AS Scottish rugby legend and MND campaigner Doddie Weir celebrates his 50th birthday today, Saturday you can be sure that one of the first people on the phone to wish him all the best will be former team-mate and close friend Carl Hogg.
The duo first met over 30 years ago when they were coming up through the ranks at Melrose together and have been tight ever since, sharing great times at The Greenyards, earning Scotland caps together and enjoying more than the odd night out in each other’s company.
They share the mickey-taking relationship that all old rugby acquaintances do – Weir will reciprocate the phone call 24 hours later to wish Hogg a happy 51st birthday and remind him that he will always be the older one of the pair!
“We are both farmers’ sons from The Borders, my dad had a farm on the A68 just outside Earlston and Doddie was brought up the other side of the hill at their farm near Stow,” Hogg said.
“Although as a young schoolboy I hadn’t met Doddie, he was already making waves in rugby at Stewart’s Melville College in Edinburgh. The first time we actually met was the summer of 1986 when we went on holiday with a mutual friend, it was very apparent from first glance that he was naturally gifted with great hand-eye coordination when it came to sport.”
Weir, whose father is a strong Gala supporter, was encouraged to play for Melrose Colts rugby through another farmer’s son, Sandy Fairbairn. The Greenyards club was blessed at that period of time with a generation of young talented players many of whom went on to represent Scotland.
The friendship between Weir and Hogg flourished despite the rivalry to play their favoured position of No.8, while the real catalyst for the success of Weir and a number of
his team mates was Melrose coach Jim Telfer.
“There is no doubt Telfer created a very unique environment at Melrose, as young guys we didn’t know any different. Looking back it was tough physically, we were challenged, but more importantly he produced mentally very resilient players,” Hogg recounts.
Melrose won the top flight league in 1989-90 with young Hogg and Weir making their mark in the pack, and the team would go on to lift the trophy another three times on the spin between 1991 and 1994.
“I think all the Melrose boys benefited from Telfer’s tutelage, not just as players, but as people. Look at the mental strength and resilience Doddie’s is displaying at the moment, it’s remarkable,” Hogg continues.
“People underestimate Doddie, he wasn’t the heaviest or strongest, but he was tough, plenty of players tried to physically dominate Doddie and came off second best.”
Weir’s first Scotland cap came in November 1990 against Argentina at Murrayfield and then the following year he played with distinction in the 1991 Rugby World Cup. Hogg made his debut at international level on the summer tour to Australia in 1992.
“Everyone recognises Doddie as the life and soul, always front of house, but in the dressing room before big games he’d sit very quietly with his heads in his hands – although his humour was never
far away,” explains Hogg, who recalls standing next to Weir singing ‘Flower of Scotland’ before his first cap and getting emotional to which his pal reacted by pointing out how attractive the cheerleading girls were.
“He liked to play the big, daft laddie – and still does – but people didn’t give him enough credit, you don’t play as long and at that level without being smart around the game,” Hogg states.
“The other thing people might not realise about Doddie is he’s very principled and at times very stubborn. Behind the exterior there is – and always was – a very principled man.”
Since their playing days, Hogg has gone down the coaching route with stints at Leeds Carnegie, London Welsh, Edinburgh, Gloucester, Worcester Warriors, Scotland, Scotland Under-20s and currently the Ospreys, while Weir has kept up his connection with the game from behind a microphone.
When his friend was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in late 2016, Hogg admits it was devastating, but Weir’s handling of the situation was typical of the man. “It quickly became apparent Doddie didn’t want anyone’s sympathy, he wanted his friends to be treating him the way we always had,” Hogg remembers of that time.
“It’s hardly surprising considering the resilience and mental attitude that he had displayed throughout his rugby career.
“I’ve known Doddie 30 plus years, but he has blown me away with the courage and determination he and his family have shown since he was diagnosed with MND.
“In a situation like that you can either simply accept your fate or channel your energies and rise to the challenge. The way that the big man has done the latter, not just for himself, but for other
people with MND through his charity work, has been inspirational and has given hope to so many.
“I am honoured that my wife Jill is the CEO of the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation and we will help Doddie, his wife Kathy and his sons Hamish, Angus and Ben in any way we can.
“On Saturday I look forward to calling him, wishing him a happy birthday and making plans for a party in the near future. We are mindful of the restrictions and rules around lockdown – they are
there for very good reasons, to protect our NHS and those who are most vulnerable in our communities.
“Doddie has always seemed invincible, but he accepts that because of his situation that he is also vulnerable and we all respect that. So, we’ll say cheers on Saturday remotely and look forward to when we can all safely enjoy a glass together.”
- Find out more about the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation via myname5doddie.co.uk and get involved in the virtual cycling fund raiser being held today via doddie5-ride.co.uk