Stewart Hamilton

Born: February 28, 1956;

Died: March 30, 2023

Very few rugby players, if any, can have generated the kind of fierce loyalty and affection among team-mates that Stewart Hamilton managed.

Big Hammy, the former Stirling County second row who captained the side to their only championship-winning season back in 1995, was held in awesome regard by those he played with and, in some cases, against.

County stalwarts Kevin McKenzie and Jimmy Stewart were visibly moved as they recollected halcyon days with Hammy following the death of the lock at the age of 67.

They were also united in their conviction – shared with other stellar names in Scottish rugby – that Hammy was to this day the best player never capped for Scotland. John Beattie and Finlay Calder have echoed the sentiment. He did represent Scotland B but never achieved the first-team kudos he longed for. He is also notable for having won the former District Championship as a player with North and Midlands, Glasgow and Edinburgh, possibly the player to have done so with three out of the four sides.

However, despite an enviable playing and coaching career, Hammy will be best remembered as the outstanding Stirling County icon he became. “Hammy was the glue in our team,” said Kevin McKenzie, capped at hooker for Scotland 14 times, on Saturday. “He was the funniest man in the world.

“He was huge – seemed like the biggest human ever – but because he had played football, he had massive calves and was quick. He was super fit but also had great mental strength. You couldn’t help but want to follow him. There was nothing he couldn’t do.

“I was coming out of Stirling’s under-18s and he was the man. I went to a sportsmen’s dinner recently at which John Beattie said Stewart was the best player not to be capped.”

Jimmy Stewart, a long-serving County stand-off working behind Hammy-led packs, recalled: “I first got to him in 1981 when we won promotion from division three. I clearly remember his athleticism, speed and desire to win, and him replacing me as goal-kicker! He went away but came back in 1988 and was made captain. He said, ‘Right, we’re going up this year. And we did.”

The two friends also recalled a “scam” often perpetrated by Hammy after away games. McKenzie explained: “There was always a post-march raffle with bottles of whisky or the like as the main prizes. The tradition was for the visiting captain to draw the winning tickets.

“Hammy would find out what our tickets were, then when asked to draw, he would put his massive hand into the pot, pull out any old ticket that no one else could see and announce our ticket as the winner.”

County’s success was in large measure a result of the partnership between Hammy and coach Richie Dixon. The latter’s management was masterful and complemented by the skipper’s on-field ability.

McKenzie also put on record Hamilton’s contribution off the field. “He was just a constant figure in my life. He played and led by example. He was hard on and off the pitch.”

County’s director of rugby, Eddie Pollock, was also a team-mate of Hammy, and paid fulsome tribute. “He came into the club as a non-rugby player but took to it immediately. He was so physical and single-minded, and had such a fantastic engine for a big man.

“The mark of the man was that when he didn’t play he was the most missed person - you couldn’t replace him. His influence on the game was massive. He was a great leader and everyone followed him. He was a force of nature.

“The other thing was that he was a great friend. He’d have done absolutely anything for you and was very supportive. For a guy who was a brute of a man, he had a very soft side and was a very caring person.”

Pollock's sentiments were echoed by Hammy's long-time close friend, Muff Scobie, who added: "He was a one-off. He would do anything for people. He left a mark wherever he went; everybody remembered Stewart."

I recall still with surprising clarity the Sunday morning around 11.30am back in 1995 when I chimed the door of the elegant house in the beautiful village of Cambuskenneth.

The ever charming and gracious Jackie Hamilton welcomed me in, saying she would fetch Stewart. Did I want a beer? She was a fine hostess but I declined, having over-indulged the night before at Bridgehaugh to celebrate Stirling County RFC becoming Scotland’s national rugby champions (I was, of course, a fan with a typewriter).

The large figure loomed into view, glass in hand, and repeated the offer. Very gratefully, I accepted Jackie’s suggestion of coffee instead.

“What time did you go to bed and then get up again to start drinking?” I asked, naively as it transpired. Stewart appeared genuinely surprised by my question. “I haven’t been to bed yet,” he explained. “We’ve just been celebrating since yesterday afternoon.”

That was Stewart in a nutshell: “Big Hammy”, as he was almost universally known, was a larger-than-life character in every respect. He had been an inspirational leader and competitor, daunting in his size and physicality to opponents but immensely motivational to team-mates.

Few people, if any, who met Stewart forgot the experience. A very big personality matched by an equally large physique, He was a fiercely competitive sportsman who only came to rugby late in the scheme of things at age 23, having grown up a soccer fan (and Rangers stalwart at that) in his home town of Larkhall where he joined the family’s agricultural business, before moving to Stirling where he began his rugby adventure.

Hammy should, of course as most fans of the time concur, have had a hatful of caps at lock forward for Scotland. But off-field “offences”, including singing The Sash, made him persona non grata with the then SRU hierarchy at Murrayfield. Coupled with Stirling County being far too unfashionable for its players to be capped, Hammy decamped to Heriot’s in Edinburgh, but subsequently returned to his favoured Bridgehaugh. He later also won fans as a successful player/coach at Hamilton Rugby Club.

Tribute was paid to Hammy on Saturday ahead of County’s fixture at Myreside against Watsonians, the kick-off for which was delayed by a minute’s silence as a mark of respect and the “retirement” of the number 5 shirt. Former Watsonsonians player John McLellan, a former editor of The Scotsman, said: “It was very moving seeing John Gibson [County president] laying the shirt.”

Stewart Hamilton is survived by Jackie, Gregor, Scott and John.

Martin Laing