David Shedden – former Scotland rugby internationalist

Born: 24 May, 1944

Died: 27 October, 2017, aged 73

David Shedden, one of the fastest wing three-quarters to play rugby for Scotland, has died, following a courageous battle against Dementia.

Shedden would not have been upset to be described as “a whippet”, he was small, stick thin, but, he was quick – the natural, genuine pace which had won him Ayrshire Schools sprinting honours and saw him compete at national level on the track was never lost, and that slight frame had a solid core – when he tackled, in a horizontal style which earned him the nickname: “the Spear”, the guy he tackled, no matter how big, went down and stayed down.

Born in Kilwinning, he attended Spiers School in Beith, playing on their Marshalland pitches, which were notoriously boggy and hardly suitable for fast wing play. Leaving school, he played for the former pupils’ club, Old Spierians, but, not for long. He was soon travelling over what former Herald Rugby Correspondent Bill McMurtrie described as “the drove road from Ayrshire to Milngavie”, where he threw in his lot with West of Scotland.

With all of the Ayrshire clubs, even Ayr, classed as “junior” and most of the Glasgow clubs still closed to all but former pupils or teachers at the parent school, that drove road to West’s Burnbrae home was the only way in which ambitious Ayrshire players could advance their rugby careers. Dave Shedden was not a lonely traveller on it, Old Spierians club mate Alec Wilson joined him on the journeys, as did, at various times: Ian Murchie from Ardrossan, the Gray brothers – Ian and David from Kilmarnock, Alistair McHarg from Irvine, the Brown brothers – Peter and Gordon from Troon and Maybole farmer Quintin Dunlop.

As the 1960s moved on, West became stronger, and, while several of those Ayrshire Exiles had moved on, finally, in 1971, West were crowned Scottish Champions, albeit the old unofficial “Newspaper” version of the title.

A regular in the Glasgow District XV – the amateur era equivalent of today’s Warriors, Dave Shedden found it difficult to make that final step to a full Scotland cap. The selectors of the time felt he was: “Too wee” to handle the international game, but, as more than one of his supporters pointed out: “You cannot fatten a thoroughbred”.

There is a story, which Dave himself enjoyed telling, of how, in an effort to get him up to the minimum weight of 11 stones, which you had to be to get a cap, Dave’s Glasgow team mates would load his track suit pockets with loose change, spare car keys, anything they had. Legend has it, on another occasion, Ian McLauchlan tried to convince the Scotland selectors that Shedden wasn’t “too wee, in fact, he’s put on a stone in weight since last year”. This theory was put to the test on a set of scales in the Murrayfield dressing room, and, indeed, even Shedden was surprised to see, he was indeed a stone heavier than everyone thought – until he noticed McLauchlan’s foot on the scales, adding approximately a stone to the total.

Thus, suitably built-up and, having twice played for the Scotland B team, for the visit of the touring All Blacks in late 1972, Dave won the first of what would be an eventual 15 caps for his country. Of these caps, he is probably best remembered for his part in the 1976 Calcutta Cup win over England. His break set-up Alan Lawson for the first of his two tries in the game, the score which turned the game Scotland’s way, then there was his try-saving tackle on David Duckham, when he arrived from nowhere to drive the great England and Lions wing almost into the South Stand. Duckham’s hamstring went as Shedden hit him and he was never the same player again.

He scored a try for Scotland in the Centenary Match against an SRU President’s XV drawn from across the world; then scored his only other international try, in his penultimate international, against France at Murrayfield in 1978. He was injured and taken off against Wales in Scotland’s next game, and thereafter he was not chosen again.

Rugby was an amateur sport back then of course, and Dave’s day job was in finance. He started as a humble rep with Lloyd’s Bowmaker, part of the Lloyds Banking group, rising via branch managership to an eventual directorship. When he was presented with his 25-years service award, he was, rightly, described as: “A winner at work and on the rugby field.”

He never moved far from his Garnock Valley home land, moving cross the border into Renfrewshire, settling in Houston, where he and childhood sweetheart Janie spent most of their 42-years of marriage prior to her untimely death, eight years ago. He was a keen golfer, at Ranfurly Castle, a regular participant in the annual SRU Former Players Golf Day, at Dalmahoy, while there was an annual golfing holiday in Ireland with his golfing friends.

But, at heart he was a family man. He and Janie enjoyed their holidays and latterly David enjoyed being with his grand-children – the Shedden Family was always his first team.

His later years were blighted by early-onset Dementia, but, he maintained a good quality of life for a decade as this dreadful condition took its toll. He always took care to be dressed, collar and tie at all times and found great solace in attending Rugby Memories meetings at his old Burnbrae stomping ground, where pictures from his era at the top flight, and the chance to reminisce would bring recognition and enjoyment of tales from yesteryear.

One particular story tells of Dave picking-up a picture of one of the West of Scotland XVs in which he had played and correctly identifying all the players, even adding, when identifying the not-very-popular captain with a one-word West of Scotland term which described how poorly his team mates thought of the unfortunate chap.

In the 1970s Scotland’s “Mean Machine” pack was loaded with Ayrshiremen – Ian McLauchlan, Quintin Dunlop, the Browns, Al McHarg, David Gray, Bill Cuthbertson and Gordon Strachan, while Dave’s great friend, British Lion Sandy Carmichael used to joke that his Dad was an Ayrshireman, so he could fit-in. In that time, while these eight forwards were capped, just one Ayrshire back joined them in the Scotland team – David Shedden, he was a man apart.

Dave is survived by daughter Lynne and grand-children Robbie and Jessica. His funeral will take place at Houston and Killellan Kirk, Kirk Road, Houston, Renfrewshire on Monday 6 November at 11am.