McGregor, Duncan

McGregor, Duncan

In 1875, Duncan McGregor (senior), a travelling tailor and draper from Grantown on Spray, Morayshire, Scotland, came to South Wales, and opened a drapers shop in Gelliwasted road, Pontypridd.  He later married Helen Crockett, the daughter of a local Ironmonger trading in Taff Street, and started raising a family. Helen Crockett's child raising ability must have been remarkable, for together they would have nine children, two girls and seven boys!

Duncan Grant McGregor was born on May 26th 1887. As a youngster he and his brother would practice their rugby skills with the customary pig's bladder in a field at Graigwen. He attended school in Mill Street, and would often go to Ynysangharad Park to watch his cousins Jimmy and Donald playing for the Pontypridd rugby football team. Often, on a Saturday morning, his mother would give him a shilling and tell him to buy a good tea after the match that afternoon, but often he would go without and buy a sixpenny seat in the Clarence Theatre instead, and return home starving.

Duncan McGregor made his first appearance for Pontypridd on September 3rd 1904, at the People’s Park, Mill Street, at the age of seventeen. His great speed in the centre immediately gave him a regular position in the team. Pontypridd were having their usual inconsistent season, but in November 1904 things took an upturn when a young police constable named Willie Spiller, who later would gain ten Welsh caps with Cardiff, was transferred into the Pontypridd district, and became Duncan McGregor’s co-centre in the team. These two quickly made a name for themselves, even though work commitments often meant that one or both of them were often missing. Sometimes, Roy McGregor, Duncan's younger brother, would substitute for him in the centre. On March 27th 1905, Duncan and Pontypridd forward, Fred Kelland, represented Glamorgan against Cumbria in a 32 - 0 victory at Cardiff Arms Park. Duncan’s mother would often sneak out of the house and wander across to Ynysangharad to watch her boys play, and she was so small that sometimes the crowd made room for her in the front so she could see.

The 1905-06 season saw Duncan McGregor and Willie Spiller mature into an exciting partnership, and when their forwards won enough ball they were match winners. Duncan must have impressed his team mates with his play, and also being very popular, it was a foregone conclusion that he would one day be Pontypridd captain, and this was confirmed at the Annual General Meeting at the White Hart Hotel on July 23rd 1906, when he was offered the captaincy for the 1906-07 season.

However, there seems to have been a bit of doubt in Duncan's mind. He did not appear in the pre-season trail, and on September 7thappeared in the Merthyr team, and the rumour was that he intended severing his connections with the 'coalopolis' club. What caused this unrest? One probable cause was the Pontypridd's club decision that Summer to return to Taff Vale Park, Treforest, where they would have to play on a field with a cinder track running down the centre, that had been built for cycling by the syndicate that owned the park.

The following week, several Pontypridd players expressed that they were happy playing on Taff Vale Park, after the cinder track had been covered with sand and bark.  Whether this satisfied Duncan, it is unsure, but by September 14th 1906, he was back with his home town club. He appointed Police Constable Frank Hawkins as his vice captain.

Soon, he was grabbing the attention of journalists with his good displays. On October 20th 1906 Nomad commenting  in the Daily News after the Maesteg v Pontypridd match, gave this advice to the Welsh Union:-

"The try scored by Duncan McGregor was a fine example of opportunity, and he travelled at great pace for three parts the length of the field, and after scoring modestly trotted back as if he had had a nice short sprint. This young player should be watched by the officials, not only of Glamorgan County, but of the Welsh Union. He is a first rate centre, and in a better class of football than he is at the present experiencing, he would in all probability gain a big reputation. It has been whispered to me that people in Scotland are keeping an eye upon him. Perhaps the Welsh Union will do the same; at any rate I fancy it would be a good thing for Wales if McGregor could be given a few games with one of the leading clubs."

On November 10th 1906, Willie Spiller broke his collar bone in an away game at Pill Harriers, and this turned out to be his last game for Pontypridd.  An ankle injury a few weeks later kept him out for the rest of the season, and that summer he joined Cardiff.

Meanwhile, Duncan still played for his old college when they toured in South Wales over Christmas, and after a fine display against Newport on Boxing Day 1906, where his strong running and fearless tackling were outstanding, he had been invited to play for the Rest of Scotland in an international trial match. However, Duncan had already been selected as a reserve for Wales! Hamish Stuart, the Scottish correspondent of a Cardiff newspaper, gave this news in the January 7th 1907 edition :-

"The fact that the Welsh Union have selected Duncan Mcgregor of Pontypridd as reserve centre against England, places that player in a rather peculiar position, for he had accepted the invitation of the Scottish Union to play in their final try, a fact that the Welsh union were well aware when they selected him as a reserve. Of course, in the present state of the law, or rather lack of law in the matter of international qualifications, the Welsh are well within their rights, for McGregor was born in Wales, and although educated in Scotland, is a Welsh product."

