Ayr Rugby Club

Glen Tippett, General Manager, Ayrshire Bulls

“It’s an exciting year for Ayr Rugby and the Ayrshire Bulls”

Gill Sherry

Despite living in Scotland for over two decades, his origin is obvious as soon as he answers the phone. Originally from Taranaki, New Zealand, Glen Tippett moved to Scotland to play rugby, choosing the UK over the US.

“I came over to East Kilbride to start off with,” he says, in that distinctive Kiwi accent. “As a young player coming from overseas I had the option of either East Kilbride or Boston. I’ve been in Scotland now for about 23 years. I came over, met a girl, fell in love, got married.”
Twenty years ago, the couple moved to Ayrshire and Glen has been involved with Ayr Rugby Club ever since.

“I joined as a player then had the opportunity to become Development Officer for the club. Then I was Scottish Rugby Regional Manager… and then, with the formation of Super 6, I had the opportunity to become General Manager of the club. Now my official title is General Manager of Ayrshire Bulls.”
That said, Glen is still very much involved with every aspect of the club. This not only includes the Super 6 team, Ayrshire Bulls, but also the Men’s First XV (National League Division 1),

Ayr Ladies RFC (Scottish Women’s National League Division 1), and Ayr Millbrae, (Ayr’s Second XV). He also champions all of the club’s youth teams as well as the Walking Rugby.

“Ayrshire Bulls is our semi-professional outfit. Super 6 was Scottish Rugby’s strategic plan to improve the gap between the club game and pro game in Scotland. We’ve been very fortunate to be one of those teams that’s included in that. I strongly believe it’s the right thing to do. We need to do all we can to improve the culture and environment for our young players, to help them kick on to bigger and better things.”

But Ayr Rugby Club had a strategic plan of its own, becoming a limited company and achieving charity status.

“It’s an amateur run club. The committee are all volunteers. We have some full-time staff members based around the Bulls, but the rest of the club is all amateur.”

This new status brings numerous benefits enabling the club to modernise its governance structure and improve the club itself. Owned by the members, this allows it to protect its assets and to do more in the community.

“We’ve got a Trust that runs all of our community programmes and our Outreach programmes in local primary and secondary schools.”

Developing youngsters, Glen believes, is particularly important.
“We don’t have a huge number of players in Scotland so we’ve got to be really clever and smart in order for us to keep competing at the top level, at the pro game and at international level.”

The club obviously believes in starting early. It has teams for all ages from 5 all the way up to under 18s.
“Rugby is about values,” Glen says. “It doesn’t matter what rugby club you go to, they’re all the same. It’s about family, discipline, respect, teamwork and enjoyment.”

He tells me of a new initiative introduced by the club last year.
“We call it the Millbrae Way. We’re in a really fortunate position to have a lot of quality coaches with our senior section so we’ve looked at a model where we’re supporting our under 18s, 16s, 15s and S1 and S2 teams through a coaching programme. We call it the Millbrae Way because we wanted to improve the knowledge and technical side of the game. It’s another thing we’re doing to support and develop our youngsters.”

Bringing youngsters up through the system is something the club is keen to focus on.

“It’s massively important and we’re really proud of that fact. It’s not just boys, it’s girls as well. We were the first club in Scotland, in partnership with our Trust, to employ a female Development Officer so we’ve got youth teams for girls as well as our women’s senior team. We’re really proud that they’re running out of the club and playing games.”

The club has its own academy, dedicated to the development of younger players.
“We have modules around social media use, mental health, wellbeing, drugs and alcohol awareness, time management. It’s not rugby specific, it’s more generic. It contributes to the way they engage and the way they interact.”

The modules are in partnership with South Ayrshire Council and are free of charge to members of the club’s youth section. But despite the support of key sponsors and partners, an element of fundraising is still required.

“A lot of fundraising happens at the club,” says Glen. “Fireworks night, President’s Lunch, Long Lunch… these are big events for the club that help bring in money. We’re also big on supporting local charities.

