Scottish rugby brought to life in black and white
Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be goes the old joke, but it is certainly enjoying a renaissance in this reflective time of lockdown.
For fans of Scottish rugby there could be no greater goldmine for that than the latest book by author Steve Finan – Dark Blue Blood: Scottish Rugby In The Black And White Era.
A doorstopper packed with incredible pictures which document the story of the game in this neck of the woods.
A veteran journalist with DC Thomson, working for the Evening Telegraph, Dundee Courier and Sunday Post for many years as a sub-editor, Finan is now focused on his books, although he still files a weekly much-enjoyed column on the joys of the English language.
Previous hits have been Lifted Over The Turnstiles: Scotland’s Football Grounds In The Black And White Era, It’s A Team Game: Scotland’s Football Club Line-Ups In The Black And White Era and books on his beloved Dundee United and Aberdeen.
Speaking to me from his home in Carnoustie, Finan said: “Football is my main sporting passion, Dundee United which hasn’t been much fun of late, but I’ve always had a great love of rugby too and this book was a joy to do.
“I played a bit, not with much distinction, at Carnoustie High but have always followed rugby. It has a different spirit to football, a fair competition, hard game followed by tremendous camaraderie after the contest.”
As one of that unique and peculiarly obsessive breed, the sub-editor (I think I can say that after many years spent as one myself), Finan found himself haunting the DC Thomson archive rooms.
He explained: “Photographers will take hundreds of pictures at games and the like but, of course, only one or a few will actually be used in the paper but the negatives are all filed away.
“So I’ll spend hours in there going through them and picking out the gems. Most aren’t captioned so that’s the work part of it but it’s not a chore, it’s an absolute joy and I hope readers get some pleasure looking back at these images that show rugby, and Scottish rugby in particular, for the treasure it is.”
Of course the “black and white era” in newspaper terms is not the same as television, it stretches from the distant to not so distant past. My career, youthful young buck that I am (oh, who am I kidding) started in an age when “mono” was the norm and colour a rationed flourish.
I remember the days when you had to send the colour images early before the paper was fully “put to bed” and many a time when a forgetful move of the page “furniture” resulted in a “ghost” on the final printed product. A sub’s nightmare back then.
But back to this wonderful book. “Of course, the match action pics are key, but I always want to look for stuff that gives the fans’ eyes view.
“At sports matches there are players, coaches, managers and us media lot but 99.99 per cent are the punters and I wanted to give their viewpoint on it all. And also capture the spirit of rugby, the off-field friendship and fun that goes with this wonderful game.”
He certainly does that.
Here in Finan’s own words he gives an insight into how the book was put together.
‘There’s little room for misty-eyed sentiment when playing a game of rugby.
“But once the boots are put away for the last time, you find there are tens of thousands of blokes in Scotland who know a lot about the game. Men who have followed rugby for 40, 50 years, or more. Men who will tell you that Ian Smith, the Flying Scotsman, was faster than the train of the same name; or that you’d need not one but two bulldozers to stop Hugh McLeod.
“But rugby isn’t quite so good at cultivating its history as other sports. Most round-ball devotees can reel off the achievements of Denis Law, Jock Stein or Willie Bauld, but I fear half the crowd at a modern Murrayfield international couldn’t pick Wullie Gray out of a line-up.
“This is a tragedy. Rugby history, and the feats (and antics) of the men who fill the histories are more often told as anecdotes. And that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean their achievements should always be treated lightly. Without the old heroes there would be no modern game.
“There are memoirs and biographies that mention the legends of Mike Campbell-Lammerton, or David Bedell-Sivright, but few books that show the men, or the places they played, as they were.
“This book attempts to do that. It isn’t a text-heavy thing, the aim is to evoke nostalgia with superb old photos.
“Rugby, like no other sport, is a game played by heroes and warriors — but who never claimed they were heroes or warriors. They were sportsmen, amateurs who played for the thrill of the game, and were incredible competitors but also gentlemen (after the game).
“I wanted to capture that, the old rugby atmosphere. Before it is too late and no one living remembers it.
“I’m trying to show what the game looked like, how Mansfield Park and the Greenyards were in the old days. I wanted to show Murrayfield when 104,000 crammed in to set a world record. I wanted people to see Colin Telfer and Ian McLaughlan in action, not just as reminiscences over club-room pints. So that’s what this book tries to do.
“It is an attempt to educate the young, and stir the memories of those who know what a solo-lock was. Or is (depending on how you view the game). Strangely, it’s probably a book aimed at men who don’t often buy books.
“The creation of this 300-page doorstop called for a lot of time to be spent in dusty archives, or to put it another way, great fun.
“I resolved to cover the famous names, but also make sure to show the game down the divisions and in all areas of the country. The history of rugby belongs to everyone who played it, not just those who were good at it. So there are lesser team’s line-ups, Sevens games, venues that don’t make it into any other rugby book. And I am pleased by that.
“This book is the third in what is to be a 15-volume library of In The Black And White Era books about Scottish sport. I have already covered football grounds in Lifted Over The Turnstiles: Scottish Football Grounds in the Black And White Era, and teams in It’s A Team Game, Scottish Football Club Line-Ups in the Black And White Era.”
Dark Blue Blood: Scottish Rugby In The Black & White Era is available from all good book sources, but quickest and most reliably from dcthomsonshop.co.uk
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