Eric Liddell inducted into Scottish Rugby Hall of Fame
On the 100th anniversary today (Sunday 2 January) of his first cap for Scotland, Eric Liddell, one of our country’s greatest ever sportsmen, is inducted into the Scottish Rugby Hall of Fame.
To the rugby fraternity, Eric Henry Liddell won seven caps for Scotland between 1922 and 1923, was on the losing side only once, and scored back-to-back tries in four of his internationals, all which Scotland won.
Scanning the pages of his school magazine at Eltham College, where he was playing for the first XV before his 15th birthday, the author seemed to have an inkling of what could lie ahead for Liddell.
“A fast right wing three-quarter who has shown a great improvement on last year.Tackling, kicking and falling on the ball are very good.Should do very well next year!”
In the 1918 Eltham College school sports, Eric Liddell won the long jump, the 100 yards and the quarter mile.He was second to his brother Rob in the cross country, high jump and hurdles.
Given his athletic credentials and his school rugby achievements, it was no surprise that he gained a place in the Edinburgh University first XV. In June 1922, the Edinburgh University magazine, The Student, wrote: “(Liddell) has that rare combination, pace and the gift of rugby brains and hands; makes openings, snaps opportunities, gives the dummy to perfection, does the work of three (if necessary) in defence, and carries unselfishness almost to a fault.
“Experience should yet make him as a great a player as he is a sprinter.”
Liddell scored tries for Scotland v Ireland in a 6-3 win at Inverleith in 1922; and then the following year v France (won 16-3) at Inverleith; v Wales (won 11-8) in Cardiff; and v Ireland (won 13-3) in Dublin.
The Scotsman reported after the 1923 victory over Ireland: “It was entirely due to a clever move by Liddell that the Scots owed their lead. It was again due to Liddell that Scotland went further ahead.
“Never again should it be (held) against him that he is ‘only a runner’. The Edinburgh University man improved on any previous display, and he showed that he was now come to appreciate the value of his speed.”
Liddell’s fame stretched beyond rugby and his life story got the Hollywood treatment in the epic, Oscar winning film, Chariots of Fire.
Liddell, whose prodigious speed and determination, saw him progress from Edinburgh University to the wing for Scotland, had first made his name as a track athlete.
As the 1924 Olympic Games loomed in Paris, he had to choose between his rugby and athletics. He chose the latter.
As a Christian, whose parents were missionaries, Liddell declined to compete in the 100 yards in the Paris Olympics because the heats were on a Sunday.
Instead, he ran in the 400, and set a new world record as he won Olympic gold. For good measure, he added a bronze medal in the 200.
Scottish Rugby Hall of Fame Panel Chairman, John Jeffrey, said: “Since our Hall of Fame was established in 2010, we have regularly deliberated Eric Liddell’s status as one of Scotland’s greats.
“As we mark the centenary of his first cap for Scotland – against France in Paris – today, I am delighted that we are inducting Eric Liddell into the Hall of Fame.
“He epitomises the values of our game and his story is as relevant and inspiring today as it is in the yellowing pages of a newspaper archive.”
Eric Liddell died in a prisoner of war camp in China in 1945, having gone there as part of his missionary service.
He is survived by three daughters, Patricia, Heather and Maureen.
Patricia, who stays in Canada, told scottishrugby.org: “I am delighted to hear that Scottish Rugby is inducting my father, Eric Liddell, into its Hall of Fame.
“When my father’s sporting achievements are remembered, often no mention is made that he played seven times for Scotland and scored a number of tries. Once he got the ball, he would be very difficult to catch. He was clearly a very much appreciated member of the team.
“His total commitment to whatever he did; his colleagueship and respect for other competitors; his straightforward moral integrity and yet his willingness to adjust to what was in the best interests of all, are virtues that are worth attempting by everyone.
“In many instances that I know of, they have been, and still are and should continue to be, an inspiration to many young people in a variety of sports.
“So, in closing I say a profound ‘thank you’ to all who have been involved in arranging this honouring of my father and wish everyone a very healthy and happy New Year.”
The bespoke memento that all inducted into the Hall of Fame receive, a sculpted Scotland cap, was accepted on the family’s behalf by Liddell’s niece, Sue Caton.
Sue intends that the cap will be displayed at the Eric Liddell Centre in Morningside, Edinburgh.
The Eric Liddell Centre is a local care charity and community hub founded in 1980 in Liddell’s memory.
His contribution to rugby was acknowledged in 2017 when Scottish Rugby took the unusual step of re-issuing Eric’s lost cap and presenting it to his eldest daughter, Patricia Liddell Russell, while she was visiting Edinburgh.
The Centre’s mission is to take inspiration from the legacy of Eric Liddell and reflect his remarkable life and achievements. The charity aims to be at the heart of the community, enhancing health and well-being and improving people’s lives.
Chief Executive, John MacMillan said: “We are working hard to change perceptions of living with dementia, disabilities and mental health issues, while acknowledging that the pandemic has been the most challenging time for the Centre in its 40 years of existence.
“Although we reopened in July, we are still striving to make up the shortfall of £225,000 we lost during the 15 months of closure. To support the recovery, we recently launched a Winter Appeal."
In the lead up to the 100-year anniversary of Eric’s gold medal win in the Paris Olympics in 1924, the Centre are working on plans to celebrate and commemorate his achievements during the Paris Olympics of 2024.
The Scottish Rugby Hall of Fame recognises those who have shown or achieved an exceptional commitment to our game at a local, national and international level.
You can find the full list of previous inductees HERE.