Obituary: Bill Dickinson

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The Independent Online
Bill Dickinson, rugby coach: born 1917; died Irvine, Ayrshire 7 April 1994.

BILL DICKINSON pioneered international rugby coaching in Scotland with his appointment, in 1971, as 'adviser to the captain'. The creation of such a role was considered revolutionary by the Scottish Rugby Union, who were inclined to equate coaching with the professionalism they dreaded and not long before had thought nothing of billing players who had the temerity to exchange their international jersey.

Under Dickinson's guidance Scotland won 15 out of 30 matches between 1971 and 1977 and began to re-establish credibility at international level. Of the 20 matches Scotland played immediately before his appointment only six had been won. Dickinson provided organisation, motivation and tactical appreciation: previously the approach in had been enthusiastic but uncoordinated. Dickinson had no official say in selection, but was aware that he would not have got the job on any other terms and that if coaching were to be accepted as part of the preparation of the Scottish national squad he had to swallow his pride and make a start where he could.

Lex Govan convened the Scottish selectors at the time of Dickinson's appointment. He recalls: 'I had a bit of a job persuading other members to my way of thinking. Once I had won them round Bill Dickinson was the only candidate. Bill was so enthusiastic and so full of rugby. He was also a very good communicator and once the chaps had confidence in him he took Scottish rugby quite a way forward.'

Dickinson's communicatory skills stemmed from a career in physical education. A graduate of the Scottish School of Physical Education at Jordanhill, a suburb of Glasgow, Dickinson returned as senior lecturer following service during the Second World War with the Highland Light Infantry. Dickinson's interest in organising rugby teams and prescribing tactics flourished and in 1969 he inspired the hitherto unfashionable Jordanhill College club to win the unofficial Scottish club championship.

Members of that side included Ian McLauclhan, the first Jordanhill player to be capped, as a prop forward, after being converted by Dickinson from a schoolboy flanker. McLauchlan said of Dickinson's contribution to Scottish rugby: 'He was a man before his time who took us into a new era. One night he went to a dinner in Cumnock and they asked him if he could speak about coaching for 15 minutes - 1 hour and 10 minutes later he sat down to a standing ovation. Bill was as fly as a box of monkeys but he could be a diplomat as well.'

Another distinguished rugby product of Jordanhill is Richie Dixon, the present Scotland forwards coach, in whom Dickinson saw extraordinary versatility. It was under the guidance of Dickinson that Dixon became one of the few modern players to gain representative honours (with Glasgow) as both a forward and a threequarter. Others to come under the Dickinson wing with Glasgow and Scotland included Sandy Carmichael and Gordon Brown, both of whom, along with McLauchlan, were members of the only British Isles party to have won a Test series in New Zealand, in 1971. Brown's autobiography says of Dickinson:

He welded our pack into one of the finest and most competitive units ever seen at Murrayfield. His lack of technique in coaching the backs was a pity because he certainly knew how to motivate them. He constantly urged them to use their flair to the utmost which they did, but up and coming stars, like Andy Irvine, Jim Renwick, Ian McGeechan and Billy Steel, required moulding as a unit.