FORMER Scotland captain Gary Callander died on Sunday morning, aged 62, following a battle with pancreatic cancer. His haul of six caps for Scotland does not truly reflect the former hooker’s contribution to the game during the 1980s. He was unfortunate to play in the same era as Colin Deans when tactical substitutions were not allowed, but the fact that he led the national side in all but the first of those appearances speaks volumes for his rugby intelligence and the esteem he was held in by his team-mates and coaches.
Callander was the architect and driving force of Kelso’s golden era, which saw this club from a town with a population of around 5,500 won two National League titles, two Border League titles and five Melrose Sevens tournaments between 1984 and 1989.
“He captained the club to its first Border League title in 50 years in the 1985-86 season, was instrumental in leading the club to the Scottish First Division Championship in the 1987-88 season and was an integral part of the successful Kelso seven of the late 1970s and 80s,” said Kelso President Scott Forbes.
“Gary’s contribution to the history of the club cannot be overstated. He was a captain, leader and an outstanding rugby player who will be sorely missed by his ‘rugby family’.”
Callander also made two appearances in the final at the Hong Kong Sevens. On the second occasion, playing for the Scottish Border Club, he was one of five Kelso players in the side which beat the All Blacks in the semi-final before falling to Australia at the last hurdle.
Callander picked up his first cap when Scotland lost to Romania during the summer of 1984 and did not play for his country again until the 1988 Five Nations, when he captained the side in all four matches. His final international match against Australia that November.
After his playing days, Callander moved into coaching with spells at Haddington, Gala, Watsonians and Kelso.
“As a player, he was the architect and heartbeat of that Kelso side in the 1980s, who had a massive influence in moulding that pack into the best in the league,” recalled friend and former Kelson and Scotland team-mate Roger Baird. “He would have had 40 caps if he had played in a different era.
“Not only was he a great rugby brain, he was also a larger than life character. He was no angel, and he could be his own worst enemy in terms of maybe saying things that he shouldn’t, but he was great company.”
Away from rugby, Callander ran his own successful electrician business. However, he was debilitated by serious back problems during the last 10 to 15 years, before the cancer diagnosis just a few months ago.
He is survived by his mother, Mary, and his children, Torrie and Becky, while his ex-wife Diane visited him during his final days at the Margaret Kerr Unit at Borders General Hospital.