WHEN Dalziel rugby club legend Alan Calder pitched up at Muirhouse Primary School in Motherwell to invite the kids along for a taster training session, six-year-old Steven Findlay had absolutely no idea what he was getting himself into. It was the start of a sporting journey which has ultimately landed him in the West End of Glasgow renovating a house he has bought just round the corner from his beloved Glasgow Hawks – having spent a year as a full-time professional with Glasgow Warriors and a season playing in the Shute Shield in Australia along the way.
“I’m the only person in my family who has ever played rugby. Me and my pals went along to see what it was all about, the rest of them lasted one day, but here I am 25 years on – still going and still loving it,” he chuckles. “When I started out I thought that if I got a game for Dalziel’s 1stXV then I’d be doing really well, and I was 21 before I managed that. I was drinking the night before games and stuff so I wasn’t taking it that seriously at all. Then a guy called Jimmy Sinclair took over the club and brought a lot of young guys up from the Under-18s to build a really good squad. We finished third in National One [the old fourth division] in Jimmy’s first year, and then won the league unbeaten the next year – which was one of the biggest achievements I’ve ever had in rugby.”
“But even at that point, I was still only thinking about Dalziel and wanting to see if we could go up through the leagues as a team of local boys. Then Jimmy left through ill-health; and he was really close with Jamie Dempsey, who was coach of Hawks at the time, so they approached myself and a few others about giving it a crack at Premiership level. Andy Hill went in the first year, Craig Simmonds and I stayed where we were for one more season, but then Hawks came back again and I decided that I had to give it a go.”
“I made a bet with my dad that if I was involved in ten 1ST XV games in my first year there then he had to take me to Barcelona for the football, so that’s how I got to go and see the Catalan derby against Espanyol.”
“In fact, I started 120 odd games on the bounce after joining Hawks, up until Gary Strain came along – then me and him were vying for the same jersey for a while before Gary moved across to tight-head.”
Findlay’s remarkable durability is all the more impressive given that he was still living in Motherwell and didn’t drive when he first joined up at Hawks.
“I used to get up at 5.30am and leave the house at 5.45am to get the train to the shipyard where I was working as an electrician for BAE Systems. I’d finish there at 4pm and get the train over to Scotstoun and walk up to Anniesland to do a session every Tuesday and Thursday, and then I’d get the train back to Motherwell and get home at 10pm. I was doing that for two years before I got really sick of it and decided I had to get my driving license,” he explains.
“We got relegated in my first year at Hawks [2011-12] and there were a few cliques at the club so it wasn’t great fun – you’d end up with jut three or four guys hanging around after games. But we went through the next season and got promoted back to the top flight with a really small squad, I think we used only 24 players in the whole campaign, and it was brilliant because it really helped us build a proper core at the club. A lot of those boys are still there now and have really kicked on the social side.”
Recognition of Findlay’s ability and his resilience arrived when he was offered a full-time contract with Glasgow Warriors for the 2015-16 season.
“It was perfect timing because I was still in the shipyards but had the opportunity to take redundancy and I wanted out of it – I had been there since leaving school at 17 and wasn’t enjoying it at all – so I left on the Thursday and I signed with Glasgow Warriors the following Monday,” he recalls.
“Turning pro was difficult to start with because I was used to a very different work environment. There is so much downtime in professional rugby – once you’ve got pre-season out the way it is two days training and the rest of it is feet-up and recovery – and I just wasn’t used to that. I can’t sit at peace, I need to be up and doing stuff all the time. But I got over that pretty quickly and ended up loving it – I was living the dream – even though I didn’t play a game for them in ten months!”
“There was four or five loose-heads at the club at the time. I think I always knew in the back of my mind that I was miles away – in the scrummaging sessions I was never dominant and that’s what you are there to do, anything else is a bonus. But I got to be 24th man for the Racing Metro game at Rugby Park, and that was a great experience.”
At the end of his contract, Findlay sat down with his coaches at the Warriors and was given the news he had expected.
“They said that I had missed out on a lot of development when I was younger – I didn’t lift a weight until I was 24, whereas the boys coming out of school now are absolute mutants. They said it would take two or three years to catch-up and by that time I was going to be 32, so it was just a timing issue really.”
“I’ve got no complaints. The Warriors were really good with me. Gregor Townsend linked me up with a club in Sydney, so I went over in April 2016 and even played in the Hong Kong Tens on the way.”
“My only regret is not taking it more seriously when I was younger. I was involved in Glasgow under-18 squads but didn’t really think it would go anywhere, so I was out drinking and partying with my mates when I could have been in the gym. But that’s life – you can just make your decisions and live with them. I’m really proud that I managed to get as far as I did.”
Findlay loved the buzz of playing in the Shute Shield for Eastern Suburbs and toyed with the idea of extending his stay in Australia, but having served his apprenticeship in the shipyards he didn’t have the requisite paperwork to operate as a tradesman so would have been restricted to labouring jobs.
So, he returned to Scotland at the start of last season, picked up again from where he had left off at Hawks, started working for Moffat Electrical Services, and is completing an adult apprenticeship (which involves day release to college every second Friday and homework in the evenings).
“I need to do that because you never know what is around the corner and there is no guarantee of a job for life these days. I don’t want to end up in my 40s with kids and a mortgage and no formal qualifications as an electrician,” explains the 31-year-old.
“I’m trying to juggle rugby, work, study and doing up a house I’ve just bought round the corner from Old Annielsand with my girlfriend, so I really struggle at the moment with time. Playing for Hawks is a big commitment – Tuesday and Thursday training, Monday and Wednesday at the gym, play on the Saturday and go for a swim on the Sunday – but there is no chance of me giving it up any time soon.”
“I speak to guys who are about my age and still playing and they say that their bodies are done in after every game and that they can’t really walk right until the Monday – but I honestly feel fine. I could play again on the Sunday. I’m sure it will catch up with me eventually, but it hasn’t happened yet.”
“Some people ask if I lost a bit of interest after I didn’t make it as a pro, but it never even occurred to me to throw my toys out the pram and just jack it in then.”
“I didn’t take it up to go pro, I took it up to have fun with my pals. It was nice to have a shot but some things don’t work out and some things do – you just have to move on and see what happens next. How many boys out there want that chance and don’t get it? I’m lucky that I got a crack at the whip.”
It has been a funny old season for Hawks. A turnover of around 24 players during the summer and their home ground being ruled out of action due to a sink-hole on the edge of the main pitch has not helped foster continuity, which has been reflected in results ranging from a convincing victory away to champions Ayr in round two to throwing away a 27-point lead against Currie Chieftains in round six.
“We have shown what we are capable of in spells, but with so many guys coming into the squad from school’s rugby or the lower leagues, it is going to take a bit of time getting used the level of the Premiership and playing with each other,” agrees Findlay, before suggesting that last weekend’s last gasp victory away to Boroughmuir could be a turning point for the team.
“If we hadn’t pulled that result out of the bag then it would have been a bit of a downer, but now I think it could be a catalyst to spur us on. Hopefully the boys will take a bit of belief about being capable of closing out a game – which has been an issue.”
Saturday’s trip to Marr is the last in a run of ten games before the league goes into hibernation during the November Test window. Most players are badly in need of a well-earned break but you get the impression that, although he has plenty to be getting on with, Findlay won’t know what to do with himself.