My name is Robert John Davidson, Cooper and Vice Chairman of Girvan Football Club. I started my career at William Grant & Sons Distillers at the Girvan Distillery as a fresh faced 16 year old in April 1984.
I went for my interview at The Girvan Distillery for the post of apprentice cooper and was interviewed by the then Distillery Manager Ian Forsyth, no Human Resources or tests just the old fashioned one to one interview in those days! About 2 weeks later I received a letter informing me that I was successful and was offered the role of apprentice cooper.
To become a cooper I undertook a 4 year apprenticeship and I was taught my craft by a Master Cooper by the name of Michael Fleming who sadly is no longer with us. This man became my mentor, my second father and I am proud to say my friend. In fact his daughter Michelle was my fife’s bridesmaid at our wedding in 1987 and we still keep in touch to this day.
So what does it take to become a craftsman such as a cooper you may ask?
I was a very lucky having a man like Michael (well actually we called him Mick), passing on his skill and knowledge and instilling just how privileged I was to be learning such an ancient craft.
I learned all about the different types of tools that were used in the coopering craft and of course how to look after them and use them correctly. I gave myself countless blisters using my hammer and driver, two of the main tools of a cooper, but luckily my hands soon became hardened to the tools.
I spent countless times repairing casks to a standard that only Mick would allow to pass the test, if I didn’t do it right I would have to start again until it met Micks approval and I can tell you he was strict and at the time felt like screaming at him. When I look back I understand what he was trying to achieve by teaching me this way.
The casks I was learning on ranged between Barrels, Hogsheads, Butts, Puncheons and even Tuns which were basically large casks which hold up to 2000 litres of Whisky.
Everything was done by using hand tools except for a band saw and circular saw for cutting the oak staves and it was hard going at times, all these skills were aimed at building up to my Trade Test which I undertook at the end of my 3rd Year.
During my Trade Test I was watched over by another Distillery Manager and another qualified cooper, this was designed to put me under maximum pressure and I must have sweated enough that day to fill a barrel.
I passed the Trade test and when I was told that, I had felt like kissing these people.
The last year of my apprenticeship I used to gain speed carrying out the repair of casks building up to becoming a PBR Cooper that is working on a bonus system repairing so many casks to get my basic wage and extra bonus casks for more money.
In 1988 I became a qualified cooper at The Girvan Distillery and as time has gone by (31 years and counting) more and more visitors have come to the cooperage to listen and watch what we do as coopers.
I have carried out demonstrations locally and nationally and my best gig to date was when the company flew me to Shanghai in China in 2010 to do coopering demonstrations on a stage in front of 500 people and for VIP’s.
I also was filmed, interviewed and photographed for chinese television and radio an experience that will live with me forever.
I am very lucky to have been taught by a wonderful Cooper and I have learned that every cask is an important part of the flavour and colour of whisky during the mysterious maturation process.
In addition to my working life I am the Vice Chairman of Girvan Football Club and my club is unique in Scottish Football as we are a Senior Club playing in a Junior League, no not Junior as in youngsters but Junior is a different term for Semi Professional in Scotland.
Girvan Football Club owns its own ground at Hamilton Park in Girvan and along with a totally voluntary committee we are currently in the process of doing a feasibility study to becoming a community owned facility which is a huge step for us. We are looking to install an artificial pitch along with a new spectator stand and changing areas and that’s just for starters, and all this along with keeping a successful team on the park.
We rely heavily on local businesses to sponsor us and we are always looking for others, be it locally or nationally, to help us realise our dreams. So please do get in touch if you would like to support us
I would like to say thank you to all that have taken the time to read this article and 3 kids later and 2 granddaughters later with a grandson on the way, I wish you all the best with your dreams and aspirations whatever they may be.
Robert Davidson, Cooper and Vice Chairman of Girvan FC.
More on sponsorship here