Tributes to Kelso rugby legend and Scotland captain Gary Callander

Tributes have been paid to Borders rugby legend Gary Callander following his death from pancreatic cancer at the age of 62 yesterday, December 5.

By Darin Hutson
Monday, 6th December 2021, 7:44 pm
Updated Wednesday, 8th December 2021, 7:49 am
Scotland rugby captain Gary Callander in 1988
Scotland rugby captain Gary Callander in 1988

The Kelso stalwart first played for his home-town team at the age of 16 and led them to the Border League championship in 1986 and the Division One title in 1988.

His first international appearance was for Scotland B in 1982 against France B, and his first full cap followed against Romania in May 1984.

Though only capped six times for Scotland due to competition from the likes of Hawick’s Colin Deans, the hooker was named as captain for all but one of those international appearances, including during the 1988 Five Nations tournament, with his final cap following in November of that year against Australia.

Callander also helped Kelso to success in small-sided games, winning the Melrose Sevens tournament five times, including back-to-back titles in 1984, 1985 and 1986.

He played in the Hong Kong 7s twice, first in the Scottish Borderers team that beat New Zealand in a semi-final before finishing runners-up to Australia in 1982, then for the Co-optimists in 1986.

Following the end of his playing career, Callander, an electrician by trade, took up a coaching role at Haddington in East Lothian.

He also coached a Scottish students team and at Gala, Watsonians and Kelso.

Callander is survived by his mother Mary, children Torrie and Becky and ex-wife Diane.

Kelso club president Scott Forbes led the tributes to Callander following his death at the Borders General Hospital in Melrose, saying: “Kelso are saddened to learn of the passing of former player Gary Callander.

“Gary’s contribution to the history of the club cannot be overstated.

“He captained the club to their first Border League title in 50 years in the 1985-86 season, was instrumental in leading the club to the Scottish First Division Championship in the 1987-88 season and was an integral part of the successful Kelso sevens side of the late 1970s and 1980s, winning five Melrose Sevens medals.

“He achieved the ultimate accolade of captaining his country for five of his six international caps.

“He was a captain, a leader and an outstanding rugby player. He will be sorely missed by his rugby family.

“Our thoughts are with Gary’s family and friends at this sad and difficult time. May he rest in peace.”

Scottish Rugby Union chairman and fellow ex-Kelso star John Jeffrey added: “I was fortunate to play with Gary for Kelso, South of Scotland and Scotland.

“Gary was a formidable rugby player, highlighted by his numerous winners’ medals at both sevens and XVs.

“He was without doubt the driving force behind Kelso’s successful era in the eighties culminating in winning their first Scottish Championship in season 1987-88.

“He had a great rugby brain, hence captaining Scotland in five of his six Internationals, aligned with an uncompromising physical presence, and he was unlucky to only sit on the bench during the peak of his playing prowess.

“By the time he was selected as first choice, he was already suffering from back problems, which ultimately plagued him for his whole life.”