Readers' memories of Bill McLaren

I WISH I had Bill McLaren's way with words to adequately express the sense of loss all those who enjoy the game of rugby union are feeling with his passing. The man was simply a genius with a microphone in his hand; he was the one sports commentator I have really enjoyed listening to during my lifetime.

Nobody today creates the feeling of anticipation ahead of a rugby international better than he did; nobody had a better more in-depth knowledge of all the players than he did.

What phrase better describes the quicksilver elusiveness of Roy Laidlaw cutting through a gap in the enemy defence than "he was as slippery as a baggie in a Border burn"? Or what about Doddie Weir crashing about the field "like a mad giraffe" or his likening of Simon Geoghan's running style to that of "a galloping octopus"? To me, as one who never had the pleasure or honour of meeting the man in the flesh, that was the priceless magic of Bill McLaren's commentaries. Rugby was more than just a game to him, it was his life's blood; to remember him as The Voice of Rugby is so fitting.


Mansfield Road


He showed cub reporter the ropes

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I was a young, very inexperienced junior reporter on the Hawick News when Bill was the senior reporter on the Hawick Express. Although he worked for a rival newspaper, he was always willing to provide every possible help and encouragement and would never take advantage of his position as a more senior journalist.

One of my jobs on a Monday morning was to go around the town calling on the secretaries of the various junior and semi-junior rugby clubs to receive verbal reports on the matches that had taken place on a Saturday.

On one occasion when the junior reporter for the Express was ill, he accompanied me on my rounds, transporting me in his small car (if my memory is correct it was a green Ford Popular). I felt very privileged to be sharing a rugby assignment (however minor) with a man who was already a rising star as a BBC radio commentator and who was destined to achieve world-wide fame. On the local paper, no job was too small or "below him" despite his increasing status as a national commentator. This was typical of a very unassuming man.


(Via email)

Belting recollection of gym at Trinity School

I could never listen to Bill McLaren without thinking of him giving me the belt in his P5 gym lesson at Trinity School in Hawick! Mum was a teacher there and I was mortified! He is forgiven and his passing is a great loss to Hawick, Scotland and rugby.

JANE MCDONALD (nee McIntosh)


Empathy with players' flaws showed sensitivity

Without a shadow of a doubt, Bill was one of the greatest sports commentators of all time, indeed loved and respected by everyone, not only in the rugby world, but in the sporting world as a whole. How many commendations have I heard about Bill the world over?

But to me perhaps his greatest attribute of all, was his kindness and feeling for the actual players; he was always forgiving of even the most calamitous mistake from a player, something we never hear today in the harsh world of professionalism.

Having lived and worked for many years away from Scotland, I did not as a rule suffer from homesickness, but Bill was responsible on one occasion when I was playing golf in Masterton, just north of Wellington, at a shipping trade day, and the dulcet McLaren tones were heard on passing the club house, where members were watching highlights of the Five Nations. My heart and mind returned forthwith to the Borders...

I understand there is a chance of some kind of Memorial Museum in Hawick – wonderful!


West Linton

'Ecky Thump' part of craic on Dublin trip

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I was in a party of Kelso supporters who spotted Bill at Dublin Airport the day before the 1982 Ireland match. It was to be Eric Paxton's first cap, and Bill told us he'd pre-recorded comments for the BBC News, warning the Irish to look out for "Ecky Thump"!

Alan Anderson

North Berwick

Floating like a 'demented butterfly'

As a teacher in Hawick HS in the 1960s, I was privileged to sit in on his informal get-togethers after school on Mondays where he would touch on the topic of his article in the Glasgow Herald for the coming Thursday and seek views.

I remember being struck by his broad Hawick accent and asked him if he ever slipped into it accidentally while broadcasting. He said the only time he could recollect doing so was in his earliest days of radio when he said "It's hankit up in the second ra" when a ball was stuck in a set scrum. He did not realise that he had done so until the playback review.

