Sports world mourns Scots rugby writer Norman Mair

Norman Mair. Picture: Martin Hunter
Norman Mair. Picture: Martin Hunter
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Tributes were paid yesterday to former Scotsman rugby writer and four-times capped Scotland rugby international Norman Mair, who has died after a long illness. He was 86.

Former Scotland and Britain Lions coach Sir Ian McGeechan last night described Mair as “the best rugby writer of them all, without question”, adding that when even opposition players travelled to Edinburgh for internationals, they looked out Mair’s preview of the game on a Saturday morning.

Former Scotland full-back Andy Irvine said players viewed Mair’s reports as “the gospel”.

“I used to take the view that, if you really wanted to know how you played, read Norman,” added Irvine. “If Norman had you down for a bad game then you knew yourself it wasn’t the best.”

Glasgow Warriors coach Gregor Townsend, speaking in Toulouse after his side’s 19-11 defeat in the European Rugby Champions Cup yesterday, described Mair’s death as “a sad loss”. He added: “He was so well respected by the players. He had amazing knowledge of the game from 50 years ago right up to the modern day and it was great having conversations with him.”

Former Scotland and Lions coach McGeechan added: “When I came through schoolboy and club rugby he was someone you would look to read what he wrote but also to meet up with and have conversations about rugby.”

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Mair began working for The Scotsman in the early 1960s, by which time he had already earned four caps for Scotland as a hooker, having made his debut against France in 1951. He won three further caps that year. In 1952 Mair distinguished himself by joining the select band of double internationals after being selected to play for Scotland at cricket against Worcestershire.

But Mair became best known for his elegant and analytical writing on sports, including golf and tennis. A deep knowledge of rugby meant he was required reading for those who played and coached the game as well as those who simply watched it.

“When I was coaching Scotland, I used him as a sounding board,” said McGeechan. “We talked about things and looked at things together, he would give me a heads-up. He would never compromise any confidentiality. If some of the Scottish Rugby Union selectors knew some of the conversations I had with him, they would have panicked.

“Every rugby player, whether it was a player playing for Scotland or an opposition player, and I know Gareth Davies said it, that the piece they wanted to read was Norman Mair’s preview of the international on a Saturday morning.”

Irvine, the 51-times capped Scotland full-back, confirmed this yesterday. “We used to all love reading The Scotsman on a Monday morning and reading what Norman had to say – you treated that as the gospel. I know that all the boys thought that.”

Jim Telfer described Mair as the written word’s equivalent to Bill McLaren, who was described as the “voice of rugby” when the much-loved commentator passed away four years ago.

“Norman is a great loss,” said Telfer. “Bill McLaren and Norman are of the old generation – you don’t get them very often. He was a friend as well as a journalist. He used to come into my office at Murrayfield just for a blether and he always had something new to tell you even though he was 70 years old by then.

“He was always ahead of the game, never mind up with it,” he added.

Mair attended Edinburgh Academy and then Merchiston Castle school, famed for its rugby prowess, before going on to study law at Edinburgh University. He began his journalist career on Scotsport, the programme on which Arthur Montford, who died last month, made his name. He wrote for The Scotsman until 1998 and was inducted into the Scottish Rugby Hall of Fame last year.

Ian Stewart, editorial director of The Scotsman Publications Ltd, said: “I was saddened to hear of the passing of Norman Mair. He was one of the most outstanding journalists of his generation, and his contribution to The Scotsman and to sports journalism in general was simply huge. His insightful views helped shape rugby in this country.”

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