Tribute: Stewart Hamilton: “You couldn’t help but want to follow him. There was nothing he couldn’t do.”

Martin Laing and former Stirling County team-mates remember one of Scottish rugby's great characters

Stewart Hamilton [third from right] was captain of the Stirling County team which won the Scottish championship in 1995. Image courtesy: Stirling County
Stewart Hamilton [third from right] was captain of the Stirling County team which won the Scottish championship in 1995. Image courtesy: Stirling County

Stewart Hamilton

  • Born: 28th February 1956
  • Died: 30th March 2023, aged 67

VERY few rugby players, if any, can have generated the kind of fierce loyalty and affection among team-mates that Stewart Hamilton managed.

Big Hammy, the former Stirling County second-row who captained the side to their only championship-winning season back in 1995, was held in awesome regard by those he played with and, in some cases, against.

County stalwarts Kevin McKenzie and Jimmy Stewart were visibly moved as they recollected halcyon days with Hammy following the death of the lock at the age of 67 on Thursday, March 30th.


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They were also united in their conviction – shared with other stellar names in Scottish rugby – that Hammy was to this day the best player never capped for Scotland. John Beattie and Finlay Calder have echoed the sentiment. He did represent Scotland B but never achieved the first team kudos he longed for.

However, despite an enviable playing and coaching career, Hammy will be best remembered as the outstanding Stirling County icon he became. “Hammy was the glue in our team,” said McKenzie, capped at hooker for Scotland 14 times, on Saturday. “He was the funniest man in the world.

“He was huge – seemed like the biggest human ever – but because he had played football, he had massive calves and was quick. He was super fit but also had great mental strength. You couldn’t help but want to follow him. There was nothing he couldn’t do.

“I was coming out of Stirling’s under-18s and he was the man. I went to a sportsman’s dinner recently at which John Beattie said Stewart was the best player not to be capped. We are all emotional now and Hammy would not have liked that.”

Stewart Hamilton in support of his old pal and Stirling County team-mate, Kevin McKenzie, against Watsonians.
Stewart Hamilton in support of his old pal and Stirling County team-mate, Kevin McKenzie, against Watsonians.

Stewart, a long-serving County stand-off working behind Hammy-led packs, recalled: “I first got to him in 1981 when we won division three. He was an athlete, he was fast, he could goal-kick.

“He went away [to Heriot’s for three seasons] but came back in 1989 and said, ‘Right, we’re going up this year’. And we did.”

The two former team-mates also recounted the episode in an Italian airport when Hammy assumed the driver’s seat in a motorised luggage train and stomped on the accelerator only to discover it was in reverse and, consequently ploughed through an office glass wall backwards.

McKenzie said: “There was hell to pay … armed police were called and Hammy was arrested and held for two days until he sobered up.”

The two friends also recalled a ‘scam; often perpetrated by Hammy after away games. McKenzie explained: “There was always a post-march raffle with bottles of whisky or the like as the main prizes. The tradition was for the visiting captain to draw the winning tickets.

“Hammy would find out what our tickets were, then when asked to draw, he would put his massive hand into the pot, pull out any old ticket that no one else could see and announce our ticket as the winner.”

McKenzie also put on record Hamilton’s contribution off the field: “He was just a constant figure in my life. He played and led by example. He was hard on and off the pitch.”

County’s director of rugby, Eddie Pollock, was also a team-mate of Hammy, and paid a fulsome tribute. “He came into the club as a non-rugby player but took to it immediately and went straight into the first team. He was so physical and single-minded, and had such a fantastic engine for a big man.

“The mark of the man was that when he didn’t play he was the most missed person – you couldn’t replace him. His influence on the game was massive. He was a great leader and everyone followed him. He was a force of nature.

“The other thing was that he was a great friend. He’d have done absolutely anything for you and was very supportive. For a guy who was a brute of a man, he had a very soft side and was a very caring person.”

