By Jonny Bray, Sportsbeat
For Scotland fly-half Finn Russell, Falkirk RFC is a family affair – his brother Harry is currently their captain.
And it was at the Central Scotland club where they talented play maker spent some of his formative years.
The Horne Park side is just many of the grassroots teams that has helped nurture budding stars of the game who have gone onto greater things like Russell, who is expected to play a key role as Scotland kick off their World Cup campaign against South Africa on Sunday.
Without the training and support Russell received through playing at the club, the shining star of the region may not be in the position he is today, about to take to the pitch in France this weekend. However, a few years ago, the club’s future was in jeopardy. Mark Crawford, Falkirk RFC’s Vice-President, speaks of the game-changing funding that helped ensure the clubs’ future: "The facilities that we use were council-owned and council-maintained and they were in a pretty dilapidated state," said Crawford.
"They were at risk of being closed, and if they were closed, the entire club would have nowhere to play. You can't play rugby in the middle of winter without being able to have a shower afterwards.”
"The whole club would have been in jeopardy, so we took on the running of the club through a long-term lease, and we are gathering funding to be able to renovate and extend the building.
"Our playing numbers are increasing, which is amazing, but we did not have the facilities to be able to cope with that.
However, hope was not lost, and thanks to a much needed cash injection from The National Lottery and other key contributors, the club was able to improve its infrastructure and secure its future within the local community.
The club has received £125,000 worth of funding from The National Lottery since 2022, helping transform their tiring facilities and adding a much-needed gym and six new changing rooms.
Ahead of the World Cup and Scotland’s game on Sunday, Falkirk RFC welcomed former Scotland international scrum-half and captain, Rory Lawson, to Horne Park, where he met Crawford to discuss the importance of rugby grassroots clubs and see first-hand the impact funding can have on clubs like Falkirk RFC.
During Lawson’s visit, Crawford showed the former Scottish captain the new facilities that have been made possible with the help of The National Lottery funding. Crawford, who has worked tirelessly along with the rest of the club team, insists that the club wouldn’t be able to exist without the help of funding from the likes of The National Lottery and the players who take part.
"It is an £850,000 project, and without several large key funders, including The National Lottery through Sport Scotland, it would have simply been impossible.
"Our facility would have been at risk of closure, and we would have been in some serious bother."
The club is one of the thousands of projects across the UK which benefits from the £30 million raised by National Lottery players every week for good causes.
Since 1994, The National Lottery has invested more than £185 million into rugby union, from grassroots to elite level, providing vital support, ensuring clubs can continue to run and teams have everything they need to continue playing.
Lawson, whose father Alan also played for Scotland, met some of the club's junior team before sending a good-luck message to Finn Russell ahead of Scotland taking on South Africa in the tournament this weekend..
The grassroots game is the foundation of Scotland's national team and United Rugby Championship clubs, with Falkirk's alumni including Glasgow Warriors stars such as Mark McKenzie, Dave Millard, and David Jamieson.
And Crawford believes a healthy grassroots game is crucial to the Scottish rugby pyramid.
"It is an amazing thing for the kids when Finn comes down," he said. "His brother Harry is our club captain, and the kids could not get any more excited to see Finn.
"It is a great thing for the club to be able to say that he came out of our youth academy at the time, we could see very quickly that he was destined for great things.
"Elite sport is a pyramid, and you don't get to the top without having started at the bottom.
"Without grassroots club sports, there are no district sides, there are no professional sides and then there are no elite players to represent the national team.
"The top of the pyramid gets higher when the base of the pyramid is wider, so The National Lottery funding is really important."
Lawson is a fantastic representative for showcasing the value of sports in young people’s lives, having played for grassroots club Stirling County as a youngster.
With the help of The National Lottery’s funding for grassroots clubs, generations of players have had the chance to take up the game for the very same teams who’ve helped kick-off the careers of a myriad of professional players.
Lawson said, “I firmly believe that grassroots rugby is the lifeblood of our sport. I played for Stirling County, my local grassroots club, as a junior and it was terrific. It’s where young talent is nurtured, values are instilled, and communities come together.
“Funding provided by The National Lottery is not just an investment in the future of the game; it's an investment in the future of our youth. It's about giving every child a chance to pick up a rugby ball, discover their potential, and be part of something special.”