Melrose Sevens Hall of Fame: “It’s not just for myself, it’s for all the Magnificent Seven” – Arthur ‘Hovis’ Brown

Impish playmaker was part of the Gala side which dominated the Borders circuit some 50 years ago

Arthur 'Hovis' Brown was a key member of Gala's 'Magnificent Seven' side which dominated the Borders Sevens circuit from the late 1960s through to the mid 1970s.
Arthur 'Hovis' Brown was a key member of Gala's 'Magnificent Seven' side which dominated the Borders Sevens circuit from the late 1960s through to the mid 1970s.

TIME marches on and takes its toll on the body, but Arthur ‘Hovis’ Brown’s mischievous sense of humour endures, as is evident when he is asked about how he heard the news that he was going to be inducted into the Melrose Sevens Hall of Fame this year.

“I never even thought about it as a possibility before it happened,” he shrugs, then a twinkle appears in his eye.  “I was sitting in the house last summer and my wife was out the front when Jim Shepherd, who was on the committee at Melrose, stopped at the gate and asked if I was in.

“So, she called for me out and he said he was there to ask if I would like to be inducted into the Melrose Sevens Hall of Fame, so I said: ‘Give us five minutes to think about it’.  I went back into the house and came straight back out again and said: ‘Aye, I’ll do it!’ … I was just kidding him on!”


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“It’s quite an honour,” he quickly adds. “But it’s not just for myself, it’s for all the Magnificent Seven. There’s only five of us living now because Kenny Oliver and Duncy Paterson both died about 15 years ago.”

Those of a certain vintage, or steeped in the history of Borders rugby, will know immediately that he is talking about the Gala side of Oliver, Johnny Brown, PC Brown, Paterson, Arthur Brown, John Frame and Drew Gill, who dominated the sevens circuit just over half a century ago, reaching 27 out of 32 finals between September 1968 and the spring of 1972, winning 21 of them.

“Dunc was an awful man when he played sevens,” recalls Brown, with a wry smile. “He wouldn’t do anything in the early rounds – he’d just keep passing the ball out and kick you up the arse if you did anything wrong – then in the final he’d score five tries. He was a brilliant sevens player. He was the general behind the scrum.

“KO [Oliver] was an athlete. He ran for Scottish schoolboys,” Brown adds. “He would stand in the middle of the pitch and back at the 25-yard line, and he’d say: ‘Just get the ball then give it to me’. We’d do that, and he’d run up the middle of the field and always make a lot of ground, and somebody would always be on his shoulder to finish off if the opposition did manage to stop him.”

It was a team which just clicked, with Scotland internationalists PC Brown and Oliver securing possession at line-out and restart,  Johnie Brown a tireless competitor at hooker, Paterson the manager, with Arthur the maestro at stand-off, Frame providing pace and power in the middle of the park, and Gill the flyer on the wing.

“I remember at Melrose in 1970, when we played against Loughborough Colleges in the final and Drew Gill fell in the mud, and it looked like Keith Fielding [capped England 19 times on the wing for England and later dubbed ‘the fastest man in rugby league’ after switching codes] was going to be away to score under the posts, but somehow Drew managed to reach out and tap his ankle to bring him down. I’ll always remember that – it was amazing. Gilly had speed – he was one of the fastest boys I played with.”

 

Gala were the dominant sevens side on the Borders circuit during the late 1960s and well into the 1970s.
Gala were the dominant sevens side on the Borders circuit during the late 1960s and well into the 1970s.

 

Always right in the middle of it all was the impish Brown. An unorthodox playmaker at stand-off in the Gala seven, who was also capped five times at full-back by Scotland in 1971 and 1972. A risk-taker who played with a smile on his face, but a fearsome competitor.

“I loved the 15s too but sevens was the main thing I looked forward to,” he reflects. “I could run all day in those days. We started preparing for the sevens in March, and we trained together as a seven on Tuesday then on Thursday we would have five or six ties against just other boys in the club, and sometimes they would beat us, but it meant we were ready for the Saturday.”

The regime certainly brought success. Gala lifted the Ladies Cup five times between 1964 and 1977, with Brown in the side on four of those occasions. He was also a beaten finalist in 1969 (when he believes his team afforded Loughborough Colleges, who they beat in the final the following year, too much respect) and in 1975.

But, of course, it wasn’t just at the Greenyards that the Magnificent Seven enjoyed great days. “There was a real buzz right through the sevens,” he recalls. “I remember playing in the final at Jed and it was snowing. We won it and then came back to St Boswells and they were playing cricket!

“We always took the ball boys to Jet-hart in those days, and one of them – Graham Rennie, who is a man now, he’s retired actually –would stand at the front of the bus and every time we went past a car going the other way or through a town he’d swing the scarf around his head.

