Bill McLaren on his time at Shire


You may well ask what site preparation work has to do with playing Rugby for Aberdeenshire but, in fact, it provided a somewhat startling introduction to my own brief playing experience with the Club, an experience both revealing and rewarding.


It was my first game for the 'Shire. We travelled to play Strathmore at Forfar in the 1947-48 season. The game started late by half an hour because of stone-clearing operations. During our warm-up kick-about, which took place on the actual playing pitch so that the locals would be suitably impressed, we noticed that the surface was stonily uneven. Like beachcombers we started on a search and remove mission. It was going quite successfully until we came upon one firmly embedded. We dug with our hands and, ages later, unearthed a massive boulder, the size of a cabin trunk. It took the whole 'Shire pack to shift it. It was the best bit of scrummaging they did all day! Trouble was it left them absolutely flannelled.. .and a hole the size of a bomb crater bang in the middle of the pitch. It was all typical of the haphazard, happy-go-lucky approach to the game in those days.

Unless my memory fails me, it was in that game that one of the Aberdeenshire lads had a difference of opinion with a Strathmore forward who, hurt and haughty, treated his opponent to the remark of a lifetime: "But, honestly, you hit me first". Perhaps because of my Rugby upbringing in Hawick and the Borders, I was guilty of occasionally tackling in unorthodox fashion by crashing my hands down on an opponent's shoulders before turning him over by the jersey. Believe it or not, I once was drawn aside by the president of the Scottish Rugby Union and told "not to tackle like that because it disnae look right". In any event, Aberdeenshire were playing a Royal Naval Air Station side and my unorthodox tackling had resulted in three of our opponents' jerseys being torn. I can still picture the indignation written on the face of their captain, a gentleman of English stock, as he turned to me in the next lineout and protested:Look here, for God's sake cut it out. We've no bloody spare jerseys left".

I've often wondered how I ever came to be playing for Aberdeenshire. I have a vague recollection of receiving a delightful letter from the Club inviting me to play for them on the grounds that they were by far the outstanding side in the whole of Scotland! They were just starting up after the war years and I suspect that subtle influence was brought to bear by W.H. "Bunty" Laurie who, in association with Gordon Edwards, contributed so handsomely to the resuscitation of 'Shire in those difficult post-war years. "W.H." was the much respected principal of Woolmanhill Physical Education College and as one of his students, I soon learned that his word was law. It surely was no coincidence that several of our College fifteen were drafted into the Aberdeenshire side for Saturday games and we were indebted to Bill Laurie for that as well for his guidance and understanding.

It was in the dressing room prior to the local derby between Aberdeenshire and berdeen Wanderers at Hazlehead that I encountered another of my tutors, Jack rame, a local headmaster. He had been my House master at Hawick High School ut after a most friendly pre-match talk, the first words he uttered to me on the ield were: "Don't obstruct, McLaren of I'll send you off. So much, thought I, for he Old Pals Act!

Perhaps our most memorable feat of that 1947-48 season was to lead the famous Aberdeen Grammar School P.P. side by 8-6 at halftime before losing 11-21 at Rubislaw. Grammar had a powerful side including Donny Innes, already a pre-war internationalist, and Doug Smith and Dally Allardyce who were to be capped later. There were also the Buthlay and Hunter brothers and Bill Connon. Yet they led only 15-11 when we lost fullback lan Currie. I can still see Dally Allardyce scuttling in for the clinching try. He already had dropped a goal. We were thrilled when the local sports page carried the headline: 'Shire Rugby on the Upgrade: P.Ps., Hard Pressed to Win". The teams on that day were: Aberdeen G.S.F.P. - E. Buthlay; E. Hunter, C. R. Cruickshank, J. R. S. Innes and D. W. C. Smith; R. F. Buthlay and W. D. Allardyce; P. K. Booker, J. S. Munro, W. L. Connon, D. N. Georgeson, L. Middleton, I. M. Duguid, J. C. Hunter, and K. W. Hunter. Aberdeenshire - I. R. Currie; A. C. Young, J. A. Symington, P. Bramson and G. Tumbull: J. L. Allan and R. Smith; F. McLauchlan, R. Davidson, R. W. Smith, J. Graham, R. G. Killicoat, G. K. McGregor, A. S. Brechin and W. P. McLaren.

I suppose that in those days, we were terribly ignorant of what would be termed now the finer points of techniques, tactics and strategies. No nonsense about gain lines, overlaps, ruck or maul ball, Australian dispensations, loose heads or tight heads. We just went out and played. Defensive strategy comprised solely "flatten the b.......... wi' the ba' or comer flag". No silent ontemplation in the dressing room followed by a long harangue by a coach. Gordon Edwards teamtalks, as I recall them, were very much on the lines of those by one immortal Jedforest captain of yesteryear whose tactical dissertation every Saturday comprised solely: "Right, ee ken whit ee hev tae dae so geez the ba' and let's git oot there and hammer hell oot o' they buggers". Those were the days! It was great fun and an experience playing with Aberdeen shire. I'm grateful to them and I wish them well.


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