Former West of Scotland, Glasgow and Scotland wing three-quarter Dave Shedden has died following a courageous battle against an aggressive form of early-onset dementia.
A proud Ayrshireman, born in Kilwinning and raised in nearby Beith, Shedden, even as a schoolboy at Spiers School, showed the phenomenal pace which was a hallmark of his game. He was Ayrshire Schools sprint champion, and competed with distinction at national level, but he reserved his main sporting feats for the rugby field.
The first part of the name indicates the type of field Spiers School’s Marshalland pitch was, it was boggy in the extreme, but this could not prevent Shedden from showing his blistering pace for the school and later for the former pupils club, Old Spierians.
One great story of his effect on Old Spierians concerns a Glasgow Knock-Out Cup clash with Hillhead HSFP. Spierians gave the then senior Hills side a real fright, and, in one incident, number eight Jim McQueen broke clear, with Dave arriving like a runaway train outside him: “Pass Queenie,” yelled Dave – realising, with his pace, the try was on. However, McQueen replied: “Naw Shiddin (the North Ayrshire pronounciation of Shedden), I pay my subscription, same as you.” He failed to pass, was cut down by the cover and the try-scoring opportunity was lost.
From there he quickly moved on to West of Scotland, where he was soon a fixture on the wing for one of the top clubs in Scotland, regular contenders for and winners of the old unofficial club championship in 1971. The West sides of the time, since theirs was the only “open” club in the Glasgow area, contained lots of Shedden’s fellow Ayrshiremen – Quintin Dunlop, Peter Brown, then his young brother Gordon, Alistair McHarg and David Gray won Scotland caps, while other Ayrshire exiles such as Gray’s elder brother Ian, Ian Murchie and Shedden’s Speirs School-mate Alec Wilson also took the “drove” road to Burnbrae to win representative honours.
Shedden was a regular in the Glasgow District XV, the amateur-era Warriors, with whom he won the old Inter-District Championship.
He won two Scotland B caps, but the Scotland selectors, some 40 years before Gordon Strachan used the same argument, felt he was “too wee” and would not pick him. The suggestion was he could not meet the minimum weight of 11 stones which the selectors felt was necessary to be picked for Scotland.
His team mates, at an official SRU weigh-in one year, stuffed loose change, car keys, whatever into his pockets – there is even the story of Ian McLauchlan helping his fellow Ayrshireman to make the weight with a judicious foot on the scales to add the necessary poundage. It must have worked, because, when Scotland entertained the touring All Blacks in 1972 at Murrayfield, Shedden won the first of an eventual 15 caps, facing the great Brian Williams. He scored two tries for Scotland, against the multi-national SRU President’s XV in a 1973 Centenary International, and, against France, in his penultimate cap in 1978. He was taken off, injured, in his final cap, against Wales in 1978.
However, as a Scotland player, he is best remembered for a try-saving cross-field cover tackle on David Duckham in the 1976 Calcutta Cup match, during which his break from his own 22 set up the first of Alan Lawson’s two tries.
That tackle on Duckham was an example of his fearless “Spear” tackling technique – flat-out, low and using every ounce of his weight properly. Unfortunately, his courage –no opponent was too big for him to tackle – led to a dozen concussions.
David was diagnosed with early-onset dementia. He fought this disease bravely, and enjoyed a decade of so of a good quality of life, but, it took its toll eventully.
He found great comfort in returning to his sporting home at Burnbrae to attend monthly meetings of the Rugby Memories Glasgow group, where, when examining pictures of the old days, and speaking with former team mates, some kind of normality existed for a time.
He relished these meetings, always dapper, wearing collar and tie, getting out of daughter Lynne’s car and almost skipping across the car park to get to the meetings. They brought back the old spark and the story is told of how, at one meeting, looking at a West of Scotland team picture, he correctly identified each player – even coming away with a particular West of Scotland term of abuse for the not-very-popular team captain.
Shedden, of course, played in the amateur era, when rugby was a hobby. His day job was in the finance industry, with the Lloyds banking group, with whom, during a long career, he rose from humble representative, to branch manager and ultimately to a directorship. When he was awarded his 25-years long service award he was, rightly, described as: “A winner, in business and in rugby”.
The Scotland teams of his era always contained a healthy number of Ayrshire men. In addition to the West players named above, Jordanhill’s McLauchlan and Gordon Strachan, and Marr’s Bill Cuthbertson were capped, but, of all the Ayrshire men honoured in those days, only Shedden was a three-quarter, all the rest were forwards.
He left his native Ayrshire to settle across the border in Houston, Renfrewshire, where he golfed at Ranfurly Castle, also being an annual attender at the SRU’s former players golf day at Dalmahoy, and enjoying an annual golfing holiday in Ireland with a group of his friends. He enjoyed 42 years of happy marriage with childhood sweetheart Janie, who sadly predeceased him eight years ago.
He is survived by daughter Lynne and two grandchildren.