The East Terrace - For the rugby football enthusiast

Walter Sutherland: Scottish Rugby Legend 1890-1918

Walter Sutherland
Walter Sutherland: Scottish Rugby Legend
Published by Tempus Publishing

By Ken Bogle

Those who like their sporting biographies to contain a bit of social history could do worse than take a look at this volume from Tempus Publishing.

Ken Bogle, a noted Scottish rugby expert, examines the life and times of Walter Sutherland, a star winger for Hawick and Scotland between 1910-14. Sutherland, or ‘Wattie’ as he was known, died aged just twenty-seven, losing his life in the First World War.

Bogle has diligently researched information on Sutherland’s life and playing career and woven the details into an enjoyable portrait of the great player. Like all good books dealing with the early days of competitive sports, Bogle also addresses the world in which Sutherland lived and played, not just confining himself to detailing his subject’s playing achievements.

The book delivers a great insight into the class divide of Edwardian rugby in Scotland. Sutherland’s Hawick were often slighted when it came to selection of the national XV and the book colourfully illustrates many examples of ‘injustice’ from the SRU. Furthermore, Bogle incorporates the politics and social problems of the time into Sutherland’s tale:

‘…when Scotland played Wales in February 1913, there were rumours that the match would be disrupted by militant suffragettes running onto the field and chaining themselves to the goalposts. Women entering the ground had their pockets and handbags searched in case they were habouring stones or offensive weapons.’

Similarly, the modern Scottish reader may also be surprised to find that the present day controversy surrounding ‘Kilted Kiwis’ and imported players is by no means a new phenomena, as this excerpt from a Scottish paper of 1911 illustrates:

‘Why however should he, a South African and of Dutch extraction, find it so simple a matter to secure a Scottish cap, while others born in Scotland, who have played all their football in Scotland, find it impossible to do so?’

Bogle cites David Parry-Jones’ seminal book on the great Gwyn Nicholls as the main inspiration for this title. He sadly lacks the sources that Jones had access to and, as a result, some of the later chapters rely very heavily on dry newspaper match reports, lacking personal recollections of memoirs. Similarly, the chapter dealing with Sutherland’s tragic death in 1918 in the First World War, relates the general actions of Sutherland’s fighting units rather than his personal story; Bogle seemingly had limited personal papers from which to draw.

That said, the book is certainly recommended to those who enjoy historical sporting biographies. Those who know little of rugby union’s infancy will also find the early half of the book a revealing ad rewarding read, certainly a better choice than some other recent rugby biographies.

You can win a copy of Walter Sutherland: Scottish Rugby Legend 1890-1918 by checking out our competition page (click here to enter our competition).