Scotsman Obituaries: Bill Noble, rugby player and Highland Games athlete

Bill Noble, rugby player. Born: 17 November 1943 in Edinburgh. Died: 3 December 2021 in East Lothian, aged 78

Bill Noble brought fun to every task with his sense of humour

Bill Noble was a very well known figure on the Scottish rugby scene, especially associated with his beloved Boroughmuir Rugby Club whose 1st XV he represented over nearly 20 seasons as an accomplished prop forward.

He played a notable role in the club’s success in the final Unofficial Championship in season 1972/3 before the introduction of Leagues. His sterling performances earned him selection several times for Edinburgh District in the 1970s and, once retired from playing, he assisted with coaching and mentoring younger players in the “dark arts” of front row play. He also served as President of the Club for an unprecedented five years between 2012 and 2017 and was appointed Honorary Vice President in recognition of his outstanding contribution.

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Bill was also a very good “heavyweight” athlete, excelling at shot putt. As silver medallist at the Scottish Schools’ Championships, he represented Scotland in the annual Schools’ International against England and Wales. Competing as a senior, he represented Edinburgh based Octavians Athletic Club with distinction in National League and other fixtures, twice finishing 3rd in the East of Scotland Championships at shot putt. His name regularly appeared in the national ranking lists not only for shot putt but also for discus and javelin.

William Scott Noble was born in Edinburgh, where his father was a stonemason. After primary school, he went in 1954 to Darroch Secondary and in 1957 to Boroughmuir High School. His early interest in weight training, initially with homemade dumbbells, built up his powerful physique and lent itself to front row play, at which he showed considerable potential. From 1959 he spent three years in the 1st XV, his profile in the school magazine earning this accolade: “A prop forward with great strength; a great enthusiast who gives everything to the game”.

Although strength and commitment were fundamentals of his play he was also surprisingly fast on the pitch and had good hands, thanks to playing basketball at school alongside Bill McInnes, later a British internationalist.

In summer his attention turned to the athletics arena, where strength facilitated his development in the throwing events, particularly shot putt, at which he won Scottish Schools’ podium places between 1959 and 1962 inclusive. At the Schoolboys’ International in 1962 held in County Durham he faced formidable opposition in two future British internationalists representing England, while one Welsh rival was Terry Price, the future Wales and British Lions full back.

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After school Bill attended Napier College in Edinburgh where he undertook a course in Design. He continued his sporting involvement with Boroughmuir F.P’s and Octavians. On the rugby field he made his debut for the 1st XV in 1962/3 and was effectively an ever present in the team until he retired in 1980, a considerable achievement bearing in mind the punishing nature of front row play. A hard but fair player, he was driven by an overwhelming desire to win, anything less than 100 per cent commitment being alien.

Highlights included winning the last Unofficial Championship by defeating Langholm in a cliffhanger final match of the season despite having to play much of the game with only 14 men, as substitutes were not then permitted. Of their 25 matches, 22 were won, two lost and one drawn. The team continued doing well, finishing third and fourth in the top League in 1975 and ’76 and runners up in ’78, with Bill’s contribution important. A 1979 report in The Scotsman of Bill scoring a try against Selkirk imparted a flavour of his style: “… Noble exploding from a ruck and pounding 20 yards to the line”.

First selected for Edinburgh in 1973/4 for the Inter City match against Glasgow, Bill played several times for the District against opposition including South of Scotland, Northumberland and Racing Club of Nice, his final appearance coming in 1978. Later, when living in Peebles, Bill made an impact with the local rugby club, assisting in coaching younger players and the 1st XV.

In athletics he competed successfully throughout the 1960s and tackled the traditional heavy events at Highland Games, including the Edinburgh Games held at Murrayfield in 1966, when he recorded his best mark at shot putt. Earlier that season he finished 3rd in the East District Championships, as he also had in 1965, while his best ranking in the national lists was 9th in 1963. Given his ability also at discus and javelin, he was a very useful points scorer for Octavians in League matches. In 1970 in Edinburgh Bill married Maureen Baxter, a teacher, with the couple going on to enjoy a long happy marriage during which they had sons, Adam and Chris.

Bill worked in the field of graphic design and printing. Initially he was involved in a business with a Boroughmuir teammate based in the Bonnington area of Edinburgh before taking up a post in the Borders and living in Peebles, where his wife taught.

On returning to Edinburgh he resumed his links with Boroughmuir, leading to the club Presidency, with the couple latterly living near East Linton.

An extremely popular individual, Bill not only worked tirelessly for the club but brought fun to the task with his sense of humour, engaging company and talent as raconteur, qualities that also endeared him to many as an after dinner speaker. A gifted artist, he put that ability to the service of the club and the school’s Former Pupils’ Association. Bill was also a very good guitarist, regularly travelling with his guitar on rugby trips and often leading the singing. He also sang in a barbershop choir and was a regular church attender.

He is survived by his wife, sons and five grandchildren.

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