scotch College in Australia, suffered 212 deaths.

"There were so many awful incidents that it simply isn't possible to relate them all. On June 28, 1915, at Gully Ravine in Gallipoli [one of the biggest catastrophes amid the hostilities], 34 former pupils of our three associated schools were killed, including two Scottish international caps, Eric Young and William Church. Of the 30 Scottish internationalists who fell in the war, four came from our founder clubs, with George Lamond and William Hutchison adding to the role of honour."

One of the most poignant aspects of these fatalities was the fashion in which so many of the former team-mates died together; they had left Scotland at the same time, no doubt convinced - such was the efficacy of the propaganda - that they would be involved in stringing passes together and organising rucks and mauls within a matter of months.

Both Hawks and Aberdeen Grammar have struggled this season, or at least on league duty. The Rubislaw side have been consigned to relegation already, while Hawks are still not entirely out of the woods, and yet both organisations have fared much better in the Scottish Cup and have semi-final ties looming on March 29.

But, as Barrow pointed out, these are little more than temporary setbacks in the grand scheme of things. "This weekend we will remember a generation of young players who knew little of what was about to engulf them when the 1914 season was cancelled," he said. "Whatever the result, there will be a next season.

"For the young players of 1914, there was no next season. They laid down their lives all over the world and we should never forget the sacrifices which these men made,"

As Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, said famously on the eve of WWI: "The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."

In that context, and as the crowd and players remember the fallen, it should be a reminder that sport is never a matter of life and death in any circumstances.

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