Obituary: George Murray
Scottish Rugby is saddened to learn of the death last week of a life-long, devoted servant of the game in Scotland, George Murray. He was 85.
George “Chump” Murray loved rugby and had a larger influence on it than he would ever have acknowledged.
Born in Arbroath in 1935, brought up in the Central Belt, mainly Alloa, and schooled at Dollar Academy, George was the life and soul of the game, whether as a player, referee, administrator, referee coach, World Cup Team Liaison Officer, after-dinner speaker or supporter.
In that last-mentioned role, he was immensely proud that he attended every single Scotland capped home game for 70 years!
The sequence began with a 6-5 victory over Wales in 1949 and, fittingly, ended with Wales’ visit to BT Murrayfield in 2019 – a remarkable 254 games.
One match saw him act as touch-judge, the 1965 international against (of course) Wales and he also regularly attended away matches in the Five/Six Nations Championship and occasional Scotland tours and Rugby World Cups including the Scotland tour to Australia in 1998 and Rugby World Cup there in 2003.
A keen player at school and then at St Andrews University – a knee injury, “smashed up during a New Year’s Day fixture between the bachelors and the married men!” at Alloa – brought his own playing involvement to an end.
Having served in the Gordon Highlanders and studied mathematics at St Andrews University, George began teaching.
His parents had moved to Kelso to take over the town’s Spread Eagle Hotel and his early teaching appointment saw him work at Morebattle Primary School.
Later he moved to St Mary’s prep school, adjacent to the Greenyards in Melrose and stayed in nearby Gattonside.
At St Mary’s, he taught the pupils “rugby, maths and geography”, very much in that order.
His son, Ian, recalled: “He just believed in rugby being played properly and would penalise players for stupidity, cowardice & being selfish!”
What an impact George’s methods had:five Scotland caps were moulded in the game’s finer points during his time at St Marys – Ron Wilson, Roger Baird, John Jeffrey, Carl Hogg and Iain Fullarton.Two of them, Baird and Jeffrey, went on to play for the British & Irish Lions.
Baird, who was full of pace and guile on the wing, was unfairly labelled as “never scoring a try for Scotland.”
Meeting George in a pub in Dublin before an Ireland game, long after his playing days had finished, Baird recounted a game against Ireland when “all” he had to do was step inside to score.But, hearing George’s voice in his mind, he knew that when it came to a two on one, draw the man and pass was the right thing to do and, sure enough, he sent Peter Dods in for a try!
George refereed out of the Kelso club and had a strong affinity with the Melrose club.On one occasion, he caused palpitations for the peerless Voice of Rugby, Bill McLaren, when during televised coverage of the Melrose Sevens, it looked to Bill as if George had sent off the French full-back Serge Blanco – he had, but only to tape over his wedding ring before he returned.
George’s senior refereeing career, lasting over 20-years, ended in time-honoured Border tradition of being thrown into the River Tweed at the conclusion of the final event of the season, Walkerburn Sevens.
He continued to referee school games for some years after, often at his beloved Dollar.His relationship with Melrose Sevens extended long beyond his retirement from active officiating as he was, until relatively recently, the tournament’s official timekeeper.
George became a referee coach/assessor, passing on his experience to the next generation of referees and succeeded John Robertson as the Honorary Secretary of the South District team fulfilling that role throughout the 80s and 90s and overseeing the transition from amateurism to professionalism with his customary good humour.
Scottish Rugby will miss George Murray and extends its sincere sympathies to his family and many friends.