Obituary: Steve Begley, a rugby forward who played hard and partied harder

Former rugby player Stephen Begley has died at the age of 42
Former rugby player Stephen Begley has died at the age of 42
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Stephen Begley – former rugby player. Born: 4 April, 1975 in Kent. Died: 10 September, 2017 in Singapore, aged 42.

STEVE Begley, who collapsed and died during the swimming phase of a triathlon in Singapore, was an Anglo-Scot who made a big impact on Scottish rugby during spells playing in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

By birth, he was a Man of Kent. Had he, like elder brother Matt, been a Kentish Man, it would have made for a better headline – “Kilted Kentish Man”, like “Kilted Kiwi” would have read well. He and Matt gravitated from their home on the Isle of Sheppey to Blackheath RFC, where the discovery of a grandmother from Gourock attracted the attention of the Scottish Exiles talent spotters. Former Scotland captain David Leslie did the initial persuading, before Brian Simmers invited the brothers and their friend Danny Porte north, to join Glasgow Accies.

Steve won Scotland Under-19 and Under-21 honours, and had a ready response to those home Scots who would refer to the three southern imports as: “English b******s”. Steve’s response, on more than one occasion, was to indicate the scoreboard and retort: “Make that winning English b******s.”

The Begleys arrived in Glasgow just as rugby was going professional, and Steve became one of the stalwarts behind the rise of Glasgow Hawks, from a Second Division side to Scottish Champions. Brian Simmers directed Steve into financial services – which would be the “day job” for the rest of his life. Scotland didn’t have too many 6ft 7in, 17 stone-plus locks, so he was soon playing for Glasgow, before the Warriors suffix was added. Kiwi coach Kevin Green liked what he saw in Steve, an old-fashioned “enforcer” lock. However, Anniesland was his spiritual home. Steve was always at the heart of the post-match frolics, along the way, with his effortless charm, cutting a swathe through the West End ladies.

But the wanderlust was in him. He decamped to France, where he played for Strasbourg, and for Brive, alongside Tom Smith, the Scotland and Lions prop. He played in Dublin for Old Belvedere, and in South Africa. There was also a short spell in Edinburgh, with Watsonians, but, having enjoyed early success in the Hawks team which famously beat Toulouse in 1999, five years later, he was back in time to score the crucial try which clinched Hawks’ first Championship, play his part in a very successful period for the club, and make lasting friendships, which saw several old team mates back at Scotstoun last Saturday, to see and hear a heartfelt tribute from the club.

He played in Dubai for the Wooden Spoon Society; he joined Hamilton RFC from South Africa in contesting the Melrose Tens in 2011, before his final move, to Singapore, where he worked for St James Place Wealth and played rugby for the Bucks RFC Veterans. His long-term partner, Maxine, went with him to Singapore, but the relationship foundered.

Steve enjoyed the life of a well-to-do ex-pat in Singapore, and it was a shock to his many friends there and back in the UK when he collapsed and died during the swimming leg of a triathlon.

Steve Begley was probably born out of his time. He had the old-fashioned “amateur” approach to rugby: “Play hard, party harder, don’t carry on-field disputes off it and enjoy life”. He was definitely “a piano shifter”, rather than “a piano player”, but the way in which this big, hard man went about his business among the forward grunts allowed backs such as Glenn Metcalfe to make music with the possession he supplied.

He was, as more than one Anniesland worthy said in reflecting on Steve’s life: “One of the good guys.”

MATT VALLANCE