Farewell for now Big Mac

Date: 14 February 2024

Our guest of honour this week at the 1st XV game with Leeds Tykes is Ian ‘Big Mac’ McFarlane who after a nearly 30 year involvement with the club is moving to Australia to be closer to family.

Ian has volunteered at the club in many roles throughout this period but will be perhaps recognisable to most as 4th Official on a 1st XV match day.

Ahead of the game, we caught up with Ian to ask him some questions about his memories over the years. Ian will be greatly missed by us all and we’ve no doubt he’ll stay in touch. He might even pop back for the odd visit! Until next time, cheers Big Mac! Once a Hopper, always a Hopper!

Firstly, we know you are leaving England but where are you headed? What are you most looking forward to?
We are moving to Sydney where we can watch our 3 grandsons growing up and I am looking forward to seeing them develop as rugby players. The warmer weather and blue skies are a bonus.

As someone not from the North West, how did you end up as a Hoppers and when?
I moved to Preston from the North East in 1995 with work. Having played at Novocastrians RFC since 1971 and with my son playing at under15s level at Morpeth RFC, I wanted to join a local club in Preston. The fact that I moved within 400m of Hoppers was just lucky.

Over the years which roles have you taken at the club?
I started off as a player with the Strollers and at the same time helped coach the under 15’s with Dave Kidd. When that group of players moved into the colts, we together with Bill Johnston, became the colts coaches and I continued with that from 1998 to 2006. I got involved with the first team in 2004 after the Strollers stopped playing and have been involved ever since. I did carry on playing the odd game with my last being the Boxing Day game of 2014.

Having worked in representative rugby for many years with Lancashire, who are some of the players you worked with who went on to play at the top level of the game?
Following a year in 1996 as forwards coach with Lancashire under 13s I became lead coach in 1997 and continued with the under 13s or 14s until 2008. Having retired from coaching I was then asked to become chair of selectors for the Lancashire under 16s which I did from 2008 to 2015. In total I was involved with the development of 460 lads. Of these, 4 are currently playing for Sale, Simon McIntyre, Josh Beaumont, Arron Reed and Sam Dugdale. Others included at that level were Robert Elloway, Greg Nicholls, Dave Tate, Glen Townson, Jack Forster, Scott Armstrong, Carl Fearns, Tom Brady, Ciaran Parker and Mike Haley. Also Richie Myler who is still playing for Leeds Rhinos in the RL.

You worked with the Colts for several years, what are some good memories from those times?
In those days we were playing the likes of Bath, Northampton and Leicester colts and trips to play on their first team pitches were memorable. In particular we played Bath Colts in the semi-final of the National Colts Cup, when a lone figure came down during the warning up, talked briefly to some of their players then came over to talk to ours. That was Steve Borthwick on his way to play his first game for Bath First Team. Half our team were his mates from school, and he was eligible to play for us.

Winning the National Plate Final a few years later was another favourite memory, the cup was only for the Premiership Academies by then.

Many people at the club will know you from a 1st XV match day. What have your roles been with the 1st XV and for how long? How did you get into that role?

Bill Johnston had become the 1st team manager in 2004 and he persuaded me to do 4th official. After Bill dropped out, I took over the management role and since then I have picked up the roles of kit organiser and registrar.

What are your favourite memories from your many years with the 1st XV?
Too many to mention, from the cup wins to winning the league, from wins over local rivals to sing songs on the long bus home after an away win.

What will you miss most about Preston Grasshoppers?
I will miss the people and their friendship. From the day I got greeted at the door by Ken Moore, the welcome, the camaraderie and respect I have experienced has been outstanding from every age group. I count myself lucky to have found Hoppers.

Finally, you have played with, coached and managed hundreds of players throughout your years at Hoppers. Could you give us a XV who you think would take on all comers based on what you’ve seen?
As you say I have been involved with hundreds of players at Hoppers over the years, so to reduce it down to even 20 has been incredibly difficult. I haven’t included any of my peers since I didn’t experience them at their peak. I make no apology for including my son in law on the list having seen him play with and against several Australian Internationals.

1. Simon McIntyre (L)
2. Scott Podmore
3. Toby Forster
4. Wayne Steel
5. Gareth Gore
6. Will Keenan
7. Glynn Dewhurst
8. Richard Morton
9. Nathan Fowles
10. Sean Long
11. Tom Brady (L)
12. James Fitzpatrick
13. Tom Hughes
14. Oli Viney
15. Mike Haley (L)
16. Richie Sands
17. Mark Hanson (L)
18. Andy Napier
19. Niall Crossley (L)
20. Sean Taylor

(L) came through Lancashire under 13/14s

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