Obituary: Cliff Gorman, rugby player/official

Player/official who founded legendary Isle of Mull rugby club

Cliff Gorman was one of Scottish rugbys big characters who made a notable contribution to the sport he loved. Picture: Contributed
Cliff Gorman was one of Scottish rugbys big characters who made a notable contribution to the sport he loved. Picture: Contributed

Born 26 January 1941 in Edinburgh.

Died 8 December 2015 in Inverness. Aged 74.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Cliff Gorman was one of Scottish rugby’s big characters who made a notable contribution to the sport he loved, both on and off the pitch. His involvement with the game stretched back over many years, from Daniel Stewart’s College through the FP rugby club to the Highland club in Inverness, Isle of Mull rugby club which he was instrumental in founding, then Highland again, where he became club president. Everywhere he went he left his mark through his individuality, drive and gregariousness.

In 1990, he contracted multiple sclerosis, which he fought bravely and despite which he continued his involvement with Highland, attending their matches until a year ago.

He first played rugby at Daniel Stewart’s and was soon hooked on what became an enduring passion. Proud to have made the 1st XV in his last year at school, he then joined Stewart’s FP’s where he initially played in the lower teams before seizing his opportunity in the 1st XV. For part of the 1960s he was a fairly regular front row player either at prop or hooker in teams that featured internationalists Gregor Sharp and John Douglas and future internationalists Ian Forsyth and Sandy Hinshelwood. Freddie McLeod, former Scottish Rugby Union President and a teammate of Cliff’s, recalled: “He was a great character, one who fully enjoyed life. A useful front row forward, he always did his bit for the team and was a real enthusiast. After games he enjoyed socialising and I remember many happy evenings in his company in the old ‘puggy’ bar at Inverleith.”

On leaving school, Cliff joined the Leith Docks Commission, later the Forth Ports Authority, as an administrative officer until 1975 when he accepted a post as Transport Officer with the Highlands and Islands Development Board and relocated to Inverness. There he played for Highland’s 2nd XV until appointed by the Board to be Development Officer in Mull in 1978.

Despite there being no rugby club on the island, in July that year a local “team” played a team from a Navy frigate then in Tobermory. The only two Mull players with rugby experience were Cliff and a young John Rutherford, later of Scotland and British Lions, then spending time on the island with good friend Duncan Swinbanks. Much against the odds, the “locals” won despite their inexperience and Cliff felt encouraged to set up a club. At a meeting on 5 September convened by him in the Salen Hotel, the Isle of Mull rugby club came into being and it played its first official fixture four days later, captained by Cliff, against Highland Falcons. Over the initial years, Cliff fulfilled a variety of roles – player/coach, secretary and then treasurer.

Duncan Swinbanks, now the secretary, commented: “It was Cliff’s initiative that led to the club’s formation. He took on the arduous job of secretary and got us going. In the early days we played wherever we could – farmers’ fields and the grass next to the airstrip at Glenforsa.

“That could be comical as we had to stop games for aircraft landing and taking off, which could mean interruptions of up to half an hour. Cliff thought it a good idea for us to play seven-a-sides as lack of manpower meant it could be difficult raising a 15-man team.

“He coached us to success in our first Sevens tournament in Lochaber in 1980 and fired our enthusiasm for the shortened game. Undoubtedly his efforts led to the club setting up its own Sevens tournament in 1985, now a prestigious event labelled the ‘World’s Most Sociable Sevens’, attracting many foreign teams and internationalists. He was the making of our club and when we opened our refurbished clubhouse in 1995 he was invited back to perform the ceremony, marked by a game against an international select with his name recorded on a commemorative plaque.”

In 1967, Cliff married Sandra Montgomery in Edinburgh and they spent many happy years together. She said: “Cliff really enjoyed his time on Mull, his job involved him in a wide variety of tasks developing the island economy and requiring him to travel to Tiree, Muck, Coll and the Ardnamurchan peninsula.”

A couple of years based in Minard was followed by a return to Inverness around 1986 as senior Transport Officer for what was now Highland and Islands Enterprise.

He rejoined Highland where he became President in 1987, remaining in post for four years. Colin Baillie MBE, club life president and former North and Midlands coach, said: “He was a valuable asset to our club and did lots for Highlands and Islands rugby. As our president he was hands on and kept meetings brief and focused. He could at times be thrawn and obstinate but was always loveable, I thought he was a one-off. He cared deeply about Highland – I remember years ago at a game against Linlithgow with relegation at stake, he could not bear to watch the second half but spent it with his back to the pitch watching trains go past on the nearby railway and then celebrated the win with great gusto!”

Away from rugby, Cliff was a committed family man and church elder for years who enjoyed an occasional game of golf.

He is survived by Sandra,son Murray, daughters Lindsay and Shonagh and grandchildren Tom, Finn and Jack.