The Making of Millbrae

From the first meeting in September 1897 at The King’s Arms Hotel in the High Street of Ayr, the founding fathers of Ayr Rugby Football Club knew they were creating something special.

For the next 65 years, Ayr Rugby Club played home matches at various sports grounds including Newton Park, Dam Park, King George V and The Old Racecourse. Committee meetings, post-match teas and social events were hosted at various hotels and public houses. In November 1962 an Extraordinary General Meeting was called and took place at The Savoy Park Hotel. Having searched for a suitable home for decades, the committee explained its’ proposals to purchase a run down 9 acre market garden in the heart of Burns Country.

Millbrae Gardens boasted an orchard of apple trees, a barn, five greenhouses and a dwelling house with outbuildings. By converting the main buildings into a clubhouse and changing rooms there would be enough space for two rugby pitches and a car park. During the meeting many diverse views were expressed. The main concern was whether the club could afford the purchase price and ongoing running costs. After great debate a vote was taken, and the club made the most momentous step in its history. The 162 members bravely elected to purchase Millbrae, a decision which would lead to the club growing in ways that were not imaginable at the time. A price of Within weeks a deposit was paid and members had possession of the grounds.

The dwelling house would remain in the ownership of the Cunningham family until the balance was paid some sixteen months later. Work commenced immediately, and all the Club’s energy was directed to the development of Millbrae. Most of the work was undertaken by club members and their friends, the orchard was cut down, the greenhouses and barn demolished, drains were dug and work parties were formed to remove stones from the pitches. The fields were then ploughed, and seed was sown developing a lush green grass ready for the first set of goalposts which were constructed from the 8 tallest trees to be found in Sundrum woods. A great deal of money had to be raised and grants were obtained from the Scottish Education Department and the Sports Council. The Scottish Rugby Union offered a sizeable interest free loan and members made cash donations and loans. An increasing number of social events were organised which raised cash and encouraged a growing number of subscriptions to the club. Once the grounds were well on their way, attention turned to converting the dwelling house and outbuildings into the clubhouse and changing rooms. Plans were drawn up and approved by the Ayr Dean of Guild Court in February 1964 and £2500 was spent on the conversion.

The clubhouse had a main lounge, a small lounge, a kitchen, a bar, home & visitors changing rooms, showers and toilets. The bar was manned by trusted club members between 7pm and 10pm each night; much admired by visitors were the fireplace with copper canopy and the fact that this rugby club had a carpet! On the 4th of September 1965 and after a lot of blood, sweat and tears the inaugural match was played between an Ayr Presidents XV and an International Select. Both teams were full of stars and although Ayr lost this match 18-11 the result was of little importance. Dinner was served at The Savoy Park Hotel before returning to the Clubhouse for a traditional sing song.

Since 1962, Millbrae and Ayr Rugby Club has continued to grow and prosper with a large youth section, established ladies and girls rugby teams and a full events calendar. In the 2012/2013 season Ayr regained their place in the British and Irish Cup, became the first club to have their name on the Bill McLaren Shield and achieved a historic double, winning both the RBS Premier League and the RBS Scottish Cup. Ayr have had continued success since then and in 2018 were chosen as the West of Scotland’s representative in the Scottish Super 6 league. This was followed by Ayr winning the Scottish Premiership and Scottish cup in 2018/19. Success that could scarcely have been imagined by the 162 members who gave Ayr Rugby Football Club the gift of Millbrae.

Images Ayr Rugby Club collection, Original cine 8mm film by Hamish Frew, Edited and written by Brian Williamson, 2018

Early Days

As is the case with so many clubs, Ayr’s beginnings stemmed from the boys of a rugby school returning after university or spells abroad and looking to continue playing. So it was that in 1897 the club was born, with Andrew Gray, Angus and Norman Lindsay, Ralston Watt, W McLachlan, David Highet and James Templeton among the founding members who adopted the famous cerise and black colours. Sadly, only Highet returned from the Boer War.

