And so the countdown begins . . . Some did no more than push pens in pursuit of sporting excellence, others could not run the length of themselves and it all kicks off with a woman who only pretended to love sport.
Most are, however, greats of their respective games, one or two of them, admittedly, branded cheats, thugs and even traitors when at the peak of their powers, but mostly considered gods and goddesses among their followers. These are Scotland’s sporting icons.
Starting today and over the next two weeks we will be revealing Scotland’s 100 Greatest Sporting Icons, as assessed by The Herald’s expert team of sportswriters and assembled by myself with grateful assistance from colleagues.
Loading article content
Your own favourites will probably be in there. But if they are not, let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and telling us why you think your man, woman, horse, dog, or mascot, should be in there instead. We hope you enjoy the series.
(Dorothy in Gregory’s Girl)
Whatever you think of the screenplay, the setting, storyline or the acting, Gregory’s Girl captured the minds and hearts of teenagers and film goers when it reached the big screens in 1981.
It broke certain taboos – the main one being about women playing football – but also established itself as arguably the best example of a Scottish film featuring sport and especially, football.
That it makes this list at all owes everything to the fact that, 36 years on, the film, its sporting content with an introduction for many to women’s football and Dee Hepburn – who famously played Dorothy (and even trained with Partick Thistle) before turning her back on an acting career – remains loved, unique and iconic.
Lynn Abrams’ reflections
I think it might have something to do with Cumbernauld; new town, modern, spawned modern values, and so the character played by Dee Hepburn is allowed to challenge traditional gender stereotypes because – in part at least – she is in this new context where people were beginning to do things a bit differently.
But she is also something of an icon in retrospect because women just did not play football then (and often were not allowed to at school).
It’s interesting to think about her in contrast with the Keira Knightly character in Bend it Like Beckham because, by the time that came out, the challenging aspect for most people was religion/race rather than gender.
That said, the Hepburn character (interesting that she is ‘Gregory’s Girl’ rather than having a name of her own in the title) does still conform to some traditional female characteristics (ie. she isn’t completely transgressive) which means that, for viewers, she is still acceptable and believable.
Lynn Abrams is Professor of Modern History, Head of School of Humanities at the University of Glasgow
Never before has a club mascot made headlines like it – well, not unless it was convicted of fighting with another club mascot, but when Partick Thistle’s new mascot was unveiled during the summer of 2015, it became a global media phenomenon, probably because no-one could quite believe what they were seeing.
Kingsley was designed by artist David Shrigley, a Turner Prize-winning artist who just so happened to be a Jags fan who introduced the Maryhill club to their new sponsors, Kingsford Capital – a Californian investment company he had done work for.
Poor Kingsley was compared to Lisa Simpson on acid, a demonic version of Glasgow’s old Smiles Better logo and ritual sacrifice to the sun god. Despite the criticism, Kingsley became a global star, making it on to American news programmes, featuring in newspapers and magazines around the world, going viral on social media and even becoming pals with David Hasselhoff!
Not everyone was a fan of Kingsley, but given the exposure and ‘reach’ achieved, Kingsley was the biggest talking point in Scottish football that summer and that can be called a success.
Stewart Weir’s reflections
Plenty of marketing and PR folk I know were mightily impressed by the impact Kingsley made. Not so sure if they’d be that impressed if they were trying to make young children go to their bed. What is for certain is Kingsley put Thistle in the headlines and still does. So job done.
It is uncanny, while compiling this kind of list, how many times in a Scottish context the phrase “first and only” is used. But that is exactly what makes the 2000 Guineas winner from 1961 unique; the first – and this far – only Scottish-trained classic winner.
While 1979 Grand National winner Rubstick is also a worthy nomination, Rockavon – bought by Strathaven farmer Thomas Yuill in 1959 – made the cut assisted greatly by its apparent unpopularity as a Classic winner!
Rockavon’s Classic success was heralded in the Scottish press as having “humbled the pride of England, Ireland and France”, the 66/1 shot beating L’Epinay, Henry The Seventh and Psidium, a triumvirate that would later win the Prix de I’Abbaye, Elipse and Epsom Derby respectively.
However, despite jockey Norman Stirk’s winning run on the George Boyd-trained mount, Rockavon was, in 2004, named by the Racing Post as “the worst horse to win the race not only since 1945, but since Victorian times.” A cruel judgment, perhaps, but not one that will take away the colt’s place in the history and record books.
Stewart Weir’s reflections
What’s in a name? Well, quite a lot when it came to nominations for Scotland’s greatest horses, with 1980 Grand National winner Ben Nevis among the suggestions (as was its jockey Charlie Fenwick), even though it was an American combination, while others wanted Dunfermline, the 1977 Oaks and St Leger winner, given pride of place. I’d imagine its owner, a certain HM Queen Elizabeth II, would dispute that call with Herald readers.
