Finlay Calder was the British and Irish Lions Captain to Australia in 1989 – he was a sportsman in the amateur era.
Who better then to talk to ahead of the Lions tour of 2013?
Q. You grew up in Haddington, playing rugby with your twin brother and watching the local team. Was there ever any doubt that rugby would be your life?
A. The short answer is no.
My twin brother Jim and I were the youngest of four brothers, so we instantly had two teams, two-a-side. We were also very lucky to have a small paddock in front of the house and from the age of five or six, we played rugby there, from dawn to dusk!
As we grew up, at various stages, the four of us all went on to play for Haddington in the Neilson Park before playing alongside each other, for our school Former Pupils side, at Inverleith, in Edinburgh.
Q. How and when did you first become involved in International Rugby?
A. Through Club rugby. That’s how it worked in those days; there was a filtering process through the districts and then onto the Trials, which were held just prior to 5 Nations Championship – it was a reasonably successful, tried and tested, platform.
Q. Do players still come through in the same way?
A. Well not quite.
When the game went professional and with only two professional teams in Scotland, it’s not quite the same but it is what it is. We also have a number of Scottish players plying their trade within English and French professional teams, so there’s still a robust platform for bringing players to the National side.
Q. What did it feel like to be picked as a Lion?
A. Well I sort of knew it was coming earlier in that season as I had the tap on the shoulder from Clive Rowlands (the Lions Manager of 89’)
It was a special time; the season prior to a Lions Tour certainly brings out that extra motivation, an additional sense of purpose. Personally I must say it doesn’t get any better than playing for the Lions …..to be part of something with all those years of tradition certainly topped playing for your country……….well for me at least.
Q. You Captained the Lions in 1989, famously winning the series 2:1.
As Skipper how do you unite a Lions team of strong players and competitive sporting egos?
A. The big egos thing wasn’t a problem for us for we had a lot good men on tour….. …..big men yes but with small egos.
As soon as we got together in Sudbury there was a sense of common purpose and any past differences (and there were a few) were set aside for the greater good.
Our tour was the first of the smaller tours, we played 13 games……………….it wasn’t that long to be away.
Compare that to the ‘50s and ‘60s when the Lions would be away for well over three months and remember, this was when the game was amateur …..so not all of the best players could afford to be away.
But the Lions Brand from 89′ to 2013 has changed massively into the professional era.
When we toured, we were on virtually first name terms with our supporters, this year they’re expecting up to 40,000 followers ……… it’s a massive business and Australia, is of course, the perfect setting.
Not only have they got the weather but they also have the infrastructure with hotels and of course, the massive ex-pat Diaspora.
Many rugby folk will have been saving and planning for this trip for years on the grounds that if you’re going to spend to go, then you want it to be good ……..to make the most of it and as a destination, Australia makes this easy …………might not be so easy on the pitch!
HSBC too are great sponsors and Australasia is ideal for them. ……..with their Headquarters in Hong Kong.
The Bank was founded by a Scot, you know, Sir Thomas Sutherland, from Aberdeen ……..there were no sponsors of the Lions when we played!
Q. We know about the glory but what about the tough times – the media weren’t exactly supportive and there were whispers of foul play?
A. Sure it was tough enough but hugely rewarding in terms of memories and friendships kept. Clive called me just a couple of days ago to say ‘ we set off 24 years ago today.’ …..it still gives me a thrill to think back to the excitement of it all!
Clive set the standards and from there it flowed and everybody played their part.
As Andy Irvine (the 2013 Manager) knows only too well, that’s the only way to win, for Aussies will be formidable hosts. They will squeeze every last drop out of their men in the green and gold shirts ………and their supporters will expect nothing less.
Q. The Welsh dominate the 2013 selection. Any thoughts?
For them of course it’s a huge honour and to have Guy Richardson as Director of Operations and James Robson as Team Doctor, brings great credit to our Nation but I’d have liked to have seen a few more picked.
Think too that Kelly’s done a wonderful job for Scottish rugby but suspect that four years on, when the Lions head for New Zealand, he may be too old …..that said with the wonderful Brian O’Driscoll on, what will be, his fourth Lions tour – never say never!
Q. You’ve played a part in two historic wins The Lions Tour of ’89 and the Five Nations Grand Slam of ’90 – how do they compare? Which was best?
A. Lions wining the series ……………..full time ………15th July 1989.
Q. What’s the relationship like between the Lions Team – in its broadest sense: the coaches, the players, the whole operation – and the supporters? How has this changed?
A. Following the Lions nowadays is expensive and these trips tend to be once in a lifetime experience for most.
I’ve a friend who left Ullapool by bus last weekend for nearly eight weeks, catching up with old friends and extended family along the way …………I think a very patient wife is a must!
Am not that sure though that in Scotland there’s quite the same level of support for the Lions as there is in England, Wales or Ireland. I’ve no specific grounds to back that up other than hunch really but perhaps it’s down to the facts that the very successful Lions of the 70’s were filled with Welshmen and led of course by the great Irishman, Willie John McBride?
The one thing that I think has changed is that I don’t know if friendships amongst the players can be quite as strong as they used to be for today rugby at that level is professional; it’s their job.
At amateur levels, rugby remains a game with strong associations of fun and friendship but the professional players of today are held to a different standard than we were, they’re accountable, they’re reasonably well paid and they recognise this ……it’s not for better or worse …..it’s just different.
As an amateur player, I’ve been very blessed and I’m still in touch and close to the men I played with.
I was at a party last weekend to celebrate the renovation and re-opening of the Mosspaul Inn, near Hawick; it’s been bought by Rob Wainwright’s sister Alison and her husband Eddie.
They’ve done a great job bringing the place back to life and loads of the old names turned out to support them as they hosted their first Hawick Common Riding event.
Eric Paxton (surely one of Kelso’s favourite sons) was walking for charity, supported by Rob himself, together with Roy Laidlaw, Jim Renwick, John Rutherford, Steve Munro and for the last mile or so, Iain Milne and David Leslie!
I do hope the professional players go on in life to enjoy the same level of friendships, as they grow older……I think they will.
Q. And lastly, ahead of kick off, how do you rate the Lions chances? Do you think this is the right team to beat the Aussies?
A. Initially I thought the Aussies might just edge it but they’ve had a lot of injuries, so now the Lions might just take the series ………sitting on the fence I’ll go for 2:1 for Australia or the Lions!!
On that hopeful note……………..we’d like to say thank you to Finlay for taking the time to talk to us. It’s been a real pleasure.
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