Obituary: Percy Friebe, Scottish internationalist who deserved more than single cap for national side

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John Percy Friebe, Scotland rugby internationalist and businessman. Born: 9 May 1931 in London. Died: 17 May 2019 in Glasgow, aged 88

Percy Friebe, who has died, aged 88, after a protracted battle against Parkinson’s Disease, was a member of a somewhat exclusive Scottish rugby band.

He was one of the 11 “One-Cap Wonders” who were tried, then discarded after only one game for Scotland, during that horrendous run of 17 straight defeats between 1950 and 1955.

Percy’s shot at glory came in the 1953 Calcutta Cup match, at Murrayfield, game seven in that run. That season had began with the disaster of the 44-0 loss to the touring Springboks, and as defeats followed to France, Wales and Ireland, the selectors became increasingly fond of change. When Friebe was named as one of three debutants for the England game, he was the 29th player to wear the thistle that season.

He had played impressively for the 14-man Edinburgh/Glasgow XV who lost heavily to the Springboks in November, and had been in the Blues pack for the final trial that season, before displacing former captain Peter Kininmonth at number eight for the Calcutta Cup game.

However, after England’s 19-3 win, that was his Scotland career over. He continued to serve his club Glasgow High School FP into the 1960s, captaining them to the unofficial championship in 1957.

Percy Friebe had arrived at the High School of Glasgow in 1940 as a nine-year-old, staying there for nine years and, in his final years, playing well for the 1st XV.

He left to take up an accountancy apprenticeship, before his compulsory two years of National Service with the Royal Air Force took him south, where he played his rugby for Worcester Warriors.

Returning to Glasgow, he rejoined Glasgow High School FP, where he was, along with the likes of the Cameron brothers, Angus and Donald, Jimmy Docherty and Hamish Kemp, a mainstay not only of the club side, but also the Glasgow XV.

His long association with the club has seen his name displayed on four different honours boards inside the Old Anniesland clubhouse, as a former club captain, past president of Glasgow HSFP, past president of GHK (following the amalgamation with Kelvinside Academicals) and on the internationalists’ board.

At the time of his death he was Honorary President of GHK. He was also one of the founders, along with Glasgow Academical Brian Simmers, of Glasgow Hawks.

He also had the distinction of scoring the first try at Burnbrae, when West of Scotland moved to that ground in 1960 and kicked-off with a game against Glasgow HSFP.

His accountancy career was mainly spent in business, rather than general practice. He had a spell with India Tyres at Inchinnan before, via a short sojourn with fishing tackle manufacturers Mallard Brothers, joining Stoddart’s Carpets at Elderslie.

This led to his final full-time business role, as Managing Director of Carpets International, a job which meant relocation to Birmingham and an enjoyable spell in English rugby with Moseley.

Returning to Glasgow in semi-retirement, he had a non-executive role as Chairman of Intersport, before being able to concentrate his energies on watching rugby.

He had not married while an active player, but in 1966, he wed Laura and the pair were inseparable until the onset of Parkinson’s Disease saw Percy forced into the care of the Erskine Home for Ex-Serviceman, close to his beloved Old Anniesland.

He and Laura, who survives him, did not have any children.

Percy Friebe was not a big man in terms of his position. However, his prowess as a line-out operator was praised in his performance for the combined Cities team agains the much bigger Springboks.

He was, however, the epitome of the all-action “corner-flagging” number eight, who deserved more caps than the solitary one he was accorded. He was a stalwart of Old Anniesland rugby over several decades.

MATTHEW VALLANCE