TRIBUTES have been paid to John Roxburgh, who died aged 84 on Sunday following a short illness. He was a former Jordanhill College and Glasgow District stand-off who went on to become the Scottish Rugby Union’s first full-time paid coaching guru – or “technical adviser” – from the mid-1970s until his retirement during the 1997-98 season, before serving seven successful years as Glasgow Hawks director of rugby between 2000 and 2007.
His role at Murrayfield was often a thankless task which required the careful balancing of disparate interest groups as the game moved with increasing velocity away from the Victorian ideals it had been founded on towards the advent of professionalism in 1995 – and while it would have been impossible to keep everyone happy all of the time, Roxburgh’s integrity, his commitment to supporting clubs and his passion for helping develop players, meant he remained a respected individual across the Scottish rugby landscape.
He pioneered the first coaching courses north of the Border, oversaw the introduction of development officers in the early 1990s and played an instrumental role in the creation of the successful “youth pathway” system.
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As a talented and hard-nosed stand-off, Roxburgh (widely known as ‘Rocky’) was a key member of the Jordanhill side which rose to become one of the leading clubs in the country during the 1960s under the aegis of the legendary Bill Dickinson, culminating in their triumph in the ‘Scottish Unofficial Championship’ in 1969.
During his spell as director of rugby at Hawks, the club won the Scottish championship three times (2004, 2005 and 2006), the Scottish Cup once (2004) and the Scottish Reserve League (2004 and 2005).
“He could have a fairly gruff demeanour, but the really remarkable thing I have noticed since hearing the sad news about John is just how many ex-players have been in touch or posted messages on social media to express how much they respected and admired him,” said Glasgow Hawks Chairman Kenny Hamilton. “The success we had as a club during his period as director of rugby speaks for itself.”
Roxburgh was forced to step down from that Hawks role due to the deteriorating health of his wife, Irene, who passed away in 2020, but he remained an active member of the committee until he fell ill a few months ago. He is survived by his children Joyce and David, and their families.
Former Watsonians, Scotland and Lions centre Scott Hastings tweeted: “Sorry to hear the passing of one of Scottish rugby’s great guys, John Roxburgh – the former technical guru who first implemented coaching courses for the game north of the border! RIP Rocky!”
Retired rugby journalist Bill Lothian added: “Very much his own man within the Murrayfield establishment which is saying something. Loved Rocky’s directness and honesty. Great company, especially on rugby trips when the beer flowed and conversations were off the record.”
Douglas Arneil, who worked alongside Roxburgh as SRU Schools’ Technical Administrator, said: “His role probably never got the recognition it deserved. He was hugely committed to the cause and his own knowledge of rugby was very under-rated.
“He had the ability to bring coaches of the calibre of Bill Dickinson, Ian Cosgrove, Jim Telfer and Richie Dixon into a proper structure. He co-ordinated the whole thing.”
“To some he might have come over as pretty gruff, but he was a deeply caring human being and was determined to achieve the best for Scotland, ”
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Like his namesake and near contemporary, football’s Andy Roxburgh, our Rocky was a prophet largely without honour in his homeland. He was one helluva player and an even-moree influential coach – who leaves a huge legacy in Glasgow Hawks; on-going commitment to giving a chance to young players.
It was always a pleasure to speak with him at games, and to be told in no uncertain erms when he thought you were writing shite. He was one of the true greats of Glasgow and Scottish Rugby and he will be sorely missed.
This is a sad day for the game in Scotland, we have lost a giant of the game.