At the same time, McGregor is Welsh in the sense that Timms never was. Happily, McGregor has decided the matter promptly, and has - like the sportsman he is - determined to take his chance of a Scottish cap, he has declined the invitation of the Welsh Union and elected to play for where his national sympathies lie, and that is for Scotland. That he has taken the proper sporting course is beyond dispute, though his decision may not give satisfaction in Wales.

Duncan himself, in 1970 wrote “We Watsonians won at Newport for the first time. I think that on their return home they must have said a few words to the Scottish Union, as a little later I was in Edinburgh for a trail, and the same night was selected.” Having been selected for Scotland, he travelled to Inverleith for the game in the company of the Welsh team, and was instrumental in Scotland’s six Points to three victory.

One Edinburgh newspaper wrote :

"McGregor was born in Wales. They only wish that he had been christened Jones or Evans, but they feel that their arguments are useless with such characteristic patronymic as McGregor, and Duncan as a Christian name.  Their consolation is increased also be the fact that he had a hand primarily in the two tries being obtained.  Of course, it was bad enough to be beaten, but when the defeat was administered by the machinations of one reared 'The Welshmen have some consolation to soothe their disappointment in the fact that Duncan in the bosom of Pontypridd and nurtured one Welsh mutton, it has a special and extremely touching aspect."

It continued:  

"There is another McGregor in the field, Roy, and perhaps if the Welsh committee take him up tenderly while he is basking in the reflected glory of his brother, whom he calls ‘THE McGregor,’ he may become the idol of the union and the peer of Pontypridd. It was 'THE McGregor' who many times threatened the Welsh line by individual exertions of a brilliant description. It was he who snatched the ball from Greig, and made an opening for Walters to serve Purves that brought about the equalising score, and it was McGregor who, after a strenuous effort himself, who paved the way for Monteith to score the winning try. It was McGregor's day out, and while Scotland are proud of their new found player, Wales are proud to immortalize him for the sake of his antecedents."

The Pontypridd club's playing record that season was quite good, winning fifteen out of twenty-nine games, and it was hoped that Duncan would again be captain the following season, but at the A.G.M. at the White Hart Hotel on July 18th 1907, although being proposed and seconded as captain, and being unanimously carried, he asked for his name to be withdrawn, but the meeting would not propose anyone else, and it was left for him to reconsider.  In the following week it was apparent why he had not accepted the captaincy, for by the start of the season he had transferred to Newport. However, by the end of the year his playing career was in ruins due to an injury. He once wrote : -

'On Christmas Day 1907, playing for the Watsonians versus Swansea at St. Helens, I displaced a cartilage, an injury from which I never recovered. Every so often the knee gave me “Gee up.”  I had played this game against my mother's wishes, as she did not want me to play on Christmas Day.' He continued, 'Life lost its savour temporarily. Win or lose, in all my games I was never unduly worried or depressed. I could not kick, so had to run straight. In 1908 I was invited to play against Wales at St. Helens, and was also invited to join the British teams tour to New Zealand and Australia, but due to my knee I had to turn them down. I wailed and gnashed my teeth.'

A trip to see a London doctor in 1908 brought temporary relief, however, in 1912 Duncan travelled to Liverpool for the brilliant surgeon, Sir Robert Jones to remove his cartilage. But it turned out to be a fraught experience for Duncan. The man in the next bed to him had the same operation, and was shown his removed cartilage, but when Duncan asked to see his he was refused and Duncan realised that his operation had been a failure.

He continued to play rugby with his brothers in Ynysangharad, and still walked with a pack on his back on his travelling. His cartilage must have been chewed to bits! Duncan's love of the game never diminished, and he often went to watch his younger brothers play for Pontypridd, and gave financial support throughout the following decades.  He emigrated to Canada in 1948, and died in Vancouver in 1971 at the age of 84.

In 1973, Duncan's daughter, Sheila McGregor, donated £50 towards the development of the new club headquarters at Sardis Road. At the same time she donated her father's international cap, which is now on display in the club trophy cabinet.

The McGregor Family Record

Internationals:

Name Years Caps
Duncan1906-19073
Roy1909-19101

Barbarians:

Name Years Club
Duncan1906-1907Pontypridd
Roy1910-1911Edinburgh University
Eric1912-1913Edinburgh University
Alistair1913-1914Edinburgh University
Alpin1920-1921St. Bartholomew's
Hector1921-1922St. Bartholomew's

Biography compiled by Gareth Harris, with help from Duncan McGregor's son - 1996

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