Thousands gather at Murrayfield to pay tribute to Bill McLaren 'the voice of rugby'

MURRAYFIELD became a place of homage last night as more than 4,000 people congregated in the West Stand of the darkened stadium to remember and celebrate the life of Bill McLaren, the "voice of rugby", who died in January.

• At a darkened Murrayfield, the pipes and drums of Lothian and Borders Police and Dollar Academy Pipe Band take part in the memorial service to Bill McLaren. Picture: Dan Phillips

The funeral of the Scottish commentator took place in Hawick earlier this year, but last night's memorial allowed thousands of fans an opportunity to pay their respects to the well-loved broadcaster.

Murrayfield Stadium has witnessed special events in sport and entertainment, and it seemed wholly fitting as venue for a memorial that paid tribute to the voice that had carried action from there into homes around the world for more than 40 years.

Dougie Donnelly, the BBC sports presenter, opened the night with some historical facts before introducing the massed pipes and drums, which included the band from Dollar Academy, the school attended by McLaren's grandchildren, as well as Dunipace and Bathgate pipe bands.

The personal tributes covered many of the well-known moments from his career and his character, from the PE teacher described by Colin Deans and Jim Renwick to the budding commentator known by British and Irish Lions Hugh McLeod, Andy Irvine, Gerald Davies, Gavin Hastings and Mike Gibson.

Deans recalled the excitement of knowing McLaren was to teach him "gym" the next day as being like "the night before Christmas" and Irvine revealed his mother had watched his Murrayfield debut but never again came to the stadium as she had missed McLaren's TV commentary.

Those who turned out last night, including many from his beloved home town of Hawick, were given a rare insight into the man who many millions knew only by his voice.

Tributes were interspersed with footage of commentaries from McLaren's first television matches in 1960 right up until his last, when Scotland played against Wales in Cardiff in 2002, and personal recollections from past and present players and family members, including his nephew Bill Johnstone – the BBC Scotland radio commentator – and grandson Rory Lawson, who is in Scotland's squad for tomorrow's Calcutta Cup.

From the floodlit stage alongside the touchline, facing the West Stand, Ian Landles, the Hawick historian and raconteur, prompted laughter around the stadium with his popular verse The man that oo ca' Bill, delivered in his inimitable Hawick dialect, and then a roll-call of genuine rugby legends provided their own recollections from the platform of just what made McLaren different, how his knowledge of the game, his insight, dedication and sense of warmth, set him apart.

Davies, considered one of the finest wings ever to grace world rugby, said: "We were the privileged ones who played when he was around. That was a great honour.

"We might have shaped the game, but it was Bill McLaren that coloured the scene.

"Amid the mundane he found the heroic; he made the game true to its essence, no gloss or varnish.

"We shall not look upon his like again – the finest of commentators and a great gentleman."

The musical soundtrack for the night was provided by Ronnie Browne, of the Corries, the Morriston Orpheus Choir, who had travelled north from Wales, and a Glen Miller recording, with a special finale – a recording of Caledonia from Dougie Maclean, on tour in Australia.

No-one pretended the modest and unassuming McLaren would have sanctioned such an event in a place he believed was purely for rugby, but as the thousands departed an occasion recalling the influence of a genuine Scots ambassador, many more will return tomorrow hoping the praise might have some lasting effect.

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