Obituary: Bill Noble: former Boroughmuir stalwart who played 18 seasons in club’s 1st XV

He was also a fine shot putter, musician and after-dinner speaker

Bill Noble played 18 seasons for Boroughmuir 1st XV
Bill Noble played 18 seasons for Boroughmuir 1st XV

Bill Noble

  • Born 17th November 1943, Edinburgh
  • Died 3rd December 2021, East Lothian, aged 78

BILL NOBLE was a very well known figure on the Scottish rugby scene, especially associated with his beloved Boroughmuir Rugby Club whose 1st XV he represented nearly 20 seasons as a formidable prop forward. He played a notable role in the club’s success in the final Unofficial Championship in season 1972-3 before the introduction of Leagues. His sterling performances earned him selection several times for Edinburgh District in the 1970s and once retired from playing he assisted with coaching and mentoring younger players in the ‘dark arts’ of front-row play. He also served as President of the club for an unprecedented five years between 2012 and 2017, and was appointed Honorary Vice President in recognition of his outstanding contribution. Fittingly, during his term in office Boroughmuir won the Scottish Cup defeating Hawick comfortably in the Final in 2015.

Very proud of his Boroughmuir affiliation, the club was in Bill’s DNA as was apparent in his occasional pronouncements that “blue and green ran through his veins”. On one occasion, conscious of the number of players new to Edinburgh and keen to impress on them the history and culture behind the club, he took some to Morningside Road to see the Borestone, which features in the school logo and on their jerseys. There a plaque describes how the Royal Standard was raised on it on the nearby ‘Borough Muir’ before troops left for Flodden.

Bill was also a very good ‘heayweight’ athlete, excelling at shot put. As silver medallist at the Scottish Schools’ Championships, he represented Scotland in the annual Schools’ International against England and Wales. Competing as a senior, he represented Edinburgh based Octavians Athletic Club with distinction in National League and other fixtures, twice finishing third in the East of Scotland Championships at shot put. His name regularly appeared in the national ranking lists not only for shot put but also for discus and javelin throw.


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William Scott Noble was born in Edinburgh where his father was a stonemason. After primary school, he went in 1954 to Darroch Secondary and in 1957 to Boroughmuir High School. His early interest in weight training, initially with home made dumbbells, built up his powerful physique which lent itself to front-row play at which he showed considerable potential.

In 1959, he made his debut in the 1st XV under captain Norrie Patterson, later a regular teammate in the FPs, and continued in the team for another two years. His ‘pen profile’ in the school magazine read: “A prop forward with great strength; good enough for any company, a great enthusiast who gives everything to the game” – qualities doubtless recognisable to anyone familiar with his career.

Although strength and wholehearted commitment were fundamental to his play, he was also surprisingly fast round the pitch and had good hands, thanks no doubt to playing basketball at school alongside Bill McInnes, later a multi-capped British internationalist.

In summer, his attention turned to the athletics arena where strength contributed to his development in the throwing events, particularly shot put at which he won Scottish Schools’ podium places between 1959 and 1962 inclusive. At the Schoolboys’ International in 1962, held in Houghton-Le-Spring, County Durham, he faced formidable opposition in two future British internationalists representing England, while one Welsh rival was Terry Price, the future Wales and British Lions full-back and later a GB international at League. With his team-mate Doug Edmunds a future World Caber Tossing Champion, clearly Bill did not lack for competition that day.

After leaving school. Bill worked for a period in the Civil Service and also Lillywhites, the well known sports store then in Princes Street. He went on to attend Napier College where he undertook a course in design as he continued his sporting involvement with Boroughmuir FPs and Octavians.

On the rugby field, he made his debut for the 1st XV in 1962-3 and was effectively an ever-present in the team until retiring in 1980, a considerable achievement having regard to the punishing nature of front-row play. In the excellent book ’75 Years History of Boroughmuir’, author Ian Nicholson records:” A front row without Bill Noble who retired in 1980 after his 18th year in the 1st XV seemed strange but Cockburn, Black and Rowan settled well…”

A hard but fair player who could play both sides of the scrum, he was driven by an overwhelming desire to win, anything less than 100 percent commitment being alien.

Highlights included winning the last Unofficial Championship by defeating Langholm in a cliffhanger final match of the season despite having to play much of the game with only 14 men, substitutes not then permitted. Of their 25 matches, twenty two were won, two lost and one drawn.

The team continued doing well, finishing third and fourth in the top League in 1975 and 1976, and runners up in 1978, with Bill’s contribution important. He also figured in a successful tour of the Netherlands where a ‘National XV’ was defeated and earned a losing finalist’s medal at Langholm 7s.  A 1979 Scotsman report of Bill scoring a try against Selkirk imparted a flavour of his style: “…Noble exploding from a ruck and pounding 20 yards to the line.”

First selected for Edinburgh in 1973-4 for the Inter City match against Glasgow, Bill played several times for the District against opposition including South of Scotland, Northumberland and Racing Club of Nice, his final appearance coming in 1978.

Later, when living in Peebles, Bill made an impact with the local rugby club, assisting in coaching younger players and the 1st XV.

 

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In athletics he competed successfully throughout the 1960s and tackled the traditional ‘heavy events’ at Highland Games, including the Edinburgh Games held at Murrayfield in 1966 when he recorded his best mark at shot put. Earlier that season he finished third in the East District Championships as he also had in 1965, while his best ranking in the national lists was 9th in 1963. Given his ability also at discus and javelin, he was a very useful points scorer for Octavians in League matches.

In 1970, in Edinburgh, Bill married Maureen nee Baxter, a teacher, with the couple going on to enjoy a long happy marriage during which they had sons, Adam and Chris, while he worked in the field of graphic design and printing.

Initially he was involved in a business with a Boroughmuir team-mate based in Bonnington area of Edinburgh before taking up a post in the Borders and living in Peebles where his wife taught. On returning to Edinburgh, he resumed his links to Boroughmuir leading to the club presidency, with the couple latterly living near East Linton.

An extremely popular individual, Bill not only worked tirelessly for the club but brought fun to the task with his sense of humour, engaging company and ability as raconteur, qualities that also endeared him to many as an after dinner speaker.

A gifted artist he put his talent to the service of the club and the school’s Former Pupils’ Association which he supported keenly. Bill was also a very good guitarist, regularly travelling with his guitar on rugby trips and often leading the singing. He also sang in a Barber’s Shop group and was a regular Church attender.

He is survived by his wife, sons and grandchildren Luke, Leo, Ben, Evie and Ellis.

JACK DAVIDSON


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About Jack Davidson 9 Articles
Jack is a retired lawyer/QC from Edinburgh with a passion for sports history. He has contributed obituaries and historically themed sports articles to various publications, including: The Scotsman, The Herald and Nutmeg Magazine.

1 Comment

  1. Another very fine obituary, Mr Davidson, unfortunately there have been a few too many recently.
    I endorse all your comments about Bill, a true rugby guy & a gentleman.
    Many thanks.

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