Quite simply, he is the greatest modern era “heavy”. Twice World Highland Games champion, four times world caber champion, five times USA Highland Games champion and 16 times Scottish champion.
He dominated the games for 30 years, competing worldwide and defending Scottish honour against English invaders.
Doug Gillon’s reflections
More than anyone, Anderson helped establish Highland Games as a tourist industry, latterly taking on the likes of England’s Olympic shot putter Geoff Capes and Iceland’s world’s strongest man winner Jon-Pall Sigmarsson as it drew a more eclectic field towards the end of his career.
He was the modern equivalent of 19th century Highland Games hero Donald Dinnie, who won several millions in today’s money and was still competing aged 76 as arguably the world’s first sporting superstar.
A stone mason from Aboyne, Dinnie won some 10,000 contests worldwide including wrestling, hammer, shot put, caber, running, hurdling, jumping, and even highland dancing. His performances as a young man were superior to those of several 1896 Olympic champions, including 100m winner Tom Burke, and Launceston Elliot. During World War I, heavy artillery shells were known as “Donald Dinnies”.
Another who followed in Dinnie’s footsteps, around the turn
of the 20th century, was Elliot, Britain’s first Olympic competitor (100m, 1896) and first gold medallist (single-handed lift, 1896).
A descendant of the Earl of Minto, he also won silver in the double-handed lift, tying with a Dane who was given the verdict on grounds of style, having placed fourth in the second 100m heat, fourth in Greco-Roman wrestling (eliminated by the gold medallist) and fifth in the rope climb. He placed eleventh in the discus in 1900.
At 6’4”, 54” chest, 36” waist, and 28” thighs, this blond Adonis
is reported to have made female spectators swoon with the official Olympic report stating: “This young gentleman attracted universal attention by his uncommon type of beauty.” He even received a marriage proposal from a lady of noble birth. Two years later he set a world best in the single handed lift and won the world’s first major physique contest.
When the family farm was sold to pay debts, he performed as a strong man across Europe and South America with his wife.
His signature act involved suspending two cyclists from a yoke across his shoulders. As they accelerated, he would spin rapidly, lifting them off the ground until they flew horizontal, over the top of the orchestra . . . and modern footballers claim to be entertainers?
It is a tale that offers a different take on the notion that Britain and the USA are two nations separated by a common language.
Halswelle had lost just one 400 metre race by the time he competed in the 1908 Olympics. That had been in the final of the Intercalated Games in Athens two years earlier when he was a victim of American tactics since – while illegal in Britain in those days before the one lap race was run in separate lanes – baulking was permitted in
With officials having been positioned around the track to ensure what the host nation considered fair play, American John Carpenter held off Halswelle’s characteristic late surge by forcing him wide once more in the final at the London Games, only to be disqualified.
The other two competitors – both compatriots of Carpenter –refused to take part in the re-run and Halswelle, who had set an Olympic record in the earlier rounds, consequently remains the only man to have won an Olympic gold medal in a walkover.
He is considered in some quarters to be the only British athlete to have won gold, silver and bronze Olympic medals in individual events, albeit medals won at the Intercalated Games that were slotted in between the 1904 Games in St Louis and the London Games in 1908 have not been recognised as Olympic medals since the International Olympic Committee ruled on the matter in 1949.
However, his performances otherwise stood the test of time – Eric Liddell winning the same Olympic title in 1924, but never breaking Halswelle’s Scottish 440 yard record, which survived until 1956, nor his 300 yards mark, which fell to Menzies Campbell in 1961.
His Scottish 600 yards best survived until 1968. Halswelle won the 1906 Scottish titles at 100, 220, 440, and 880 yards on the same afternoon, a feat never matched. Nor is his Olympic selection at 100, 400, and 800m.
He’d have won a 400m medal at 10 Scottish championships since 2001.
Doug Gillon’s reflections
Disgusted by what happened at the Olympics, Halswelle ran at the Ibrox Sports a week later, then quit the sport, but the
1908 controversy resulted in both the introduction of running the 400m in lanes and the creation of the International Amateur Athletics Federation, instituted to standardise rules globally.
A decorated Boer War veteran, Halswelle was killed by a sniper during World War I, just days after an article written by Halswelle had been published in his regimental magazine outlining how 79 of his fellow soldiers had died in a mission which gained 15 yards of territory, ground that, as an athlete, he would have covered in under two seconds. One of 51 British Olympians to be killed during World War I he would be buried in eerily similar style to Liddell who died in a Japanese internment camp 30 years later: their names both inscribed in boot polish on wooden crosses.
St Johnstone fan, former bank manager and, for 30 years, the chief executive of the European Tour, Schofield brought stability, change and considerable growth to the circuit during his long and influential tenure.