The club flourished in the early years of the century, undertaking their first tour in 1906 with Irish fixtures against Landsdowne and Monkstown. Progress continued before and after the First World War and club stalwarts like Eddie Ecrepont, Hunter Cosh, Tim Wilson and Eddie Cassie are frequently mentioned in club annals, the last-named being the first man to fly a Spitfire out of Prestwick. Two particular names stand out as players, supporters and administrators – Dr Lawrence Young and Harold Tetley.

Ronnie Boon, who had twelve caps for Wales in the early 1930s and was lionised for masterminding Wales’ first victory at Twickenham, captained Ayr in 1936/37 during a stint as a teacher at Ayr Academy.

However, the outstanding club stalwart was the indefatigable Jock ‘Stiffy’ McClure who played for the club until just short of his sixtieth birthday but was robbed of international caps by the Second World War. He played for the British Empire side against France and for Scotland in Victory internationals against Ireland and England, yet no cap was awarded to this fine player who encouraged many to play rugby while teaching at Cumnock Academy and Ayr Academy.

Caps / Representative Honours

Ayr Rugby Club has always produced players of quality. Although Ayr had to wait until 1977 for the first home-grown player to gain international honours. Winger David Ashton won his B cap against France and in the following year John Brown was in the B side at full back in the same fixture.

In 1980, powerful winger, Steve Munro won the first of his ten full caps, against Ireland, the last coming in the Welsh match of the 1984 Grand Slam season. Probably Ayr’s finest hour in representative terms came in December 1984 when five players – skipper Alan Brown, half-backs George Nicolson and Grant Steel, and wing forwards David Brown and Colin McCallum – lined up for Glasgow against the touring Australians. The Brown brothers certainly made impact on rugby in Ayr.

Other Ayr players who gained international caps at other clubs were Gordon Strachan, Quintin Dunlop, Derek Stark and Derrick Lee. In 2013, hooker Pat MacArthur made his debut against the Springboks during Scotland’s tour of South Africa. Prop Gordon Reid earned his first cap in 2014, as did centre Mark Bennett and stand-off Finn Russell, who have gone on to light up the Rugby World Cup in 2015.


Gordon Strachan left Ayr Academy and played for Ayr before going to Jordanhill College where he gained five caps while playing for the successful Jordanhill team. He returned to Ayr in the late seventies to play and captain the club. Gordon coached Ayr after he hung up his boots, leading them from the 3rd to the 1st Division and inspiring the club to some of its finest victories.

Quintin Dunlop captained Ayr in the late seventies after his one cap with West of Scotland.

Derek Stark, Ayr’s ‘Rolls Royce’ flying winger, gained B caps at Ayr, but the nine full caps came after he left the club as Ayr had been relegated to the 2nd Division. This man of many clubs won caps with Boroughmuir, Glasgow Hawks and Melrose.

Derrick Lee played for Ayr from the ages of 8 to 18, gaining Scotland representation at all junior age groups. Unfortunately, University in Edinburgh meant he chose a local club (Watsonians) and he gained his twelve caps during the last ten years playing for London Scottish and Edinburgh.

International Team At Millbrae

To celebrate the opening of the stand on 28th April 1979, British Lion Gordon Brown and Ayr skipper Quintin Dunlop put together possibly the finest international side ever to face a club in a match of this kind. There were eleven British Lions and six players who had captained their country: A McKibben (Ire); L Dick (Scot); I McGeechan (Scot); J Spencer (Eng); M Slemen (Eng); P Bennet (Wal); A Lewis (Wal); I McLauchlan (Scot); R Windsor (Wal); F Cotton (Eng); G Brown (Scot); W McBride (Ire); N McEwan (Scot); R Uttley (Eng); J Squire (Wal).

Centenary Book

All of the above is suitably embellished in a history of the club which was compiled to coincide with the club’s centenary celebrations by the late club archivist Ian Hay. It chronicles the history of Ayr rugby Club from 1897 up to 1997 and includes excerpts from the clubs extensive archives, team photos, team lists & score results. It also details the purchase and development of Ayr’s ground, Millbrae. This is a fantastic purchase for yourself, a friend or a loved one who has a connection with Ayr rugby Club. Copies of the book can be purchased from our online shop for £14.99

Buy the book online


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