John Beattie

16th September 2011 at 01:00
The rugby legend recalls a `square-set gem' who helped his sporting talent to shine

A lot of my schooling was abroad. I went to a wee Chinese school for a while and in Malaysia, I went to Uplands School in Penang. I stayed there until I was 11, then we came back to Britain.

My favourite teacher was a bloke called Lachie Robertson, who was a teacher at Glasgow Academy. I learned through school there are some real idiots as teachers, who decide to make your life a misery for no real reason, and there are real gems, and he was one of the gems.

He was from Skye, and had been in the paratroopers during the war. He took our rugby team in my sixth year at school. Mr Robertson was just a fantastic man and a great role model to all of us.

He was built as you would expect a paratrooper to be - a big, square-set man. He was a real gentle bloke with a tremendous Highland accent, light- hearted and humorous, with a twinkle in his eye.

I remember we used to run up and down the pitch doing somersaults, because that is what the paratroopers trained in - somersaulting when they came out of the plane and hit the land. Bizarrely, he was 20 years ahead of his time. That kind of training - called down-and-ups - was brought into rugby training only in the last five or 10 years, when they realised the hardest bit in rugby is being hit and getting up off the ground.

We were the only team he ever took. He once refereed me and disallowed three tries I had scored. He probably thought I had scored enough tries, and I was quite upset. Even if his own team was beating the other team, and one of his own players was scoring tries, he would disallow them so the other team could have a reasonable game.

I really enjoyed my school in Malaysia, and I never really fitted in when I came back to Glasgow. I remember being in a lesson where I had to read out a passage about someone "taking the Rolls out". I genuinely thought, "Why would someone take bread outside?" - I had no idea it was a Rolls Royce.

I came into a city-dominated, posh, fee-paying school from the jungle, and I never felt part of it. I had wonderful schooling and wonderful teaching all through my school years but there were always a couple of idiots. My brother and I were both punished by the same man for trivial stuff and it affected us pretty badly.

I had my prefect strip taken off me for taking a morning lesson off to sit my driving test after I passed all my Highers. I had to have my final school photograph taken with none of my colours. He was just random.

And yet, on the other hand, here was Mr Robertson, who cared and who would treat me and the wee asthmatic boy equally. I think Mr Robertson just saw a misfit from abroad, who was like a fish to water with rugby.

Like lots of men, I can never really say what I mean, but I just want him to know that I and everybody else thought he was a fantastic man. If you want examples of good men in the world, he is one - and he had a huge impact on my life.

John Beattie is reporting for BBC Scotland on the Rugby World Cup, which runs until 23 October. He was talking to Julia Belgutay


Born: Borneo, 1957

Education: Uplands School, Penang, Malaysia; Drumley House, Anbank, Ayrshire; Glasgow Academy.

Career: 25 caps as Scottish International rugby player, played two British Lions tours, now broadcaster for BBC Scotland. The John Beattie Show is on BBC Radio Scotland, Monday to Thursday, 12 noon.

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