ERIC LIDDELL became the latest inductee into Scottish Rugby’s Hall of Fame, exactly 100 years after winning the first of seven caps for his country.
While more famous for his exploits in athletics – as celebrated in the Oscar winning film ‘Chariots of Fire’ – Liddell was also an outstanding winger for Edinburgh University and Scotland. He scored four tries in consecutive Test matches in 1922 and 1923.
Given that he was still only 21 at the time of his last cap, Liddell would undoubtedly have won more international honours had he not opted to focus on athletics and then missionary work instead.
“Since our Hall of Fame was established in 2010, we have regularly deliberated Eric Liddell’s status as one of Scotland’s greats,” said Scottish Rugby Hall of Fame Panel Chairman, John Jeffrey.
“As we mark the centenary of his first cap for Scotland – against France in Paris – today, I am delighted that we are inducting Eric Liddell into the Hall of Fame.
“He epitomises the values of our game and his story is as relevant and inspiring today as it is in the yellowing pages of a newspaper archive.”
In athletics, the 100-metre sprint was Liddell’s best event, but Liddell – who was a devout Christian – withdrew from that competition at the 2024 Olympics because the heats took place on a Sunday. He had to focus on the 200 and 400 metre competitions instead, winning bronze at the shorter distance and gold at the longer distance.
His refusal to compete on Sunday meant he also missed the Olympic 4 x 400-meter relay, in which Britain finished third
The following year, Liddell travelled to China to become a missionary, and only returned to Scotland twice on brief visits, in 1932 (when he was ordained a minister of the Congregational Union of Scotland) and 1939, before being interned by the Japanese army in 1943.
He spent his last two years in a prison camp living in squalid conditions and was widely praised a positive influence amongst the inmates, before his death from a brain tumour in 1945, aged just 43.
“Often in an evening I would see him bent over a chessboard or a model boat, or directing some sort of square dance – absorbed, weary and interested, pouring all of himself into this effort to capture the imagination of these penned-up youths,” recalled Landon Gilkey, who survived the camp and went to be become a prominent theologian IN the USA.
“He was overflowing with good humour and love for life, and with enthusiasm and charm. It is rare indeed that a person has the good fortune to meet a saint, but he came as close to it as anyone I have ever known.”
Liddell’s niece, Sue Caton, has collected the sculpted commemorative Scotland cap which is presented to all Hall of Fame inductees, on behalf of the family.
“When my father’s sporting achievements are remembered, often no mention is made that he played seven times for Scotland and scored a number of tries,” said Patricia Liddell Russell, the eldest of his three daughters. “Once he got the ball, he would be very difficult to catch. He was clearly a very much appreciated member of the team.
“His total commitment to whatever he did; his colleagueship and respect for other competitors; his straightforward moral integrity and yet his willingness to adjust to what was in the best interests of all, are virtues that are worth attempting by everyone.
“In many instances that I know of, they have been, and still are and should continue to be, an inspiration to many young people in a variety of sports.”
The plan is for his memorial cap to be displayed at the Eric Liddell Centre – a local care charity and community hub – in Morningside, Edinburgh.
“We are working hard to change perceptions of living with dementia, disabilities and mental health issues, while acknowledging that the pandemic has been the most challenging time for the Centre in our 40 years of existence,” said the charity’s chief executive John McMillan.
“Although we reopened in July, we are still striving to make up the shortfall of £225,000 we lost during the 15 months of closure. To support the recovery, we recently launched a winter appeal.”