 

 

“I was Gala’s Braw Lad in 1969 and I was at the Musselburgh Festival’s election night the night before Jed 7s and stayed up there. I didn’t have a lot to drink, just a couple of pints because I was playing the next day, but Johnny Gray – our coach – wasn’t happy about it.

“I lived at Langlee at the time with my mother and father and Johnnie stayed down the road. The next morning, there was a knock at the door at 10am and Johnny saying: ‘Is he home yet?’ And my mother said: ‘No’. It was the same at 11 o’clock: ‘Is he home yet?’ And my mother said: ‘No’.

“The bus was leaving at 12 o’clock and there’s Johnny back at the door again saying: ‘Is he still not home?’ And my mother says: ‘No, he’s still not bloody home!’

“Eventually, I got home at half past 12 and my grandfather had to run us down to Jed. Johnny wouldn’t speak to me the whole day. We won the sports, and I was player-of-the-tournament, and he still wouldn’t speak to me! He took it seriously, Johnny, and his boy Richie is doing well now coaching all over the world.

“I’ve got two Hawick medals – a winners and runners-up,” he continues. “I remember we beat Hawick in the final at Mansfield one year [in 1972] and when we went up to get the medals the tea ladies were throwing pan-drops at us, so I made a big show of picking them up and sticking them in my mouth.

“We got the medal boxes and came back down but there were no medals inside! They hadn’t arrived in time. You can imagine, we loved that – ‘Typical Hawick – nae medals!’ We got them the next week, right enough.”

“The tea ladies were brilliant. It was the same at all the sevens. You’d go get your dinner off them, and they’d slag you off, but you just gave them banter back and they’d laugh.

“Langholm was always the last of the five big tournaments in the Spring and it was brilliant. Half the Borders would be there. Supporters buses and folk hitching a lift any way they could manage, and everyone would stay down for a late night.

“We used to go up to the Ashlybank Hotel for our tea after the Langholm Sports and, win or lose, my grandfather used to buy the Gala Seven a drink. It was a great day.”


  • The Melrose Sevens festival is this weekend, kicking off with the Hall of Fame Dinner on Thursday night running through to Saturday when 30 teams will compete for either the 1883 Centenary Cup or the Mike Bleasdale Cup.
  • To find out more, click HERE.

Of course, the rivalry was just as fierce in fifteens. He’s asked about the famous story of his mother hitting Hawick’s Robbie Welsh over the head with an umbrella during a typically turbulent Borders tussle.

“It wasn’t my mother, it was my auntie Betty,” he insists. “They used to go to all the games. I have no idea what happened, I think somebody tackled me hard and I went down and faked injury. And the next thing she was shouting: ‘Leave Arthur alone’.

“I mind one game when I forgot to take my falsers out, so I handed then to Alan Hosie, who was the referee, and said ‘look after them for me’. They were in his hand before he knew what they were! He wasn’t happy! He had to get somebody on to come and take them away.”

The memories keep flooding back, and we could have sat for hours, but he had last night’s Hall of Fame Dinner to prepare for. So, we finish by discussing whether there are any regrets?

“None,” he replies, before mulling the question over a bit more.

“I would have loved to have gone abroad,” he then adds. “Just to see what it was like. We didn’t get the chance in those days.

And what about playing professionally?

“I would have wanted to try it if it had been an option, but those boys are training every day, they’re in the weights room – and that wasn’t really my style.”

 

  • The Melrose Sevens festival is this weekend, kicking off with the Hall of Fame Dinner on Thursday night running through to Saturday when 30 teams will compete for either the 1883 Centenary Cup or the Mike Bleasdale Cup.
  • To find out more, click HERE.

Melrose Sevens Hall of Fame: “It was lively, it was ruthless, it was relentless” – Carl Hogg

About David Barnes 3957 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

5 Comments

  1. Excellent three outings to Melrose rugby, (Hall of Fame,Under16 & 18s Fri, Melrose 7s including the Ladies sat.) pity no mention of the Jim Telfer cup on Friday for the Under 18s,despite the weather some very talented young
    Players on view.Any reason why the SRU had a cup semi final & International on when they knew it would clash with the Traditional Melrose 7s(Prevbial P—- in Brewery come to mind or maybe jealous of the successful Melrose Sevens/ Festival.

    • Looks like somebody should have gone to spec-savers can’t see a reason to give a reasoned comment the thumbs down.

  2. Richly deserved accolade for Arthur and his Gala team-mates. Hovis was genuinely thrilled to have learned about his forthcoming induction to Melrose Sevens HoF when we met him & Mrs B a few days ago (at a restaurant in Jed, of all places!).

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