Gordon Matthew Strachan

Former Scotland rugby international, coach and teacher

Born: 16 November, 1947

Died: 03 May, 2016

GORDON Strachan, who has died aged 68 after a lengthy battle against heart disease was a naturally-gifted sportsman and an inspiring teacher.

Although he is best-known for the five Scotland caps he won, as a Jordanhill College player, between 1971 and 1973, he was a brilliant sporting all-rounder, ultra-competitive on park, court or course.

Gordon was born in Littlemill Ayrshire and raised, with big sister Annette in the village of Coylton, three miles from Ayr. From the local primary school he went to Ayr Academy, where he soon excelled on the sports field, captaining the First XV in his Sixth Year. He also won representative honours at badminton, and played youth football for the well-known Ayr Boswell BC.

While still at school, he was signed by Glenafton Athletic, with whom he won an Ayrshire League Cup-winner's medal in 1968. The 'Afton hoped he would stick with football, but, Rugby was his first love, and he joined Ayr from school. He was determined to become a PE teacher, and had already been accepted for The Scottish School of Physical Education, at Jordanhill College.

Although he was a natural back-row forward, Bill Dickinson, the formidable Jordanhill coach and “Advisor to the Captain” for the Scotland team, wanted to toughen-up the promising youngster, so, initially he was played in the second row.

“Bill told me: 'I'll make you a butcher, before I make you into a player'”, Gordon explained. He was a quick learner and was soon packing down at number eight for both the Colleges XV and Glasgow, before making his first appearance in the International Trial, at Murrayfield, in December, 1970.

His versatility, particularly his expertise as a line-out “tail gunner” and spoiler of opposition ball took him into the Scotland squad that season, however, he was an unused potential replacement – substitutes were only allowed in the event of injury back then – until the final international season of the season.

This was the extra game – the Centenary International, marking 100-years since Scotland and England had initiated international rugby, at Raeburn Place. The game, at Murrayfield, came one week after Scotland had posted their first Twickenham win since 1938 and Peter Brown and his squad were determined not to lose at home.

Midway through the second half, Gordon Brown injured himself making a last-ditch tackle to deny England's David Duckham a seemingly-certain try, Strachan was told to take off his track suit and get on there.

“The game went past in a flash, I think I only touched the ball once”, he later recalled, but, he had his cap, although it would remain in its box, in his bottom drawer, until he, he said, he was 'capped properly', by being picked to start”.

This was some time in coming. Injury meant he missed the 1972 Home Internationals, but, by 1973 he was the pre-eminent number eight in Scotland, and, with Gordon Brown injured, big brother Peter moved back into the boiler-house, allowing Strachan to start at number eight against Wales on 3 February, 1973.

He did a great job in denying Mervyn Davies his usual supply of tail ball in the lines-out, as Scotland scored an unexpected 10-9 win. Gordon kept his place for the next match, in which Scotland beat Ireland 24-19, so, an unchanged team was sent to Twickenham to try to win the Triple Crown.

It was not to be, England won 20-13 and, in the second half, after Jock Millican was taken off with concussion, the fit again Gordon Brown came on, Peter Brown moved back to number eight and Strachan moved to replace Millican at seven. He kept that shirt for the final game of the season, a Centenary match against the SRU President's XV. Scotland won that one 27-16.

Gordon's final appearance in Scotland colours came in November of 1973, when he played for “A, Scotland XV” in a bad-tempered non-cap “international” against Argentine. By the time of the 1974 Trial, less than two months later, Gordon had been dumped by the SRU selectors - all too prematurely.

He married childhood sweet-heart Anne, graduated from Jordanhill and did his probationary teaching at Auchinleck Academy. He was appointed Head of PE at the newly-opened Kyle Academy in Ayr. He would spend the remainder of his working life there, where he operated a formidable PE department with professional footballer Gerry Phillips.

Gordon also gave-up his weekly commute to train with and play for Jordanhill College, with whom he had won the then Unofficial Scottish Championship in 1971. He had been only the second Jordanhill player to be capped by Scotland while playing for the College – the other was another Ayr Academical, his team mate Ian “Mighty Mouse” McLauchlan.

Gordon decided to play out his career with Ayr Rugby Club, but when he hung up his boots he refused Ayr's overtures to become club coach. Instead he took a break from the game, barely even turning up to spectate, as he reduced his golf handicap and enjoyed time with his young family.

However, after Ayr were relegated to the Third Division, he agreed to return as coach, oversaw back-to-back promotions to the top flight, before again stepping back to become a fan.

Gordon's hopes of a busy retirement were hit when he was diagnosed with the incurable heart condition cardiac amyloidosis . He travelled regularly to London in search of the best treatment, but, he was given the grim news, his disease was incurable.

He accepted this devastating news with the courage and although, month-by-month his health deteriorated, and he became wheel-chair-bound, remained determined to escort his daughter Shonagh up the aisle at her marriage, due next month. Sadly, his illness beat him.

There may have been better rugby footballers who have been capped by Scotland, but, few, if any, worked as hard as Gordon Strachan. One season Bill Dickinson gave each member of the Scotland squad an individual fitness schedule. Gordon mis-read his and, instead of, as he should have, attempting 200 press-ups, over five fitness sessions in a week, he tried to do 200 per night – giving his fellow Ayrshiremen, McLauchlan, the Brown brothers and Al McHarg a good laugh at his expense.

He would have been an excellent Barbarian, but, he was one of the very few capped player of his era never to pull on the famous black and white hoops.

Gordon had a fine sense of fair play. Once, in a crucial Rug-Soc League game, when the Ayr RFC member, middle name “Homer” who was refereeing, awarded Ayr the most-dubious of penalties, Strachan stepped-up and deliberately missed it. He should have won more cap - his work at the breakdown would make him a superstar today.

Gordon Strachan is survived by Anne, daughters Fiona, Lorna and Shonagh - who was in the Scottish girl group Lemonscent in the early 2000s - and grandsons Liam, Joseph and Scott.

Matt Vallance