Most sports writers in Scotland will tell you tales of how readers often assail them with missives laced with vitriol. You have to develop a thick skin, and especially in these days of anonymous social media, you get used to having your parentage/religion/club adherence questioned and denigrated often in the most vile language which, if spoken in the street, would get the perpetrator arrested.

As for their poor spelling and abysmal grammar, I often find linguistic competence to be in inverse proportion to their trolling abilities. 

Every once in a while, however, maybe once in a decade, a sports writer will receive a message of praise, and the reader may even have a story to tell.

After I wrote my column in praise of the great JPR Williams who passed away earlier this month I was the recipient of a quite remarkable letter in writing from Dr Richard J Marshall of Glasgow. It’s the best letter I’ve ever had and with Dr Marshall’s permission I am going to tell you his amazing story.

He began: “Many thanks for your weekly and thoughtful articles on rugby union in Scotland.” Now that was a sure way to get my attention, especially as he continued: “Your article on JPR Williams was interesting and reminded me of the only time I met him face to face.”

In his own words, here’s what happened to Dr Marshall: “After being part of the all-successful 1962-63 Royal High School 1st XV (Colin Telfer and all) the need for a job in pharmacology took me down to Hertfordshire to research new inhalers for the treatment of asthma. 

“To help overcome feelings of homesickness I joined a local club Cheshunt RFC who were a friendly club and of a reasonable standard.

“I remember we were drawn to play St Mary’s Medical College in the Middlesex Cup and thought we had a chance as university teams always had problems obtaining players on the day of a match.

“In the dressing room before kick-off word got round they had a Welsh Wizard playing in the centre – this proved to be a young student JPR Williams!

“We won the match and I scored three tries but managed to dislocate a finger scoring the third. No problem for our opponents – two forwards held me and JPR himself pulled the offending digit into place and then helped bind it to the unaffected neighbouring finger.

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“Taking to him after the match he congratulated us on our win but was concerned that I had to drive immediately afterwards from London to Coatbridge in my Morris Minor to see my girlfriend. He immediately re-strapped my fingers another way and told me how to hold the steering wheel and to reduce my speed.

“Of course, like you, I watched him play here at Murrayfield and on TV for Wales and the Lions, but I’ll never forget the help he gave me that night, even although we had beaten them. All goes to show the friendship and camaraderie that lives within rugby union.”

What a wonderful story, and of course, I had to get the sequel from Dr Marshall who is now 77 but has a pin-sharp memory. He made it to Coatbridge to meet up with his girlfriend Liz – they recently celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary.

Sadly in the next round of the Cup, Cheshunt lost and Dr Marshall broke a leg, an injury that finished his playing career though he did help with the training of mini players at GHK in the late 1970s. 

That research he was involved in? As he told readers of The Herald a few years ago, Dr Marshall was one of three human guinea pigs for the trials of Salbutamol, known by the brand name of Ventolin. He was given far too much of a dose and ended up needing immediate treatment administered by Scottish salbutamol developer Colin Jack – that coal miner’s son from Fife got a knighthood for his achievements, while Dr Marshall remembered getting £30 in Boots’ vouchers, though he still gets a kick out of watching people using their inhalers.

Recalling that the remaining members of that great Royal High School team got together to celebrate the 50thanniversary of their unbeaten season, Dr Marshall concluded: “No matter at what level you play, rugby union is a great way of building friendships that last a long time.”

So true, Dr Marshall, so true and the timing of his letter could not have been better as we approach the latest Guinness Six Nations tournament. 

Next week I will try and show how the Five and Six Nations came to dominate my life, or at least the first quarter of each year, and will make a plea for a touch of the ‘old days’ when rugby was not just a game but an experience.