Obituary: Bill McMurtrie

Obituary: Bill McMurtrie

Scottish Rugby is saddened to learn of the death yesterday of the respected rugby writer Bill McMurtrie who gave a lifetime of service to the game globally, but especially here in Scotland and nowhere more than in Glasgow. He was 85.

During Bill’s 28-year tenure as rugby correspondent of, at the outset, the Glasgow Herald, he blazed a trail in enhancing coverage of the game and relationships between the rugby press and the SRU. In all, he was with The Herald for 38 years.

He reported on Scottish club, district and international rugby, as well as 13 Scotland tours, three British & Irish Lions campaigns and two Rugby World Cups.

Bill quite liked to carve the image of the typical Presbyterian Scot. He was a formidable statistician and could tell you who gave the third pass in a superbly engineered multi-phase attack, while other scribes were struggling to identify the scorer.

But that was only a small part of his generous personality, which absolutely shone when he covered a rugby tour.

He would frequently pepper his tour previews with the Robert Louis Stevenson quote: “It is better to travel hopefully, than to arrive” . . .  and it was usually after some multi-legged trip to a far-flung corner of the globe.

But when we did get there, whether New Zealand, Australia, Japan, the South Pacific, Zimbabwe, Canada, America, Argentina or Romania, Bill came into his own big time.

It became something of an urban myth that his family summer holidays in the caravan to France, were really a cover for Bill to recce where Scotland B or Scotland A would play the following season.

Bill loved to drive on tours and most of the time his navigation was par excellence, other than a trip from Brisbane to Toowoomba in Queensland, where he bemoaned taking the wrong turning on the A2 . . . and was never allowed to forget it!

Bill was a kind colleague. He tipped the waiter at the Churchill Arms Hotel – a lovely old colonial pile in Bulawayo – more than two months’ salary, after one memorable meal.

He changed his travel plans in Rosario, Argentina, after he found a particularly decent restaurant and his credibility with the younger players sky-rocketed, after a very jolly eve of match dinner with coaches David Johnston and Richie Dixon at the Seaview Restaurant in Nuku’alofa in Tonga.

“Ah it must have been that third bottle of wine that made me just a tad dyspeptic,” he mused at breakfast the following day . . . “Try the seventh!” laughed Richie Dixon.

Bill had reported on both Dixon and Johnston in their playing days and the rapport he had established then continued during the pair’s coaching progression.

Richie Dixon said: “I think the relationship we all had during those days was quite unique, thus the very fond memories we have of Bill, the person, not just the journalist.

“Bill during his working life was an excellent professional rugby journalist who knew the game as was reflected in his filed copy. But he also knew the benefits, when off duty, of creating friendships.”

David Johnston said Bill’s approach was built around “mutual respect and a desire to see Scotland at all levels do well. That was all of our driving motivation.

“These were often development tours in under-developed parts of the world and not without challenges, occasionally serious challenges, on and off the pitch.

“When these happened, we – coaches, management and media – all faced up to them together which was a sign of the trust and high regard in which we all held each other. And Bill being, I think, the oldest was very much responsible for creating that co-operative environment we had together.”




William Milroy McMurtrie was born in Paisley on 12 January 1939 and was educated at Paisley Grammar School and Galashiels Academy.

He began his career in journalism as a general reporter on the Berwickshire News in 1956, before joining the Glasgow Herald, initially as a sports sub editor in November that year.

In addition to serving as the paper’s rugby correspondent, he also undertook stints as cricket correspondent; schools rugby correspondent; assistant sports editor; and sports editor.

His love of the game and its people saw him referee, mainly schools’ games, from 1960-65. He was a life member of Paisley RFC, where he joined in 1961. He was also responsible for many years of the annual update of statistics for the Scottish Rugby Record publication.

His service to rugby saw him act as secretary of the GHA club and serve on both the Scottish Rugby Championship Committee and the West Region Competitions Committee.

He was elected to the Scottish Rugby Council in 2009, continuing his long association with Scottish Rugby, especially in Glasgow District, having been honorary secretary and administrative executive of the GDRU from 1995-2003, during the birth pangs of professional rugby.

Befitting his media background, he also worked with Scottish Rugby’s communications team during both the 1999 and 2007 Rugby World Cup tournaments and was media manager on Scotland’s tour to South Africa in 1999.

Away from rugby, Bill was a past president of Giffnock Tennis Club; an elder of Orchardhill Parish Church; and Council Member of the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Bill was always collegiate in his approach to story-gathering and for Bill, the relationship with his rugby contacts was more important than some one-off headline.

He always had a good bond too with referees, good referees. He told the story of arriving at Hawick and greeting Allan Hosie in the car park. Hosie had just been asked to pay a parking fee. “Wait to see who the first penalty is against later Bill, “ Hosie huffed, as he headed to the changing room.

But woe betide a referee who was inconsistent in law application. If you ever heard “Law 19” bellowed from the back of a stand, there was every likelihood Bill was on duty for The Herald.

Bill will be much missed. Always sharp, diligent and analytical in his writing, but kindness personified as a dear colleague, companion and supreme servant to the game of rugby in Scotland.

Scottish Rugby extends its sincere condolences to Bill’s family and many friends both here in Scotland and around the world. Bill’s funeral will be held at 11:00 on Friday 26 July at The Hurlet Crematorium, Glasgow, then afterwards at the Redhurst Hotel in Giffnock.

Pictured, 2013: Bill presenting Carrick with the Club of the Month award. 

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