I’ve just heard the sad news that the wonderful old Rugby Union commenter, Bill McLaren has passed away. Bill, a Scot from the borders town of Hawick had a career that spanned fully six decades working for the BBC and was awarded the OBE, CBE and MBE for services to the sport. Much beloved by those inside and out the game, Bill was also inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame. the only non-player to achieve this I believe.
I’m a casual fan of Rugby Union, but always admired Bill McLaren greatly. I believe there was no finer sporting commentator anywhere. Very few have been his equal. Always strictly impartial and without bias, even when commentating on our native Scotland, you knew that you could trust in what Bill said when was behind the microphone. He was not only a gentleman but also a great man.
Bill retired from the job back in 2002 but his tones and turns of phrase will always be remembered with a huge fondness by me. He was one of those faces and voices that were a little cornerstone of your life, year after year. The memories of him I will always identify with my late father who was also a great admirer of Bill. Perhaps that’s why I loved him so much.
Bill’s many catchphrases conjured a vision of the Scotland of my youth. His references, often colloquial and of another era, evoked a time when life was simpler and less cynical. He was a true sportsman and what’s more he was one of ‘ours’ – though admired all over the world. Perhaps his best-known phrase was the inimitable ‘They’ll be dancing in the streets of Hawick/Selkirk/Gala or wherever the hometown a tonight.’
It would seem the correct thing to do to remember ‘The Voice of Rugby’ with a smile and a little whimsy – I’m sure the Hawick man would have wanted it that way. Cast your eyes over some of Bill’s famous sayings and wear a smile in your heart for the greatest sports commentator of them all.
God rest ye in heaven Bill McLaren.
‘It’s high enough, it’s long enough AND IT’S STRAIGHT ENOUGH!’
‘He’s like a demented ferret up a wee drainpipe.’
‘He plays like a runaway bullet.’ (of New Zealand wing Grant Batty).
‘That one was a bit inebriated – just like one of my golf shots.’ (Of a missed goal kick).
‘He kicked that ball like it were 3 pounds o’ haggis.’
‘Would ye like a Hawick ball, son?’ (Bill offering a friend a mint).
‘His sidestep was marvellous – like a shaft of lightning.’ (Description of Welsh wing Gerald Davies).
‘The All Blacks that day looked like great prophets of doom.’
‘Tweet, tweet, tweet’ – commentary on Scottish full-back Peter Dods’ strange run up to a penalty kick.
‘My goodness, that wee ball’s gone so high there’ll be snow on it when it comes down.’
’He’s as quick as a trout up a burn.’
‘Those props are as cunning as a bag o’ weasels.’
‘A day out of Hawick is a day wasted.’
‘I’m no hod carrier but I’d be laying bricks if he was running at me.’ (Description of Jonah Lomu).
‘I look at Colin Meads and see a great big sheep farmer who carried the ball in his hands as though it was an orange pip.’