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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Sharjah Wanderers at 40: Former mascot Hamish Mackenzie rolls back the years at memorial match

Now living in Melbourne, Mackenzie returns to the club he played for until 1996 when he suffered a car accident that took away his sight

Hamish Mackenzie, who played for Wanderers from the age of 17 until 26, makes the ceremonial kick-off at a memorial match. Pawan Singh / The National
Hamish Mackenzie, who played for Wanderers from the age of 17 until 26, makes the ceremonial kick-off at a memorial match. Pawan Singh / The National

When Hamish Mackenzie was successful with one of his two kicks at goal in during Sharjah Wanderers’ veterans match on Friday, he was happy enough with his strike-rate.

It was a similar conversion rate to his playing pomp, he reasoned, and much has changed since then. It has been 21 years since he last played, for a start.

There is another reason that the sweet connections with which he made the ceremonial kick-off, as well as his two conversions, were so striking. Mackenzie is blind.

“I used to kick back when I was playing, so I guess it is down to muscle memory,” Mackenzie, 47, said.

“I got one of the conversions, and one out of two was about my usual conversion rate back in the day.

“It was a fantastic place to be then. Now everything is very busy, but we were a tight, close-knit group that did everything together.

“It is still a great place. I’ve been coming here since I was seven, so there are a lot of memories for me here.”

One of the oldest remaining photographs of the Wanderers is a first-team line up from the inaugural year of 1977.

Mackenzie is a seven-year-old mascot in the front and centre. Originally from Manchester, he spent much of his youth in Sharjah after his family moved there with his father’s job at a security firm.

A seven-year-old Hamish Mackenzie, front and centre, posing with the Wanderers first team during the inaugural year of 1977. Rob Gough
A seven-year-old Hamish Mackenzie, front and centre, posing with the Wanderers first team during the inaugural year of 1977. Rob Gough

He played for Wanderers from the age of 17 until 26, before leaving the UAE in 1996 after suffering the car accident that took away his sight.

“We were out in a jeep near Big Red [sand dune, in the desert near Sharjah], one of the tyres rolled, and it flipped,” Mackenzie said.

“The roll-bar cracked me across the bridge of the nose, and the cheekbones cut both my optic nerves.

“I was helicoptered to Dubai, and didn’t know much about it for about a week. I was here for three or four months, then went back to the UK to do computer training, and the rest is history.”

He was with 20 of his teammates when the accident happened. Now living in Melbourne, where he works for a bank, he jumped at the chance to be reunited with his old mates when he was alerted to the arrangements for this weekend’s 40th anniversary celebrations.

“I grew up here, and played my rugby here until I had my accident in ’96,” Mackenzie said.

“It has been a big part of my life from when I was a little kid, and whenever I am back everyone comes out and we have a good time.”

The touch rugby match for which he was guided on to the field to take the kicks was officially a memorial match for another former Wanderers player.

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Harry Adamson, who died in May, played for Wanderers until he was 63, and he was responsible for grassing pitches that were formerly sand.

His widow Karen was present for the memorial match, which was staged one week before what would have been his 78th birthday.

“He played for the vets team for many years, but he had to give up playing rugby when he was 63,” she said.

“He played with the Sharjah Wanderers Fat Old Boys at the end. He had open heart surgery, so he had to stop, and he took up freefall parachuting.

“For his 60th birthday, I bought him a freefall parachuting course, so he used to be there every week instead.

“Seeing people here who I haven’t seen for 30 years has been fantastic. Harry was really loved and respected by everyone.”

The veterans match followed a 10-a-side game between some of the current Wanderers first team, as well as a variety who played in the recent past.

“It has been great to have so many players who have played for Sharjah over the past few decades come back and pull on the red and black again, just to support the club,” said Shane Breen, the Wanderers chairman.

“We have been in their ears to come and re-join, because some of them are still playing some decent rugby.”

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