GARY CALLANDER, who captained Scotland in five of his six international appearances, has died at the age of 62, following a battle with pancreatic cancer.
He was a stalwart of Kelso, his hometown club, during the glory days of the 1980s, captaining the side which won the Border League in 1985-86 and the first of back-to-back Division One titles in 1987-88. He was also a formidable Sevens players, with five Melrose medals and two appearances in the final of the Hong Kong tournament amongst his many achievements in the abbreviated game.
He was a powerful, astute, hard-working and technically superb hooker, who was unfortunate to play in the same era as Colin Deans, before tactical substitutions were permitted, which accounts for the relatively few caps he earned. It does, however, say something of his rugby intellect and wholehearted personality that he was asked to lead the national team in all but the first of his six capped matches, including throughout the 1988 Five Nations.
His first experience of international rugby was playing for Scotland ‘B’ against France ‘B’ in 1982, his first cap was against Romania in the summer of 1984 and his final cap was against Australia in November 1988. He was one of several members of the Scotland squad for the inaugural World Cup in New Zealand in 1987 who didn’t play a game, with the team management bizarrely deciding to pick their first-choice team in every match.
After hanging up his boots he had coaching spells with Haddington, Gala, Watsonians and Kelso, although his uncompromising approach to life perhaps inhibited his progression in this area.
“As a player, he was the architect and heartbeat of that Kelso side in the 1980s, who had a massive influence in moulding that pack into the best in the league,” recalled Roger Baird, his friend and former team-mate for club and country. “He would have had 40 caps if he had played in a different era.”
“Not only was he a great rugby brain, he was also a larger than life character. He was no angel, and he could be his own worst enemy in terms of maybe saying things that he shouldn’t, but he was great company.”
Away from rugby, he ran his own successful electrician business. However, he was debilitated by serious back problems during the last 10 to 15 years, before the cancer diagnosis just a few months ago.
“Gary’s contribution to the history of the club cannot be overstated,” said Kelso President Scott Forbes. “He was a captain, leader and an outstanding rugby player who will be sorely missed by his ‘rugby family’.”
Callander is survived by his mother, Mary, and his children, Torrie and Becky, while his ex-wife Diane visited him during his final days at the Margaret Kerr Unit at Borders General Hospital.