The master of all trades

KEN SCOTLAND
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The Independent Online

It helps when our boyhood heroes have heroic names. Even before I had seen him, K J F Scotland had a fan. My first sighting of him was from the Murrayfield terraces in 1957 on the foulest of days. Scotland were playing Ireland and 10 minutes before the kick-off a blizzard reduced spectating to a battle for survival. No matter, I stuck it out to the bitter end, if only to make sure that my man would come through unscathed. He looked so pale and frail one feared for his life.

It helps when our boyhood heroes have heroic names. Even before I had seen him, K J F Scotland had a fan. My first sighting of him was from the Murrayfield terraces in 1957 on the foulest of days. Scotland were playing Ireland and 10 minutes before the kick-off a blizzard reduced spectating to a battle for survival. No matter, I stuck it out to the bitter end, if only to make sure that my man would come through unscathed. He looked so pale and frail one feared for his life.

Scotland was a magnificent footballer, blessed with exquisite balance and such natural skill he could play anywhere in the back division. On the 1959 British Lions tour to the Anti-podes he occupied every position behind the scrum except wing, and starred in all of them. The New Zealand writer T P McLean perfectly captured him when he wrote: "He floated like summer down through the New Zealand defence."

Although he began his rugby life at school as a stand-off, but despite the fact that he occasionally occupied that position at the highest levels, it was as a full-back that his reputation was made. His versatility was not restricted to the rugby field either. He was a first-class wicketkeeper, playing once for Scotland, an opportunity which he claimed he conspicuously failed to take with both hands. He played off a golf handicap of six and three years ago he won the Scottish Rugby Union pro-am over the formidable Dalmahoy course with a gross 73.

If Scotland was not the original running full-back he certainly lifted the art to new heights through his instinctive awareness of time and space. From nowhere he would materialise between the outside centre and wing and with such stealth that opposing defences were almost invariably caught unawares. Slight of build and tipping the scales at no more than 11st, Scotland was, nevertheless, a robust defender, employing his uncanny sense of position and his speed into the tackle to great effect.

Seldom do we get closer to our heroes than mere worship, but on an autumn Saturday in 1963, fresh out of school, I found myself in opposition to my idol, playing for the Scottish Midlands against the North of Scotland in a district trial.

Scotland was by then getting to the end of his career, although he was still the country's first choice full-back, despite the fact that he was playing his rugby with the least fashionable of the leading clubs.

On this occasion Scotland was playing stand-off and, occupying the same position, I had the comforting presence alongside me of Ronnie Glasgow, a deadly assassin of a flanker and the scourge of opposition half-backs, particularly if they were French or famous.

Scotland most definitely fell into the latter category, and when he took up his position behind the scrum almost within touching distance of our back row, Glasgow began pawing the ground in anticipation of the carnage. But it was Scotland who was the destroyer. Not once during that game, I swear, did either Glasgow or I lay as much as a finger on Scotland, whose mastery of angles and deception was out of this world.

Scotland could never be accused of self-advancement and never by a word or deed did he seek to benefit from his talent. But those who truly knew their rugby understood his sublime skills. Tom Kiernan considered him to be the finest full-back he had played against and that redoubtable Welshman and scribe Vivian Jenkins, who could genuinely claim to be in the vanguard of running fullbacks as early as the 30s, believed him to be the best player in Britain.

The style, elegance and sportsmanship with which he played his rugby are the precepts by which he lives his life, combined with an enduring modesty and a wonderfully dry wit. A newcomer to the district side came over to introduce himself. "I'm Arsol Rhind", he said a little nervously. "Well, Arsol" replied Ken slightly taken aback but ever anxious to please: "It's my belief that every good team needs one."

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