Scotland’s Friendly Giraffe

Kaitlin Dryburgh – 2nd December 2022

What a force of nature Scotland has lost, a brilliant rugby player, a bundle of laughter and a campaigner who’s unbreakable spirit to bring awareness to such a destructive disease made his status legendary. This week Scottish rugby player Doddie Weir passed away at age 52 from motor neurone disease, he will be greatly missed by so many. People up and down the country have been paying their respects, former teammates, sports people, politicians and fans. Not only was Doddie a great example of a sportsman and positive natured person, but an exemplary case of how any person should aspire to give back and make a true difference to the people around them who may not have a voice.

Although he may have got the reputation of being a daft laddie, his achievements sure did mount up, Lions winner, two championship wins from both Melrose and Newcastle, when he subsequently moved there, and two tries against the all blacks in a world cup quarter-final.

The Edinburgh born lad achieved a total of 61 caps for Scotland through-out his career, which began at Stewart Melville’s FP RFC but really started to gain steam in the Scottish Borders’ team Melrose. It was here that the 6ft 6in back row forward began to be noticed as the outstanding rugby player that he turned out to be, as well as an exceptionally tall one that could be propelled extremely high in a line-out owing to his lean 92kg weight.

We only saw Doddie play once for Scotland’s B team in a match against Ireland because from 1990 he was a fixture of the senior Scotland team. From there on his impressive skills lead him to be chosen for the 1997 Lions tour, alongside the current Scotland coach Gregor Townsend. This triumphant tour was one that has been hard to replicate since, under the iron fist of assistant coach Jim Telfer (also from Melrose) the 1997 Lions were some of only a handful of touring sides that have ended victorious. It was also during one of these matches that Doddie was famously described as being “on the charge like a mad giraffe” by Bill McLaren, which really does paint a picture. As Townsend remembers him as “the best team-mate you could have. And the life and soul of any room that he walked into”.

Growing up on a farm meant that he quite often skipped the weight days opting for some hard farm labour instead, Doddie wasn’t the finely tuned athlete that we see today with sports science backing every decision that they make. No, Doddie very much put his individual stamp on everything he did bringing a big personality to the game, be that his love for pranking his team or his unique way of putting on weight. As Peter Wright a former Scottish team mate remembers a time where Doddie decided he need to put on weight and planned on doing so by eating large quantities of Big Macs, and proceeded to order five of them on the way back from Murrayfield.

When it was time to move on from the rugby career we could always pick him out of the crowd from his bright and perhaps mad tartan suites, occasionally taking part in the commentary for Scotland matches. Yet when in 2016 he was given the devastating diagnosis of motor neurone disease (MND) Doddie used this moment as a time to shine a light on the disease, and campaign for more awareness and funding by creating the My Name is Doddie foundation with the help of his wife. It was here that Doddie tirelessly worked to raise millions, almost £8 million so far, to progress the research surrounding MND and work with other charities to support people suffering with and their families through an extremely tough time. Even September just passed saw several rugby legends take part in a 700 mile cycle around Wales which subsequently raised £500,000 for the foundation.

It’s an incredible attitude when staring in the face of such an aggressive disease, he simply had one goal in mind and that was to have a world free from MND. Unfortunately, one of the most disheartening things is that before Doddie passed away he didn’t get to see the government make good on the promises of funding that they had previously made. The UK government had promised to make available £50 million for research in MND, yet charities and researchers are still asking where this money is. Apparently being held up by bureaucracy and red tape means that many are running out of time to see some progress and without a big push now perhaps many will needlessly die due to paperwork winning over sense. While others have suggested the hold-up is down to people unable to make the decision on funding allocation. Whatever the problem is, the best way we could all honour Doddie Weir is by ensuring the mass amount of funding promised is quickly allocated and put to good use.

I was lucky enough to see Doddie myself several weeks ago at Murrayfield when he helped present the match ball at the All Blacks game. It was an emotional moment as he made his way out with his family in tow as we all clapped to celebrate five years of My Name is Doddie and to see the players wearing the Doddie Weir tartan was also a touching tribute. The outpouring of love and admiration was clear to see from everyone as the cheering continued for several minutes

He embodied the true warrior spirit of rugby and will be greatly missed. It’s not that often that a sports person graces this earth who is immensely talented, has a fantastic personality and leaves the world better than when they got there.

It would be great to see a memorial to such a great sportsperson such as a stand named after him at Murrayfield, but time will tell how the world of sport will choose to honour him.

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