Sporting voices come together in praise of the greatest of them all

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FOUR of the country’s greatest sports commentators paid tribute to the Borders’ own Voice of Rugby at the Voice of Sport dinner in London last month.

John Motson, Peter Alliss, Peter O’Sullevan and Murray Walker joined other sporting legends who paid tribute to Bill McLaren.

The event was held to raise funds for The Bill McLaren Foundation and the Alastair Hignell MS Fund, and was sponsored by Aviva and HSBC. Among the guests was former England rugby boss Sir Clive Woodward who said: “Bill was the only journalist I’ve ever – and probably will ever – let in to the changing room”, and BBC Radio’s Alastair Hignell who added: “Bill was the inspiration for my career.”

Linda Lawson gave a moving account of being Bill’s daughter and the motivation for setting up the foundation.

There were many other personalities from the world of sport at the dinner, including Ian Robertson, Chris Cowdrey and Rory Bremner, who was on fabulous form – particularly when he took the floor and became the fifth Voice of Sport, impersonating Bill McLaren himself.

One of the aims of The Bill McLaren Foundation is “to create an educative centre which will include the Bill McLaren Archive”.

Bill had an extensive collection of rugby memorabilia from his more than 50 years in broadcasting, and the archiving of his collection has started, with Bill’s Big Sheets being the first items to be catalogued.

Each Big Sheet comes in its own envelope and no two envelopes have the same contents.

Aside from the fact that the contents of each Big Sheet package are full of rugby ‘treasure’, there is also much more to be discovered.

Linda Lawson is leading the cataloguing effort and describes some of her discoveries to date: “Stepping into Dad’s office is like stepping back in time,” she said.

“I’ve been starting to catalogue his Big Sheets – and this is no mean feat.

“Each Big Sheet has around 1,000 facts on it, ranging from the obvious such as venue, scores and players, to groundsmen, physios and results of previous clashes.

“His typewriter still sits on his desk – he used to type all his notes himself – and he was pretty good – even if he did only use two fingers.

“Many of the Big Sheets also come with a match programme – it makes me smile to see Dad’s signature on the front of a 1976 programme – which was on sale for 15p. Some of my favourite discoveries are his expense claims that he submitted to the BBC.

“As with everything, Dad was unwavering with his attention to detail – including the deduction of 36p from his hotel bill for a personal phone call, and the 40p spent entertaining the Scottish Rugby Union advisor.”

The Bill McLaren Foundation is planning to release selected Big Sheets to raise funds to enable the foundation’s aims to be fulfilled.

The first release from Bill’s Archive is one of his famous big sheets covering the 1993 All Blacks v Barbarians match.

The clash took place at Cardiff Arms Park on December 4 with the All Blacks winning 25-12.

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