Obituary: George Russell, Scottish Rugby Union official with passion for history of the game

George Russell, rugby player and official. Born: 23 March 1930 in Edinburgh. Died: 9 May 2020 in Edinburgh, aged 90

George Russell

George Russell, who has died aged 90, will be remembered as one of the main pains in the backside of the ruling Junta within the Scottish Rugby Union. For many years, no annual meeting of that governing body was complete without, under “Any Other Business” George, representing his beloved Moray House RFC, raising the thorny issue of the lack of a Museum of Scottish Rugby within Murrayfield – coupled with a complaint about the level of executive salaries.

George never took a penny in expenses from his rugby and he considered the salaries being paid to the “suits” – not withstanding massive bonuses – to be obscene.

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The old museum was closed down during the rebuild of the stadium, and when it became clear that the high heid yins inside the SRU were in no hurry to replace it, George took up the cause with a vengeance, becoming, in the process, a persistent pest at each AGM.

Sadly,he has died before the museum has been re-instated, but some within the game have already vowed to get it built as a fitting memorial to George.

He was born in the kitchen of the family home in Bank Street, Edinburgh, just off the Royal Mile, the only son and middle child of John and Kate Russell. They were a close family, particularly George and his sisters, the younger Rena, and the elder, Margaret, who introduced him to his future wife June, whom he married in December 1954.

George was a somewhat reluctant pupil at Moray House School but he made some lifelong friendships there – not least with the game of rugby, going on to be a founder member of Moray House RFC.

George was a civil servant, rising to be a manager for the Dental Estimates Board. He had thought to join the Stirlingshire Constabulary as a young man, but when he discovered duties would prevent him playing rugby, he opted to stay behind his desk.

As a player, a centre/winger at his best, he was good enough to represent the Edinburgh & District Union XV. As he grew older he moved positions, eventually wearing all 15 numbers for his club in a playing career which only ended with the fitting of a new hip – he was 72 at the time.

He was a distinguished member of the “blazeratti” of voluntary officials who ran the game in Scotland, as a selector for both the Edinburgh District and the full Edinburgh side – where he played a key role in persuading his fellow selectors that the young full back Bruce Hay, of District side Liberton FP, was good enough for the full Edinburgh side. That Hay went on to be a full Scotland cap and a British Lion demonstrates George’s eye for a player.

He also served on the SRU’s referee grading and appointments committee and did sterling work as a liaison officer with various touring sides, before being appointed Chief Steward at Murrayfield, where he was responsible for the safety of the dignitaries such as Princess Anne.

In his half-century as President of Moray House, he was a regular attender at rugby club dinners, where, as a speaker he formed a wonderful double act with Boroughmuir’s Bob Brown.

He was a regular at EROS lunches, where the elder statesmen of Edinburgh rugby gather once a month to mis-remember events from their playing career and bitch about how: “it was a better game in our day”. And he involved himself in the Rugby Memories project to help dementia sufferers.

He also enjoyed the away trips to the other Six Nations venues – a particular highlight of these being when George treated his family to a trip to Rome to see Duncan Weir’s match-winning last-gasp dropped goal.

His other sporting interests included ten-pin bowling and golf. He was a Trustee of Murrayfield Indoor Sports Club and an enthusiastic playing member of Kilspindie Golf Club.

George and June, who pre-deceased him in 2012, greatly enjoyed holidays in their apartment in Spain and, following June’s death, elder sister Margaret would accompany George on trips there, up until her death, aged 92, in March.

In retirement, he and June ran an excellent bed and breakfast, where George boasted, he produced the best breakfast in Edinburgh. But, Moray House rugby was his principal interest, that and his long battle to have the SRU executives appreciate and properly exhibit the long and proud history of the game.

In August last year George fell and broke his hip. He never fully recovered from this injury, but, throughout his difficult final eight months he was in good humour and intensely grateful for the wonderful care he received.

George is survived by son Grant, daughter Karen and grandchildren Mark, Aimee and Rory.

MATT VALLANCE

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