When he took over leadership of the fledgling European Tour in 1975, the total prize fund was around £430,000. When he retired three decades later, the circuit boasted a purse of over £71m. Schofield was a visionary who pushed to expand golf internationally and took the European Tour out of its traditional boundaries.
The Tunisian Open of 1982 was the first time the circuit had moved from the European heartlands and paved the way for global exploration into new golfing territory.
Nick Rodger’s reflections
For years, European based golfers were very much the poor relations of the superstars on the other side of the Atlantic. The US Open, for instance, used to afford just one place to a European. Schofield was a persistent driver for change on that front.
He made it his mission to make sure that the best players of the European Tour were not excluded and fought for automatic entry to golf’s four majors.
“From the moment in 1979 that Seve Ballesteros did what Tony Jacklin had done ten years earlier – win the Open at Lytham – it was obvious we had players deserving of playing at the top level,” he once said. An obvious wrong was eventually put right by Schofield’s efforts.
In sport, someone has to come first, be it in competition, or as the one who lays down the marker – the trailblazer who sets the benchmark. While today we think of Daniel Keatings and Daniel Purvis as the most recent stars of Scottish gymnastics, the man who did it before them, Steve Frew, is occasionally overlooked.
That could be due in some part to Scotland not having any real presence in men’s gymnastics prior to Frew, who in 2002, set the gold standard by taking the Commonwealth Games title in the rings competition.
In fact, he shared his moment on the top step of the podium with Cypriot rival Herodotos Giorgallas, the pair tying on the same score of 9.462.
Until Keatings and Purvis’ successes at Glasgow 2014, Frew – who represented Scotland and Great Britain in excess of 100 times – had been Scotland’s only gymnastics gold medal winner at Commonwealth level.
“Did it trouble me losing the ‘only’ label? Not in the slightest. I’ll always be the first,” says Frew.
Stewart Weir’s reflections
I got to know Stevie very early in his career, watching this wee boy from Grangemouth in exotic locations like Barrhead and Dunfermline as he competed for club and country.
He was identified as a teenager as the best, and anything he achieved, he did mostly as an amateur, without funding. Others have gone on to bigger things individually, appearing on all kinds of game shows or reality TV shows, but as Stevie admits, “dancing a foxtrot or a tango isn’t really my scene.”
More recently he has mentored and coached as part of Sky Sports ‘Living For Sport’ scheme, looking after young, up and coming athletes. They couldn’t have a better example to follow.
A hugely influential figure in the development of European women’s professional golf, Reid spent 26 years on the Ladies European Tour and was among its most successful players, winning 21 tournaments, while she also had a brief stint on the LPGA Tour, relatively late in her career in 1997/98.
A member of the European team at the first Solheim Cup in 1990, she was also part of the first winning team two years later and played in two more, in 1994 and 1996, while she then went on to be non-playing captain, steering the team to their second success in 2000 and narrowly failing to claim a first win on US soil in 2002.
Kevin Ferrie’s reflections
Only Laura Davies has won more European Tour titles than this formidable competitor who was described by Mickey Walker, her Solheim Cup captain in all four of her appearances in the event, as
“the gutsiest player I have ever known.”
She was not, for good or ill, afraid to take tough decisions, controversially omitting compatriots Janice Moodie in 2002 and, particularly strangely, Catriona Matthew both times from the Solheim Cup teams she captained.
With successful women’s golfers earning far less than their male counterparts, she subsequently showed a different side on returning to the work she had done as a teenager, as a care assistant in a Cupar nursing home before subsequently emigrating to Australia.
One of the youngest players ever selected to play rugby for Scotland
when, as a 17-year-old, Kenneth MacLeod made his debut in 1905
and won nine more caps before his father persuaded him to retire –
two of his older brothers having been badly injured playing the sport.
MacLeod managed to adhere to his father’s wishes while finding ways
of keeping the competitive juices flowing at a pretty decent level, showing his footballing versatility by switching codes to play for Manchester City, while he was also to captain Lancashire at cricket following his move south. After emigrating to South Africa, where he died in 1967, he was
to win Natal’s Amateur Golf Championship.
Kevin Ferrie’s reflections
MacLeod followed in the footsteps of fellow rugby playing all-rounder Leslie Balfour-Melville who also played for Scotland as a 17-year-old,
but won just one cap, whereas he would have a much more decorated international career as a cricketer, leading the national side to a win
over Australia which was as unlikely in 1882 as it would be now.
Besides that, he won the Scottish Lawn Tennis Championship in 1879, finished fifth in golf’s Open Championship in 1888 and won golf’s Amateur Championship in 1895. Also a high class skater, curler and long jumper he was pretty much the 19th century equivalent of Andy Murray, Gary Armstrong, Paul Lawrie, Dave Murdoch and Mike Denness all rolled into one.