Obituary: Sandy Carmichael: “… one of the bravest and fairest players to grace the game”

A West of Scotland legend who was capped 50 times by Scotland between 1967 and 1978, and toured twice with the Lions

Sandy Carmichael in his Lions tracksuit. Image courtesy: the Carmichael family
Sandy Carmichael in his Lions tracksuit. Image courtesy: the Carmichael family

Sandy Carmichael

  • Born: 2nd February 1944, Glasgow
  • Died: 27th October 2021, Kilbarchan

SANDY CARMICHAEL, who has died aged 77, was one of Scottish rugby’s iconic internationalists, an outstanding prop forward on the pitch and a wonderful ambassador for the game off it. In many ways he was a forerunner of  the modern day prop – mobile, a strong scrummager, good hands, and an effective tackler who was blessed with an equable temperament.

His reputation for technically accomplished and robust but fair play in a highly combative position earned him respect and admiration worldwide, while his adherence to and promotion of rugby’s core values in developing discipline, teamwork and friendship enhanced the sport. An extremely popular, fun-loving individual, always with a smile on his face, he had lots of time for people and was highly regarded in all walks of life.

Sandy enjoyed an honour-laden career. Between 1967 and 1978 he was the first Scot to earn 50 caps, 49 consecutively, a world record for an international prop until 1986. That tally included the rare distinction of being in a winning side six times against England [twice in one week in 1971], as well as playing four non-cap internationals, three against Argentina and another against Tonga. Despite being effectively an automatic selection for the national side, he maintained it was “always a thrill to see my name in the team”.


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He went on two tours with the British and Irish Lions, in 1971 to New Zealand and in 1974 to South Africa, playing 16 games altogether. Had it not been for the notorious assault he suffered in the 1971 tour against Canterbury which left him with cheekbone fractures a week before the first Test and ended his tour, he would undoubtedly have featured in that Test and probably others.

For the Barbarians, he made a total of 20 appearances which included two matches against Australia and the famous 1973 game in Cardiff against New Zealand, a candidate for the best game of rugby ever witnessed, in which he was the only Scot on the field. He also toured North America with the Baa-Baas, captaining the team against Quebec.

With Scotland he went on three tours, to Argentina in 1969, Australia in 1970 and New Zealand in 1975. The Argentina tour was an experience and a half. Civil unrest off the pitch made for uncomfortable moments such as when the tourists tentatively made their way on foot to a function in Rosario accompanied by the sound of gunfire nearby, while on the pitch the opposition’s thuggish play was disgraceful. Sandy’s West of Scotland club-mate Ian Murchie being the victim of a straight armed tackle in the first uncapped ‘Test’ which effectively ended his career. On a brighter note, Sandy did score his first international try in the second ‘Test’ in a convincing win.

At the end of the New Zealand tour, he played in the ‘water-polo’ Test in Auckland, so called because excessive rainfall resulted in the game being played in near aquatic conditions with him quoted afterwards: ”… I was worried because I can’t swim very well!”.

In 1977, as well as being appointed MBE, he was the only Scot selected in a World squad of 24 players from 10 nations to play two commemorative games in South Africa.

Domestically he represented West of Scotland with distinction from 1962 to 1978, and Glasgow District from 1964 onwards. He was part of a formidable West side, sometimes containing up to 10 internationalists, including among others Quintin Dunlop, Gordon Brown, David Shedden, Bryan Gossman and England’s Lionel Weston, that twice won the unofficial Scottish Championship in 1964-5 [shared with Hawick] and 1970-71, as well as being runners-up several times.

Fittingly, he was in the first illustrious tranche of inductees to Scottish Rugby’s Hall of Fame in 2010, his citation stating: “… one of the bravest and fairest players to grace the game”.

Alexander Bennett Carmichael was the middle son of David and Jessie [Jet] who, with brothers David and Peter, was brought up in Newton Mearns. Father David was an accountant and councillor after whom the Carmichael Hall in Eastwood was named ,while Sandy’s maternal grandfather was Alec Bennett who played for both Celtic and Rangers and won 11 caps for Scotland.

