The First Nine Years

Oct 16 2019

Recounting the history of the club from its founding in 1980 to 1989.


This article was written by Chris Donkin at the time of the European Cup match against Honved Budapest in 1990.


The Wandering Dragons Chess Club was founded in the summer of 1980 by James T. Mullin, Jannic Konarski, Howard Nimmo and myself, Chris Donkin. However to describe the evolutionary process one has to go back to the spring of 1979. It was in the closing months of season 1978-79 that Stirling University Chess Club were enjoying their best ever run. The A team were pushing hard and were about to finish runners-up in the Central League and the club had also reached the final of the Central League seven-board cup. Stirling University Chess club boasted four league teams at the time and the C team finished second in division three of the Central League thus gaining promotion. Curiously enough it was this last, almost insignificant event which led to the formation of the Wandering Dragons.

The C team captain was Jim Mullin and he, like myself, was just about to graduate. He was however so proud of his achievement as team captain that he wished to play for the Stirling University C team the following season in division two. Many times Jim turned up to play in these fixtures but each time he found himself as the only Stirling University player present. The club had gone down the nick and were finding it impossible to field three teams. Jim approached the club secretary and asked him if he could get together a bunch of his mates to fulfil the fixtures. This was where I came in! Jim, me, Jannic and others completed the season as Stirling University C and enjoyed it immensely - we also avoided relegation.

At the AGM of the Central League in May 1980 we asked it we could do the same again. By this time Stirling University were unhappy about us playing under their name and the league secretary, Robert Togneri, told us that if we wished to enter a new team into the league we would have to apply for election into division 3. But we didn't wish to enter a new team, we simply wanted to change the name of Stirling University C. "Well, what do you want to change the name to?" was his question. At this time we all (except for Jannic) played the Dragon variation of the Sicilian and it was pretty clear to me that as we had no equipment or premises we would have to play all our games away from home - hence the name Wandering Dragons. Had that day turned out differently we may have been called The Five Degrees, as this was the name suggested by Robert Togneri.

The Wandering Dragons Chess Club played their first match in August 1980 against Cumbernauld B in division two of the Central League and won 5-0. The team that night was Geoff Chandler, Jannic Konarski, Chris Donkin, Howard Nimmo and Jim Mullin. As the season progressed informal club nights were arranged and a club championship won by Geoff Chandler took place. The Green Tree in The Cowgate proved to be a regular haunt on Friday nights for the pioneering Dragons and many Edinburgh chess players, particularly those at Edinburgh University and in the Civil Service Chess Club, began to take an interest in our activities. By the summer of 1981, the founder members had been boosted by an influx of stalwarts-to-be Alan Ferguson, Ian Crorie, Alec Sharp, Dave Morgan, Derek Poots, Steve Gowland, Dave Laing, Dave Crichton, Irene Cackette, Jack Adams and Martin Donkin.

Helped by a donation of dubious chess equipment from a defunct Edinburgh club, the Dragons applied for membership to the Edinburgh League. We were admitted directly into division two and won it at the first attempt, largely due to the efforts of Ferguson and Crorie on boards 1 and 2. Their own personal love-hate relationship caused a 1982 edition of Capital Chess to observe "Some play the Kings Indian, some play the Queens Indian - Crorie and Ferguson still play cowboys and indians."

Club nights during 1981-82 took place at our first regular home, The Old Coach Inn in Canonmills, and the club championship from that season featured this fairly typical drunken encounter (white: JT Mullin, black: "Reverend" S Gowland): 1 e4 e5 2 f4 Bc5 3 exf Qh4+ 4 g3 Qxe4+ 5 Qe2 Oxh1 6 Nf3 b6 7 d3 Bg7 8 Nbd2 Nh6 9 b3 Bg4 10 Bb2 Bxf3 0-1.

In the summer of 1982 Mark Orr joined the club. Of all the many people who have joined this great club over the last nine years none has had such a major impact. Being a nostalgic type of person I tend to look back on the 1982-86 period as the halcyon days of the Wandering Dragons. This was the era of our first Spens Cup victory (over East Kilbride in 1983) and of our continued success within the Edinburgh League culminating in our championship season of 1985-86.

This was also the era of that scurrilous, esoteric publication - the Wandering Dragons Chess Club Newsletter. This was a monthly rag sold to members containing member's games, news, views and horrendous bouts of character assassination. The editors were Jannic Konarski, Mark Orr and The "Reverend" Steve "Greenteeth" Gowland in that order. In March 1983 the Newsletter featured this David and Goliath encounter from the club championship (white: Derek Poots, black: Mark Orr): 1 e4 c5 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 Qc2?! Nc6 5 Od1? Nf6 6 Nge2 d6 7 Ng3 h5 8 d3?! h4 9 Nge2 h3 10 g3? Bq4 11 Be3 Bf3 12 Rgi Ng4 13 Kd2 Nxh2 14 Qel? Bg4 15 Kcl Nf3 16 Qd1 Nxg1 17 Bxh3 Nxe2+ 18 Nxe2 Rxh3 19 f3 Bxf3 20 Qf1 Qa5 21 Oxf3 Qxel+ 0-1.

The rag also had it's own crossword and featured clues like:

  1. The Reverend could hardly be described as fastidious in this respect (6,7).
  2. A common sight in Derek Poots' games but also for that matter in those of Fischer and Tal (6,2,5).
  3. Jim Mullin's grading is certainly not going in this direction (2).
  4. Howard Nimmo's breath has been described as this (4).

The answers are of course:

  1. dental hygiene
  2. pieces en prise
  3. up
  4. foul

When the Reverend arrived in the editor's chair he tried a new style of journalism - treat your readers with complete and utter contempt. Hence his editorial from April 1984 began with the opening salvo "Yet again, WD NEWS is late in arriving, and yet again the reason is lack of interest from you the membership. A measly five pages is all you're getting, and that's more than you deserve."

This era also featured a move to better premises (from the Old Coach to the Trades Council) and a dramatic increase in membership. Success at the chessboard followed and the Dragons nabbed a Central League title in 1983, which was then followed by Spens Cup and Edinburgh League titles. However bad news was just around the corner. After winning the Edinburgh and Lothians Chess League in 1985-86 everyone at the club was looking forward to season 1986-87 with great anticipation. Unfortunately the club secretary (Neil Clapperton) forgot to send in our entry to the organisers. After a protracted dispute (which made the news pages of The Scotsman and The Glasgow Herald) the Dragons eventually found that they were unable to defend the title that they had won the previous season. At the time this seemed like the end of the world but in retrospect it can be seen as simply as a minor setback. Ironically during our slack 1986-87 season, we were able to attract many strong new members such as Craig Thomson, Tony Dempsey, Spike Mullen (no relation to the great Jim) and Tony McClelland.

After our enforced holiday we returned to win the Edinburgh League in season 1987-88 and again in season 1988-89. We won the Central League Seven Board Cup for the first time in 1988, the Cafe Royal Oyster Bar Chess Challenge in 1987, our ladies won the Robertson Cup in 1987 and 1989 and we won the Spens Cup for a second time in 1987. Most important of all however was last year's Richardson Cup win. After nine short years we had achieved what many clubs have failed to do in a century: winning the premier Scottish team championship. Here's hoping the next nine years are half as good as the last!