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My Life in Rugby: John Beattie – Glasgow Accies, Scotland & Lions No.8

John BeattieI was born in Borneo and went to an English boarding school in Penang, Malaysia, called Uplands.

When I left to come back to Scotland my headmaster said: “You’re the roughest child we’ve had at this school and you’ll no doubt play rugby for Scotland.”

There were a lot of kids from New Zealand, Scotland and Ireland at Uplands and we started playing rugby when I was about six.

It was something I enjoyed and I seemed to be quite good at. It was all barefoot – I don’t think I wore boots until I came over here. When I went back to Scotland the way you could fit in was to be good at one thing: Rugby.

At that age I was a lot rougher than the average child – when I was at school in Malaysia I was constantly being caught running away from piano lessons.

I played for Glasgow Schools and was quickly in the Scotland B team. We beat the French in France – the first time a French B team had lost at home – and a whole bunch of us got picked to play for Scotland.

I was joining a Scotland team in 1980 that I don’t think had won in 14 matches and in my second game we beat France – it was like a national celebration.

I played a few games for Scotland and then went straight onto a Lions tour that same summer. Being a student, the main thing was to get as much free food as you could – every day the meals were incredible.

I didn’t enjoy either of my Lions tours, though. I couldn’t get to grips with 35 blokes going around the country – maybe I could have if we’d been winning. It is kind of embarrassing on a losing Lions tour.

When I came back I got my first job as a civil engineer in Edinburgh, working seven-day weeks for £4,000 a year – big money.

I remember Bill McLaren saying rugby should be the escape from the daily grind, not the daily grind itself. It always was my escape and just an amazing time – we were balancing a day job with this game.

When Scotland lost to Australia in 1984 I was working at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre and people were shouting at me on the Monday back at work: “You were rubbish!”

I’d been playing for Heriot’s for a season when I got hurt in training, snapping my knee cap before a tour in New Zealand. I was operated on and in hospital for three weeks.

At one point they said if this next drug doesn’t work you’ll lose your knee. Fortunately it did but I played the rest of my career with a leg that didn’t really work.

We had some great times but then I got hurt at Twickenham just before the first World Cup in 1987. I knew at that moment it was over.

I was lying in the tunnel and I said to the doctor: “Will I make the World Cup?” He said: “Put it this way – would you like a cigarette?” I knew what that meant.

I got into broadcasting but I stopped when my son, Johnnie, started playing. You don’t want his pals to think he is an idiot because his dad said this or that.

We didn’t want to push him into rugby but with his size and shape it’s worked for him. He’s got the kind of life in France most players would like but I wouldn’t swap my days with his. There is so much physicality and pressure we didn’t have.

I was a lucky, lucky boy.

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