I also remember his description of Steve Winship, a mazy running stand-off for the Loughborough College side at the Melrose Sports as "being like a demented butterfly".


(Via email)

Tatty jogging bottoms showed common touch

My thoughts of Bill McLaren will be of a person with human qualities that are sadly missing in this era of Big Brother, huge BBC salaries and even bigger egos. Bill was my gym teacher at primary and secondary school in Hawick, and, although globally famous, would turn up in his somewhat tatty jogging bottoms each Saturday to teach us how to play his favourite game.

The game of rugby was not a passion but a love that he spread across the globe, but it never changed him or made people to look up to him or treat him differently.

He looked on his position as being a privilege, with the ultimate perk of a 'free ticket' at the best games in the world. I am so proud that he was a Hawick man (and not a palemerk from Galashiels), and will not just miss him from today, but have sadly missed his commentary for the last eight years when something has been sadly missing from watching televised rugby – not sure what Bill would have made of Brian Moore!

The folk of Hawick are lucky to have had Bill for 86 years, and would think it fitting if a statue or something similar was installed at Murrayfield to acknowledge his contribution to their sport.


Parkgrove Avenue


Family always came first

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I am so pleased that the title of your obituary emphasises Bill McLaren's love of his family because my abiding memory of the man illustrates just that.

It occurred in 1971 when Bill was covering the celebrations for the English RFU's centenary (impartially, of course). I was asked by my father, who was then president of Cheshire RFU, to travel to Lime Street Station in Liverpool to pick Bill up and take him to the venue for the Cheshire vs President's Elect match.

He made such an impression on me in that short journey but it was what happened after the match which has stayed with me.

He sought me out almost as soon as the match had ended to request a lift back to the station which surprised me as the post-match celebrations were just getting under way. "Oh, I'll not be staying. We have a new bairn at home and I can't wait to get back," he said with sheer joy about him. On the journey back to Liverpool he talked of his devotion to his family and to Hawick and I was left in no doubt that, despite all the accolades which were being bestowed upon him even then, his heart and soul lay well and truly in his family life in the Borders.

A year later I was at Twickenham for the Calcutta Cup match and, seeing me outside the stadium, he came across for a chat and asked to be remembered to my father: only real gentlemen are that thoughtful and courteous.

I am sure that the qualities of decency and fair play and that warm, steady voice which could utter such classic lines came from the strong and joyous roots he had at home.


(Via email)

Knighthood would have been fitting honour

It is one of the great travesties of the "honours system" that this great man was never knighted.

We Scots as a race aren't good at praising one of our own but "Sir Bill" was a world recognised figure much loved in all, and I mean all, rugby playing nations.

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I had the great pleasure of meeting him whilst at school playing against his beloved Hawick High School whom he was coaching.

We had just played them off the park and he came into our dressing room immediately after the game to shake the hand of every one of us to congratulate us on how we played the game. That was truly the measure of the man.

A sad loss.



Giant of the press box had infectious love of rugby

March 1971 – middle of a Saturday morning. At that time, my own rugby-playing aspirations (such as they were) having been ended by the loss of a kidney, I was Ayr Rugby Club's first-team touch judge; I also provided the match reports for the local papers the Ayr Advertiser and Ayrshire Post and had recently filed my first reports for The Scotsman.

I was getting all my stuff together ready for that afternoon's Ayr v West of Scotland match, when the telephone rang. So well known was Bill McLaren's voice, I instantly knew who was on the other end of the phone. Bill wanted me to provide copy on that afternoon's game for his slot on that night's teatime edition of Sportscene. I was only too happy to oblige. Bill had that rare gift, he, just by speaking to you, made you feel special.


(Via email)

15-14 a victory for Scotland . . . and Hawick

A memorable quote I remember from Bill: "15-14, what a score for a Scotland-England match!", then deadly silence as he realised that only people from Hawick would know that 1514 was the local battle of Hornshole where the Hawick Callants routed the English marauders and took their flag (commemorated every year as part of the Common Riding).




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