THE BIRRELL BLUE
Finlay Calder was awarded a Harry Birrell Blue in 2013 in recognition of his service to the Trust, and his letter below describes wearing his Birrell Blue, to a recent reunion of 12 former Captains of the British & Irish Lions....
"Mike Teague, my great friend from Gloucester, once told me that in the West Country there is an expression that goes along these lines: 'In life, if your table isn't set by the time you are fifty… it's too late'. Over the years I've often thought about that expression and the wisdom of it.
When Stephen first got in touch with me, what must be nearly thirty years ago now, there was something in his letter that hooked me in; 'Could I bring a side up to play in Oxford to raise the profile of a Trust he was in the process of setting up?'.
Those sorts of occasions usually went one of two ways. Either it's a one off or you remain friends for life. I am blessed in that my involvement with Stephen, and his beloved Harry Birrell Trust, morphed into a lifelong friendship. I have been equally blessed to have made so many lifelong friends in rugby.
In October last year I was invited to Dublin to attend a Dinner with a quite unique gathering of men. The occasion was to launch the British & Irish Lions Players Club and gathered around the table, in the Constitution Room of the Shelbourne Hotel, were twelve former Captains of the British & Irish Lions dating back to Ronnie Dawson's Tour to Australia, New Zealand and Canada in 1959. Ronnie, now eighty four years young, still works out twice a week! Look closely at the photograph you will note that I am standing in the back row proudly wearing my Harry Birrell Blue!
Since being presented with it in Oxford back in the summer of 2013 I wear it to all rugby occasions, for it is eye catching and for a purpose, with the crest of Oxford University and the Elephant of the Eastern Cape of Africa forming the unique badge. Without exception, folk come up and ask about the blazer and the background as to why I am wearing it and the conversation usually starts with 'remind me when did you go to Oxford University' and, tempted as I am to blag it!!!...
Yet the blazer represents to me all that's good in rugby folk. It's about friendship, it's about loyalty, it's about helping those who have had only a fraction of the opportunities we have been afforded in our own lives.
Perhaps, in time, some of those who we have collectively helped along the way will stop to reflect on how it all happened. Hopefully then they too will hand on the Harry Birrell torch."
Finlay Calder, OBE, British and Irish Lions Captain 1989.
An historic gathering of British & Irish Lions tour captains and the Lions Board at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin
BRITISH & IRISH LIONS TOUR CAPTAINS:
Ronnie Dawson (Australia, New Zealand and Canada 1959)
Tom Kiernan (South Africa 1968)
John Dawes (Australia and New Zealand 1971)
Willie John McBride (South Africa 1974)
Phil Bennett (New Zealand and Fiji 1977)
Bill Beaumont (South Africa 1980)
Ciaran Fitzgerald (New Zealand 1983)
Finlay Calder (Australia 1989)
Gavin Hastings (New Zealand 1993)
Martin Johnson (South Africa 1997 and Australia 2001)
Brian O'Driscoll (New Zealand 2005)
Paul O'Connell (South Africa 2009)
Sam Warburton (Australia 2013) unable to attend the dinner because of Wales commitments