After attending Belmont prep school, Sandy went to Loretto School in Musselburgh where, in addition to being ‘2nd Head of School’, his sporting talents emerged.

He played in the 1st XV for two years, captaining the team in his final year, converting to the front-row after playing in second and back-rows. Writing with prescience in the school magazine, a teacher opined: ”… Carmichael has proved to have the qualities necessary for the front-row and may have found his best position … he is a tiger in the loose … he could develop into a very good forward”.

In 1962 he was selected for the Scottish Schoolboys’ XV for their annual match against their English counterparts but bad weather meant it was cancelled. Team-mates included future internationalists Rodger Arneil of Edinburgh Academy, Earle Mitchell of Melville College’s and later of Edinburgh Wanderers, and future Scottish cricket internationalist, Royal High School’s D.D. Fraser.

He also shone at hockey, trialling for Scottish Schoolboys, while in summer he excelled at athletics in which he was team captain. His speciality events were shot put and discus, but he was fast enough to feature in the sprint relay team. He set a school shot put record and won bronze medals in Scottish Schools and Junior Championships.

Later while competing for Victoria Park A.C. and Bellahouston Harriers he enjoyed success at Highland Games ‘heavy events’, while in 1966 he ranked in the top ten nationally for shot put.

In 1967 he won a debut cap against Ireland as a late replacement for the injured David Rollo, much to the surprise of family watching in the stand as he ran on unexpectedly to the Murrayfield pitch. In a later interview, Sandy commented that when nervous he sometimes fell asleep, and admitted almost doing so during the team talk on that occasion. A long and distinguished career encompassed many highlights including wins against Australia, South Africa and in 1969 against France in Paris, Scotland’s last there until 1995.

After retiring from playing he coached West of Scotland for some years and helped promote women’s rugby through coaching the West side and assisting the national team.

A hereditary spinal arthritic condition exacerbated by rugby’s physical demands led to serious health issues for Sandy who underwent numerous complicated hip operations and heart bypass surgery, causing him significant mobility problems. Despite suffering considerable pain and discomfort, he remained positive and upbeat, always stating he had no regrets.

In business he was involved in plant hire, setting up his own eponymous company and latterly with Speedy Hire.

In 1970 he married Avril Wallace with whom he had children Trevor and Melanie but the marriage ended in divorce. In 1993 he married Alison Brand whom he met through rugby, with whom he had Ruairidh and Rhona. The family lived in Kilbarchan where Sandy was a much loved and well known figure in the local community.

Outwith family life he was a highly appreciated contributor to Rugby Memories, a charity for dementia sufferers, and was an avid sports follower.

He is survived by his wife, children and four grandchildren.


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About Jack Davidson 4 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.

6 Comments

  1. What an epitaph, one of ‘the bravest and fairest’ not many will have that accolade
    I was always led to believe that he refused to name the culprit of the cheap shot that caused his early departure from the ’71 Tour, a subtle way at getting back at the offender I always thought, and certainly one taking the higher ground.
    I liked the anecdote related by Hugh Pollock and get the impression that it was said without rancour but just in a conversational manner rather than a critique of the modern game.
    Commiserations to family and friends.

  2. Excellent tribute to one of the legends of Scottish Rugby & elsewhere.
    In recent years I got to know Sandy quite well through his contacts with the Murrayfield Injured Players Foundation, and his visits to Murrayfield. He always had great stories to tell.
    At one post-match function Simon Berghan stopped for a chat, and Sandy said to him, very graciously – mind son, in our day we always played the full 80 minutes, all the time!
    Hugh Pollock, Murrayfield Injured Players Foundation

  3. A total stalwart of Scottish Rugby. One of my Dad’s favourite players, and by all accounts a great man to be playing alongside. Very fitting tribute.

  4. Richie Guy,the Canterbury loose head who assaulted Sandy was a disgrace to rugby.
    Sandy was a shining example to all rugby folk.

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