Bill Lothian: 20 Twickenham trips and one win

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HE’S been at every Calcutta Cup match at Twickenham since 1975, but Bill Lothian has seen only one Scotland win.

Having won the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham in the afternoon it seemed, for an encore, Scotland’s rugby team had resolved to audition straight-away for the Eurovision Song Contest.

My memories of reporting on that great sporting triumph of 1983 – I have been at every Calcutta Cup match at Twickenham since 1975 and it’s the only Scotland win I’ve seen – are vivid, even if the aftermath is less clear.

I do recall, though, amidst nocturnal celebrations in the bar of the Charing Cross Hotel there was Jim Renwick giving a cameo on piano with “Lucky” Jim Pollock on vocals.

And Jim Aitken, Scotland’s captain?

Well, the man they affectionately called “Bob Daddy” seemed to be continuously on the bell.

Time and again Aitken ordered up copious amounts of champagne, although, by moving on from the official dinner, those bottles could no longer be charged to the room account of England captain, John Scott.

It was quite a night and just as well the team and us acolytes made the most of it because we didn’t know then that at least 32 years would elapse before the next Scottish win at Twickenham.

Ah, those were the days...

The best-selling UK car was the Austin Metro, the first CD was about to be brought to market and mobile phones had only just been introduced.

The Twickenham arena was different, too. Players had to run up a few steps to reach a pitch that was above the height of the first couple of rows of seats and the stands were dark and foreboding.

Today’s glassy and glitzy amphitheatre with the wine cellar made of the best Portland slate was years away.

Twickenham back then didn’t yet resemble a military passing out parade either, but that’s another story.

There may have been a couple of verses of God Save the Queen after introductions to HRH Princess Anne but certainly no Flower of Scotland.

Inspiration came from elsewhere and Scotland had it in spades under the watchful eye of Tom Doocey, the first New Zealander to referee a Five Nations match. His appointment was the first sign that fortunes were looking up.

Under coach Colin Telfer – namesake Jim was away helping select the Lions team he was to coach that summer – the Scots knew they would be allowed to put boots to bodies and ruck effectively, having absorbed Kiwi interpretations of the rules while on tour.

So it proved and in the aftermath skipper Aitken acknowledged: “When things went wrong we always knew exactly what the problem was and you can’t ask much more from a referee than that.”

Actually, the winning margin of 22-12 could have been wider but for a gaffe by Mr Doocey when Jim Renwick was illegally tackled by Steve Smith before he had gathered a pass from fellow centre, Keith Robertson. A penalty try ought to have ensued but Renwick has more profound recollections of the occasion, as recalled in his authorised biography entitled Centre of Excellence.

“I tried a drop goal and it just about hit the corner flag. Then Keith put one over and, as he ran back into position, the cheeky bastard says: ‘That’s the way you do it, Jim’. The other thing I remember was two lassies streaking at half-time and Jim Aitken trying to get our attention – as if we were going to listen to what he was saying while they were running about.

“That was only the fourth time we had won down there so we had a good night afterwards.

“The guy who used to play the piano at the Scottish rugby dinners was there so we nabbed him and brought him back to the hotel and had a sing-song which went on pretty much all night.”

Aitken told a slightly different tale about the pianist two years ago. “He had been down in London for the match and had popped in for a drink. We thought he worked at the Charing Cross [Hotel] and we insisted he keep playing.”

With the likes of The Bear (Iain Milne) lurking by the bar, how was he going to refuse?

Tom Smith, the only Scotland debutant that day, has this recollection: “When I returned to Tranent, I heard that a pal, Rab Gillies, had pledged to throw his telly out the window of his house if I scored a try because he’d be so happy. Rab was true to his word!”

Always one for a bit of name dropping, Tom added: “Back then, I turned up for work at the old Drybrough’s Brewery in Craigmillar on the Monday morning and with great memories, albeit much of the game remains hazy.

“Some of my strongest recollections came afterwards, including the enormous size of the changing rooms with their individual baths.

“Going outside, I couldn’t find my wife in the crowds but I strayed into a car park party where some people from my club, Gala, introduced me to television presenter Judith Chalmers and Denis Thatcher, husband of the Prime Minister.

“My try came from a throw-in by Colin Deans right on the English line – by comparison with today, when throw-ins must take place five metres out, we were allowed to get much closer – and I had signalled that I wanted the ball just behind me.

“That was to counter my marker Steve Bainbridge, who was 6ft 9in, but once the ball was in my hands I just flopped to the ground with flanker David Leslie shoving me, before looking up to see the referee’s arm in the air.

“The conversion was missed but there was still no time for England to come back as we ran out 22-12 winners.”

Parallels exist today:

• Scotland had made five changes.

• They went into action on the back of three straight championship defeats.

• Scotland were able to recall a first-choice stand-off. Read John Rutherford (after injury) for Finn Russell (suspension).

Omens, perhaps? If history does repeat itself, just steer clear of the Charing Cross Hotel or wherever the Scottish rugby team bases itself these days.

Aftershave toasts – England prop Colin Smart decided to indulge himself at a Paris dinner around that time when the beer ran out – are no longer rugby vogue, thank goodness. But the need for an old-fashioned post-Twickenham Scottish celebration has been building and building. Could it be this year?


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