Obituary: John Miller, rugby player

Born, 17 January, 1938, Edinburgh. Died, 23 September, 2015, Melrose, aged 77
John Miller gets set to kick the ball in his heydey as a rugby playerJohn Miller gets set to kick the ball in his heydey as a rugby player
John Miller gets set to kick the ball in his heydey as a rugby player

John Miller was a well-known rugby player for Stewart’s FP in the 1960s before going on to fulfil a variety of roles off the pitch over many years for the club and its successor, Stewart’s Melville FP. He also played for and captained Scotland’s only invitational side, the Co Optimists, and in the 1980s was a selector for Edinburgh District. As a scrum half, he was small for that position even by the standards of the day, but what he may have lacked in physique he more than made up for in heart.

This quality was noted at an early stage of his career while still at Daniel Stewart’s College playing for the 1st XV when the school magazine reported: “Special mention must be made of John Miller, surely one of the pluckiest and most diminutive scrum halfs to play in the 1st XV. He has served his backs ably and has withstood the fiercest onslaughts from the opposition.” When John joined the FP rugby club in 1956 he found it difficult to break into the 1st XV as the FP team then was very strong. It won the unofficial Scottish championship in 1957-8 and could boast several internationalists and future ones, such as Grant Weatherstone, Keith Macdonald, Gregor Sharp and John Douglas.

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Alongside them, the team also featured a number of Edinburgh District players and international trialists, including Gordon Robertson at scrum half, who in effect barred John’s route to the first team, apart from an occasional game. However, by 1961 John had established himself and from then until 1968 was ever present in the “firsts”. He was a consistently valuable team member, highly rated by fellow players, particularly when captain through 1965.

He also enjoyed a lot of success in seven-a-side tournaments, winning the Edinburgh 7’s at Murrayfield several times, as well as Langholm, Jedforest and others. Former teammate and British Lion John Douglas recalled John fondly: “He was such a nice guy whom everyone liked. As a player he always gave 100 per cent and his lack of stature never deterred him, his nippy style was particularly suited to 7s.” Another teammate, George Allan, an international trialist, described him as “a very effective scrum half, very quick thinking, he was able to dink under opponents and elude them.”

And Scottish international, Ian Forsyth, who played with John from 1964 on, remembered a particular occasion at the Melrose Sevens. “In 1965 we played London Scottish in the semi-final.At one point John attempted a smother tackle on JC Brash, a Scottish cap at wing forward. This was a catchweight contest with Brash effectively dragging John along for some 30 yards as John held on grimly, all the while sliding slowly down, till his grasp settled around Brash’s ankles to finally stop him, amid great cheers from the crowd.”

Once he hung up his boots in the late Sixties, John at various times acted as club coach,was the “magic sponge” man and ran the line at 1st XV games. When the club amalgamated to become Stewart’s Melville, he acted as Match Secretary from about the mid-1970s to mid-1980s, and then joined the General Committee till the early 1990s, during which time he also served on the Edinburgh District Committee as selector.

Thereafter he was a loyal supporter of the club until retirement to Duns in about 2001.

John and twin Michael, also a good player, were brought up in the Trinity area of Edinburgh, where he would live until the Borders beckoned in retirement. Ken Scobie, lifelong friend and ex-chairman of Scottish Rugby Union, said: “John was a very popular guy who got on well with everyone. His three loves in life were his wife and family,his rugby and socialising.” On leaving school, John trained as a quantity surveyor and when he qualified, joined Wimpey Construction, with whom he spent his whole career, retiring from a senior position in 2000. In 1967 he wed Anne Davidson from the Duns area and the couple had 48 years together. He enjoyed retirement,followed sport on Sky Sports,played golf and resumed playing bridge.

Son Duncan said: “My dad loved being in company.He would never keep his own counsel but always wanted to be involved in conversations. I used to think of him as being mischievous and when he and his brother celebrated their 70th together they reminded me of two young lads misbehaving. He was humorous: when years ago I asked what his job was, he said, ‘I count bricks’. He was very honest, hardworking and loving.”

Rugby was a huge part of John’s life. He was in many ways the archetypal rugby man of the amateur era – fun on the pitch and off it. And when the time came to hang up the boots, he put back into the game what he had taken from it.

John is survived by wife Anne, daughter Jane, son Duncan and six grandchildren.