Obituary: Hugh Waddell, Scottish Rugby League player who deserved to be better known

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Hugh Waddell, Rugby League internationalist. Born: 13 November 1958 in Irvine. Died: 1 November, 2019 in Carlisle, aged 60

Hugh Waddell is an almost forgotten great of Scottish rugby – overlooked because he played the 13-a-side game of Rugby League, rather than 15-a-side Union.

Scottish Rugby League stars are few in number – Dave Valentine, George Fairbairn, Ronnie Cowan, Alan Tait and George Graham and that’s about it, but the unsung Waddell deserves to stand alongside these better-known names.

He was born in Irvine Central Hospital, but the Waddell clan congregates around Auchinleck, so, the hard edge which stood him such good in League was there from birth. His family moved to Burton-on-Trent, where Hugh completed his schooling and took up an apprenticeship as a precision engineer.

He had naturally played football, before switching to Rugby Union, where his six foot, 16 stones-plus frame made him ideal prop forward material. Rugby, however, was just a bit of fun until, on holiday in Blackpool, he was dared to take part in a public trial for Blackpool Borough, the local Rugby League team.

He took to the new sport like a duck to water and was immediately signed post-match. His form with Second Division Blackpool soon had the bigger clubs chasing him, more-so after he was capped by England in 1984. There wasn’t a Scotland RL team at that time.

With Oldham, his star rose and he was picked for Great Britain against France. Then, after a star turn in helping Oldham win promotion to the First Division, he was back in the Great Britain ranks for the 1988 Australasian Tour. This was an unsuccessful foray below the equator, until Waddell was re-called to the team for the Third Test, in Sydney, which Great Britain won 26-12 to end a dismal run of 15 straight defeats.

His form in Sydney also caught the eye of Manly Sea Eagles, a Sydney side, who offered Waddell terms to remain down under.

He enjoyed his spell in Sydney, before returning to the UK, where he signed for Leeds Rhinos, teaming-up with fellow Scot Tait. Hugh also played for Sheffield Eagles, Wakefield Trinity, Swinton Lions, Rochdale Hornets and Barrow, before joining Carlisle Border Raiders in 1994, as player-coach.

At Carlisle, he was one of five Scottish caps, playing in Scotland’s inaugural Rugby League internationals. Indeed, Hugh was one of the instigators of the Scotland international team, playing for them in their first international, against Ireland, and in the Emerging Nations World Cup, in England, in 1995.

Launching the 13-a-side game in Scotland did not sit well with the SRU, who were most miffed when a Scotland Development XIII, coached by the great John Risman and including Waddell, met a North-East Select at Meadowbank in 1994.

Hugh had by now settled in the Carlisle area, where he had a day job as a van driver. He continued to play RL until he was 40, for Whitehaven, Egremont Rangers, ending his career – after a brief sojourn in the short-lived South Wales club – by captaining Scottish Border Eagles to the Scottish League title in 1998.

Waddell, dubbed “Ten Bellies” during his time at Leeds, went out in a blaze of glory too, captaining the Eagles to victory, and scoring two tries in the process, in the Grand Final against Edinburgh Eagles.

He came unexpectedly into the game, but grew to love it, and the fans loved him. He was an enthusiast, he worked hard to develop Rugby League in Scotland and along the Border and he is fondly remembered at all his clubs, as a fierce competitor on the field, and an absolute gentleman off it.

In his later years, living in Cumbria, as well as working as a van delivery driver, he operated as a doorman at a popular Carlisle night spot. Away from work, he enjoyed golf and badminton.

His early first marriage, while still in Burton-on-Trent, failed, but in his later years he found happiness with his partner Elaine, who survives him along with Rebecca, Bridget, Victoria and Gareth, his children from his first marriage, and Maisie, from his second relationship.

MATT VALLANCE