By Cara Sulieman
FLAGS high above Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh were lowered to half mast today (Tues) in an emotional tribute to the “voice of rugby” Bill McLaren who has died aged 86.
The legendary commentator, known for his absolute fairness, witty remarks and insightful turns of phrase gained a reputation for being the best in the business in a career spanning almost half a century.
When he retired in 2002, he was already the proud recipient of a MBE, OBE and CBE for services to rugby.
And he was still subject of an internet campaign calling on the Hawick born favourite to be Knighted too.
The man who led the campaign – Bruce Aitchison – paid tribute to a man he called “one of the good guys”.
He described his only meeting with the legend – saying that it summed up McLaren.
He said: “I only met him once when I was a player almost 10 years ago.
“We were playing in a televised game and he came along to watch training as part of his information gathering.
“As we were warming up I had a woolly hat on and he called me across and asked if I could take it off so he could get a good look at me so he could spot me during the game.
“It gave me an immense feeling of pride that Bill McLaren wanted to know who I was.”
And he went on to say how much the commentator would be missed.
He said: “He was loved the world over.
“When people ask me where I’m from and I say Scotland they always mention Bill McLaren because he was the voice of rugby.
“Springboks player Jon Smit summed it up.
“He said when he was younger and people asked him what rubgy sounded like he would have answered Bill McLaren and I don’t think anyone could put it better than that.
“Bill was also a very proud family man and had immense pride in all his family, especially with his grandsons playing.
“He made a lasting impression on everyone he came into contact with.
“People remember him as an inspirational teacher – even if they had no interest in rugby they can always recall a story and hold him in high regard.
“Bill was one of the good guys – his death is a sad loss.
“My thoughts and feelings go to the family. Rugby has suffered a terrible loss but it will survive – it will hit the family a lot harder.”
Such was his standing in the game, he was the first non cap to be inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in November 2001, thanks to a career which began on radio on in 1953 when he was forced to give up hopes for his own international career after suffering TB.
Stars of the sport including former Scotland captains Gavin Hastings and Andy Irvine lined up to pay tribute.
Hastings described him as a “gentleman” and a “wonderful commentator”.
Irvine added: “He had a magnificent voice, a great Hawick twang.”
Part of his legend was his fantastic turn of phrase, including the favourite; “They’ll be dancing in the streets of Hawick.”
Last night, as they mourned one of their own, Hawick and the world of rugby could be forgiven for shedding a tear or two as well.