Later this year, on August 26 to be exact, the 25th anniversary of rugby union becoming open to professionalism will be marked.

Some people will celebrate that silver anniversary, many others will not. As I start this new weekly column on the sport, I think this is a very good time to review how rugby union developed into the professional era in 1995. In truth it had done so many years earlier when players were given secret backhanders, usually for boot deals, and usually paid in brown envelopes.

The announcement of the new era was made in Paris in 1995 by a Welshman, Vernon Pugh, a miner’s son whose father took him and his two brothers down a pit and showed them a coal face, saying: “I never want to see you near a place like this again.”

He never did. Vernon Pugh became a leading barrister and QC who rose from coaching his local club to become the first elected chairman of the International Rugby Board, as World Rugby was back then.

He had previously exposed the Welsh Rugby Union for its secret dealings with the South African Rugby Union in apartheid days, and in a backlash against the WRU he was made first chairman of its general committee in a reformed Union. He had earlier concluded that with more and more players involved in “shamateurism” and Rugby Union bleeding players to Rugby League with its ever-increasing salaries, professionalism needed to be allowed in.

The great reformer was made the chairman of the IRB’s amateurism committee and his recommendation was adopted by the IRB. They had little choice – on the eve of the 1995 World Cup Finals in South Africa, Rupert Murdoch and the Australian, South African and New Zealand rugby unions announced a ten year $550m broadcasting deal, which was immediately trumped by broadcaster Kerry Packer who joined with some Aussie players to announce his own ‘world rugby corporation’ for a worldwide series of matches between teams of top players – at one time the WRC had the majority of the then All Blacks and Wallabies signed up, but the Springboks were told by the South African Rugby Union they would never play for their country again and that triggered the collapse of the venture.

As many insiders and experts predicted, the various unions panicked, but they needed to pull together as the threat to their income, and their existence, was now very real, especially after the 1995 World Cup had boosted rugby union to new heights of popularity.

The blazers have always been able to determine a threat to their troughs, so there was no surprise that when the IRB met in Paris after the World Cup, Pugh was able to announce the following verdict:

"Subsequent to the repeal of the amateur regulations, rugby will become an open game. There will be no prohibition on payment or the provision of any other material benefit to any person involved in the game."

One major – well, actually fairly tiddly – union had opposed professionalism for decades. I myself was given a polite ‘nod and a wink’ warning from the venerable SRU secretary Bill Hogg in the early 1980s for taking money to write rugby reports for my own newspaper.

I pointed out that it was part of my job as a professional journalist and threatened him with a court case based on restraint of trade and employment laws and never heard another word. But plenty of players had to wait until they had finished playing to write their memoirs.

I actually got to know Bill quite well, and I also knew and respected former SRU President Fred McLeod who died on Christmas Day – he will be very much missed. People always say the SRU totally opposed professionalism but lest it be forgotten, it was the report by Fred and three colleagues to the IRB in March of 1995 which concluded that the then status quo was not viable – Fred got pelters for that around Murrayfield but stood his ground and was proven correct.

He was also correct about having districts, not clubs, as the professional structure for the new Scottish game after 1995. He and Jim Telfer fought that case well, and took the smaller clubs with them as they in turn feared ‘super clubs’ dominating the game, but it was all done in an unsatisfactory, indeed amateurish manner, and Telfer and McLeod’s vision was never allowed to be achieved.

That was the real reason Scotland was left behind as almost all the other rugby playing nations went about professionalising the sport in their countries in, well, a professional way – cynics might say that they had been almost there before 1995 anyway.

Within months of that August announcement, the Heineken Cup was launched without English and Scottish teams and the professional era was well and truly under way.

Next week I’ll look back at professionalism in Scottish rugby union. It will not make comfortable reading for many.