Obituary: Ronnie Nichol, rugby player

Ronnie Nichol, rugby player and enthusiastic supporter of common riding. Picture: Contributed

Ronnie Nichol, rugby player and enthusiastic supporter of common riding. Picture: Contributed

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Born: 27 March 1960 Hawick. Died: 12 November 2015 Melrose. Aged 55.

Ronnie Nichol who has died aged 55 was very well known,highly regarded and extremely popular in Hawick and throughout the Borders,having played rugby with distinction for the town and through his enthusiastic support of and immense contribution to its common riding and associated activities.

His playing career spanned 23 years for Hawick and Hawick Linden totalling over 400 games. A formidable prop forward, he also represented the South of Scotland several times and gained a Scotland ‘B’ cap. He was steeped in all things Hawick and immersed himself in a variety of community activities centring on the common riding festival. He was a member of the Drum and Fife band for 39 years and leader for the last 20,was chairman of the Common Riding Committee 2007-2010, president of the Callants Club 2010, and president of the 1514 Club 1994.

In addition he was a much appreciated member of the Burns Club and the Wilton Bowling Club where he enjoyed some success on the green. He spread good fellowship wherever he went and his sense of humour,innate decency and congeniality brought out the feelgood factor in every company.

His rugby career began at Wilton Primary school under the watchful eye of Bill McLaren and he was later very proud to be selected for Bill’s “best Hawick team of the 1980’s”. After the High School he joined the Wanderers,then Hawick Linden before playing for Hawick for whom he was a regular throughout the 80s and into the 90s, including a season as captain in 1990-1. His 180 games for the “Greens” brought him several national and border league titles,earning the team the accolade of “The Green Machine”. District representation followed and he played for the South of Scotland in 1984 when they memorably defeated the touring Australians at Mansfield Park, inflicting on them their only Saturday defeat of their famous Grand Slam tour. Up against “Topo” Rodriguez in the scrum,who won 41 caps for Argentina and Australia,Ronnie more than held his own and,in the words of teammate, Scottish and British Lion cap, Jim Renwick “did not wilt”.

Coach Johnny Gray later said “Ronnie played a very important part in the game as we held Australia up front. We were not supposed to but we did. He was the sort of player who gave 100 per cent in any game.”

His excellent performance led to a Scotland ‘B’ cap in 1985 against France at Murrayfield,which Scotland won 21-12. Ronnie first played for Hawick Linden in 1977 while his last was in 2000, during which time he notched up over 200 games and captained them. Club stalwart Gary Alexander recalled, “Ronnie was very attached to and supportive of the Linden. He was the best player I ever played with and that’s ahead of Scotland caps and British Lions.”

His Hawick roots stretched back several generations,his parents Bill and Lydia both having been employed in the town’s textile industry. Ronnie was the second oldest of four sons, Lindsay, the youngest, commenting “Ronnie is irreplaceable. I am so proud of him,he was my best pal as well as a brother,truly a gentle man.”

In 1981 he married Lynn Frost whom he had met at school and together with their son, also Ronnie,they enjoyed a close happy marriage and family life. For the past 25 years Ronnie, a plasterer/builder,worked with the Waverley housing association on repair work to their properties throughout the Borders and was a highly regarded employee.

The annual Common Riding celebrations benefitted hugely from Ronnie’s unstinting and often unseen input over many years. Nothing was too much trouble for him. He thrived on his involvement and was a great champion of the traditions and spectacle of the festival. Friend Alan Brydon said during his funeral eulogy,’We’ll miss the look on his face on Common Riding morning-the look that says “Isn’t this wonderful?” Being leader of the town’s Drum and Fife band over the last 20 years brought him special satisfaction. It was a demanding position to fulfil well as the band is central to the celebrations but it was a role he carried off very successfully.

Ian Landles,friend,former teacher of Ronnie and local historian,wrote in a tribute,”If I was picking a team for the game of life,his name would be first on the sheet.”

The presence of almost 1,000 mourners at his funeral echoes that sentiment and is eloquent testimony to a special man.

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