We do a lot with Whiteleys Retreat.”
Long Lunch? I’m intrigued…
“It’s the first Friday in May. It’s been running for over ten years. Last year we had about 600 people at it. We bring in some big rugby names as guest speakers… Brian O’Driscoll, Sean Fitzpatrick, David Campese, Jason Leonard… It’s become a big social event in the Ayrshire calendar. The thing I’m most chuffed about is that there’s a lot of non-rugby people in the room now.”

I’m not surprised. What’s not to like? And the best thing is, every single penny goes back into the club’s community programmes, including the Walking Rugby. Glen tells me more.

“We started it last year, coming out of Covid. It’s on a Monday morning, 10 o’clock at Millbrae. It’s predominantly guys but it’s open to anyone… bacon roll, coffee, chat for a while, go out and do a bit of Walking Rugby.”

It was set up to encourage people out of the house and to combat social isolation, but as well as offering interaction with other people, there’s also an element of cardio and fitness. And it’s absolutely free.

“One day… we had 25 people at it, it was brilliant. A guy comes up, he’s been a member of the club for years, he’s in a wheelchair, he comes up and keeps the score.”

It’s clear Glen is just as enthusiastic about this ‘social’ side of the club as he is about the semi-professional Ayrshire Bulls, and all of the other teams. I can hear the smile in his voice when he says: “I think you can probably gather I’m pretty passionate about rugby.”

But he follows this with a more serious statement.

“The environment I came from, it was the main sport. But I think the sport has evolved. It helps to develop better people. It starts to develop the skills that employers want to see, to develop the people that are going to be good in your community, that have that sense of value, and that want to contribute. I think that’s really important and rugby can help contribute towards that and develop that.”

At the mention of his rugby-obsessed homeland, I can’t resist asking if he struggled with football’s dominance when he first came to Scotland. He hesitates before answering.

“I wouldn’t say I struggled with it…” he says, the humour back in his voice. “If you’re going to go to the other side of the world you know you’re going to get change. You’ve got to embrace those differences, opportunities and experiences. Football is absolutely in the DNA of Scotland. I don’t think you want to change that, it’s how you embrace it and how you make it work for the best for you.”

I’m about to congratulate him on his very diplomatic answer but he hasn’t quite finished.

“Football is the number one sport here. I don’t have a problem with that but it’s definitely a different culture.”

Can’t argue with that. But it’s a good thing for Ayr that Glen’s DNA is dominated by rugby. From his point of view, though, it works both ways.

“I’m really lucky to be associated with a lot of good players and coaches, and a winning team. It’s been a bloody good journey.”

As for the teams, things are looking very promising indeed.

“Our First XV are doing extremely well at the moment in National 1. There’s a great opportunity for those young men to win the league. A lot of people play their careers and never achieve that, so we’re hoping.”
Apparently, prior to the introduction of Super 6 – the professional league for Scottish rugby union clubs – Ayr was always there or thereabouts when it came to winning the league. However, part of the agreement when Super 6 was formed, was that the club league team of those Super 6 clubs, would drop down into National 1.

“It’s a very new structure and a very new format,” Glen explains. “That’s why our team is in National 1. All the other five clubs were exactly the same. There was a bit of rebuilding for us but we’re in a really good place.”

So, Ayr’s First XV could win promotion to the Premiership. But their women’s team is also doing really well.

“It’s an exciting year for Ayr Rugby and the Ayrshire Bulls,” he says. “A big shout out to all the volunteers that we have in our club. Without them, there’s no chance we would be able to do what we’re doing. Billy McHarg has been huge to the development of the club. Drew Young, Jock Craig, Dr Graham Hollins, Brian Williamson…”

I suspect, if we had time, this would be a very long list. He concludes with a more generic word of thanks.
“The club 100% would not be where it was if it wasn’t for the support of our fans, our sponsors and our partners. I can’t stress that enough. They are key to us doing what we do.

To find out more visit www.ayrrugbyclub.co.uk