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The Kirkcaldy Rugby cap who got away
Written by John Methven   
Monday, 09 January 2017

Seventy years ago last autumn  (John)  Murray Hunter returned to Cambridge University from his home in Kirkcaldy to resume his studies in Classics which had been interrupted by war service.  Born on 10th November 1920,  he was the elder son of the Rev J M Hunter, minister of Abbothall Parish Church.

Murray's education started at West Primary School, close to the then Abbotshall Manse in Milton Road. Later when the Manse moved to a new building in West Albert Road, he enrolled at the near by Kirkcaldy High Primary School  on Sang Road, now the site of  the car park of  Fife College.

In his time at the West School Murray, the minister's son, was frequently  one of just a few children in his class to possess a pair of shoes such was the poverty in the Links area in the 1920s  According to his son, Andrew,  this experience helped him to develop a social and political philosophy and throughout his adult life was a member of the Labour Party

Always physically active, young Murray took part in a variety of sports, particularly cricket and football.  When he transferred to Kirkcaldy High School in August 1932 he was introduced to rugby which quickly surpassed his other sporting interests.

Academically he excelled and at the end of his first year at the High School won a scholarship to Fettes College in Edinburgh. There he recalled how initially he had problems with  his Fife accent, being mocked by classmates   “We all had some degree of local accent and  because of that I had  a hard time.  The Scots in my class had been in school for about a whole session when I arrived and they had been taught to speak proper English without “Scotticisms”

Although he was a boarder at Fettes he thoroughly enjoyed holiday times in Kirkcaldy and in his memoir mentions his liking for choral singing, visits to Kirkcaldy Public Library  and local cinemas and skating on the Beveridge Park Pond, prior to the building of Kirkcaldy ice Rink in 1938.

Little is known about his academic record at Fettes.  Rugby seems to have dominated  these schooldays but there can be little doubt that he achieved some degree of excellence, especially in classics, to enable him to matriculate at Cambridge University's Clare College in 1938.

His rugby skills grew through hard practise at school and he had the benefit of some of the best coaching available at  the time,  His final year at school at last cemented a place in the Fettes first fifteen, in the second row.  At six feet two inches and fourteen stones he was a big man for his time and naturally fitted into the position now called lock forward.

Extensive war service disrupted his time at Cambridge.  He served with the Rifle Brigade for five years and was awarded the Military Cross as well as being mentioned twice in Despatches for services in the North African campaign, particularly at El Alamein.  He fought his way up from Africa then  through Italy, ending the war in Austria.  Wounded  three times  he spent three months hospital during his service.  He returned in 1946  to Cambridge to pursue a research degree, again in classics. While prospering academically his rugby career also took a big step forward culminating in playing against Oxford in that year, the first post war Varsity match, earnng him a much coveted “Blue”.

His association with Kirkcaldy RFC may well have begun while still at school and in his under graduate years.  After leaving the services and before returning to Cambridge he played for Kirkcaldy for much of the 1945-46 season.  The late Bill Ritchie, former Kirkcaldy captain, who died in 2015 clearly remembered playing  alongside Hunter  “He was probably the best player I ever played with in a Kirkcaldy jersey and in that season he gave me masses of try scoring opportunities”

Hunter's excellence became widely known after his performances in that post war season and he turned down an approach by Dunfermline, then one  of the top clubs in Scotland,  to join them.  This early example of player poaching possibly failed on the grounds that Hunter was about to return to Cambridge.  He had  a couple of games for Kirkcaldy in September 1946 before resuming his studies.  His final  game in a blue jersey came the following April when he led the Kirkcaldy seven at the Midlands tournament.

His reputation spread and his performances were noted by the Scottish selectors earning him a place in the first post war  international trial played at Netherdale, Galashiels.  He must have impressed that day as he was included in the Scotland XV to play France in Paris on 1st January 1947. From reports he did not play badly but he failed to hold his place for the next game against Wales, a month later, with his  place going to the better known and more experienced Frank Coutts (Melrose).  That was  the only cap he won.

When he was capped he suggested to the Scottish Rugby Union secretary that “Kirkcaldy” be placed after his name in the official team list.  He was brushed off unceremoniously.  It had to be “Cambridge University” . Hunter would have been the fourth Scottish cap from Kirkcaldy.  Instead it was another fifty one years until that happened in 1998 when New Zealander Gordon Simpson, having been drafted to the Blues by  the SRU, was capped against Australia in Sydney.

After graduation Hunter played for a season with London Scottish.  By then  he had joined the Foreign Office in which he had postings in Australia, Colombia, Argentina, Czechoslovakia and Iraq.  His rugby days concluded while he was in Australia, based in Canberra, aged in mid thirites.

After an absence of nearly fifty years absence he returned to live in Scotland in the mid 1980's on retirement from the Foreign Office, living in Edinburgh.  Life continued apace for him in his later years  as a Commissioner in the Forestry Commission and then he qualified  as a visitor guide with the Scottish Tourist Board.  Rugby interest never diminished. He always enjoyed international days at Murrayfield,  mingling with his contemporaries.  His last visit to Beveridge Park came in January 1992, three years before his death, attending a match between Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline and resumed acquaintance with former team mates.

His family were often entertained and informed about his young days in Kirkcaldy, a place for which he had the fondest memories. He died in 1995

 (With thanks to Andrew Hunter for the information)

Last Updated ( Saturday, 25 March 2017 )
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