Pollock’s sentiments were echoed by Hammy’s long-time close friend, Muff Scobie, who added: “He was a one-off. He would do anything for people. He left a mark wherever he went; everybody remembered Stewart.”

I recall still with surprising clarity the Sunday morning around 11.30am back in 1995 when I chimed the door of the elegant house in the beautiful village of Cambuskenneth.

The ever charming and gracious Jackie Hamilton welcomed me in, saying she would fetch Stewart. Did I want a beer? She was a fine hostess but I declined, having over-indulged the night before at Bridgehaugh to celebrate Stirling County RFC becoming Scotland’s national rugby champions (I was, of course, a fan with a typewriter).

The large figure loomed into view, glass in hand, and repeated the offer. Very gratefully, I accepted Jackie’s suggestion of coffee instead.

“What time did you go to bed and then get up again to start drinking?” I asked, naively as it transpired. Stewart appeared genuinely surprised by my question. “I haven’t been to bed yet,” he explained. “We’ve just been celebrating since yesterday afternoon.”

That was Stewart in a nutshell: “Big Hammy” , as he was almost universally known, was a larger-than-life character in every respect.

Hamilton had been an inspirational leader and competitor, daunting in his size and physicality to opponents but immensely motivational to team-mates.

Few people, if any, who met Stewart Hamilton forgot the experience, A very big personality matched by an equally large physique, Hammy was a fiercely competitive sportsman who only came to rugby late in the scheme of things at age 23, having grown up a soccer fan (and Rangers stalwart at that) in his home town of Larkhall where he joined the family’s agricultural business, before moving to Stirling where he began his rugby adventure.

Hammy should, of course, as most fans of the time concur, have had a hatful of caps at lock forward for Scotland. But off-field “offences”, perhaps made him persona non grata with the then SRU hierarchy at Murrayfield. Coupled with Stirling County being far too unfashionable for its players to be capped in the late 1980s, Hammy decamped to Heriot’s in Edinburgh, but subsequently returned to his favoured Bridgehaugh. He later also won fans as a successful player/coach at Hamilton Rugby Club.

Tribute was paid to Hammy on Saturday ahead of County’s fixture at Myreside against Watsonians with the kick-off for which was delayed by a minute’s silence as a mark of respect and the “retirement” of the number five shirt. Former Watsonsonians player John McLellan, a former editor of The Scotsman, said: “It was very moving seeing John Gibson [County president] laying the shirt.”

Hamilton is survived by Jackie, Gregor, Scott, Margot and John.


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About Martin Laing 1 Article
Martin is a rugby writer and journalist based in Stirling. He has covered Stirling County RFC for more than 30 years.

4 Comments

  1. A great tribute to Stewart. He was a fearsome man to play against but a great companion to play with. I played with Stewart for the Cooptimists when we toured the North of England in March 85. I can remember his huge physical presence at Blackburn as if it was yesterday. Clear as day. Glad he was playing for us.

    Great memories of a great man. Rest in Peace.

  2. Probably one of Scotland’s best players,never to be capped.
    I watched them play,in season ’95 when they won the league.
    Stewart was an inspiration to his players,who obviously respected him greatly.
    Another great loss to Scottish rugby.

  3. Legend doesn’t do the big man credit – many sentiments echoed already, but for me he was a towering player who I had the pleasure of playing & touring with both home & overseas, robbed of not just 1 but several Scottish caps. Whilst off the pitch it was sometimes like being in the company of a machine without instructions, he never lost that broad impish smile & warm handshake when he met people & was always polite to the T – not quite an iron hand in a velvet glove, but close to it. Sleep well old friend & my memories of you will live long. Here’s tae you, guy few!

  4. A lovely tribute to a great player.

    I remember the days when County were at the top of the game. 10k plus spectators at home matches. Based on an abrasive pack and a talented set of backs.

    Such a travesty that Hammy didn’t get capped given some that were at that time.

    May he rest in peace.

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