George ‘Stevie’ Stevenson

George Stevenson
George Stevenson

HE became known in Scottish rugby circles as Back-door Stevie because of the number of times he was sidestepped by the national selectors only to receive a late call into the Scottish team.

At 6’2” he was a giant to be playing in the back division during the 1950s and 60s.

George Drummond Stevenson, who died on Tuesday at the age of 79, was a product of Hawick and a man who brought flair and fun to the game he loved.

He was a key component of the Green Machine from 1951 to 1967 and was capped 24 times between 1956 and 1965.

The late Walter Thomson from Selkirk was Fly Half – the Sunday Post’s rugby writer for than half a century.

In his book Rummle Them Up!, he wrote: “‘Stevie’ had the happy knack of making his most guileless afterthoughts seem like a preconceived plan.

“Most people of his generation will have seen him try a dropped goal – he was an inveterate optimist – from some unlikely location around midfield.

“The ball, often as not, would fly off the side of his foot and find a priceless touch right in the corner. If ‘Stevie’ had been trying for that touch he would probably have dropped a goal.”

Fly Half says he was an unlikely club captain, with discipline and predictability never his strongest suits – but he had a way of getting results.

Recalling watching him in a captain’s role on a dense January day in the ‘60s at Inverleith, he wrote: “The fog lay so thick that from the midfield tunnel one could vaguely discern goalposts at one end of the ground and nothing at the other. ‘Stevie’ held up a finger to test the imaginary wind ‘Demm, it’s blawing in circles’, he said. Finally, after long deliberation and soul searching, he bamboozled the opposing captain and referee alike by declaring: ‘We’ll juist play wi’ the fog’.”

Fellow Hawick cap Jim Renwick has fond memories as a youngster of watching Stevenson in action.

He told rugby writer Neil Drysdale for his book Southern Comfort: “In the early days I looked up to George Stevenson because he was so unpredictable – he could be making an arse of it one minute and then suddenly produce a piece of magic, which took your breath away in the next.”

Hugh McLeod – Stevenson’s Hawick and Scottish team-mate – once reflected: “He was raw-boned and tough. He was always a match-winner. He was never happy touching the ball down in the corner. He would always want to touch down under the posts. He was such a character.”

Stevenson gained his first cap courtesy of a late call-up for the Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield in 1956 – he hadn’t even played in a Scottish trial, but responded with a debut try, the only one Scotland scored in the 6-11 defeat to the English.

He wasn’t always a first choice for the selectors and his late entry into the national XV earned him the nickname of ‘Back-door Stevie’.

After that Calcutta Cup cap, he was asked if he would be looking for more to which he jokingly replied : “What’s the point? They tell me they’re a’ the same”.

Fly Half wrote: “Same or not, Stevenson was to collect 24, sometimes by direct entry, sometimes via the back door, but he always gave abundant value in entertainment and very often in classy rugby, too.”

A product of semi-junior Hawick PSA and junior Linden, he followed his international debut touchdown with tries in victories against France and Australia in his third and fifth caps. Another highlight was his thrilling solo try for the Scottish Districts when they defeated South Africa 16-8 at his beloved Mansfield Park in the 1960s.

Everyone in Hawick that day knew that ‘Stevie’ would sidestep because that was his routine in club colours. The only exception was the poor Springbok defender who was completely bamboozled.

Fly Half maintained that the interception was Stevenson’s speciality: “fine when it worked, disastrous when it didn’t.”

Raised in Hawick, Stevenson served his apprenticeship as an engineer and did two years’ National Service. He worked for farm suppliers Bibby’s, and became a whisky representative for Ballantine’s Whisky, even though he was a teetotaller. His whisky job based him in Glasgow and he moved house to Currie.

He is survived by his wife Jessie, daughter Fiona and son Mark. His funeral is at Mortonhall Crematorium today at 1pm.

BB