Rugby latecomer Bert was major figure in Bristol's ascent to top
Bert Macdonald, one of the most influential players in Bristol rugby history, has died at the age of 89.
The Scotsman, who played 344 times for Bristol between 1948 and 1961, left an indelible mark on the club during his two seasons of captaincy in the mid-1950s.
Macdonald grew up in a football-playing environment in Scotland and proved to be a handy goalkeeper.
He was a latecomer to rugby, only taking up the game at Avonmouth when he was in his 20s.
He was spotted by Tom Mahoney in an exhibition match and was signed by Bristol – and, in his first season, after a 38-0 defeat at Cardiff, important changes were made to the club's training and tactics.
Macdonald was instrumental in implementing these – and, in the following campaign, Bristol chalked up 31 victories, equalling the then club record, with only one home defeat.
His term of captaincy paved the way for John Blake's record-breaking seasons in the late 1950s.
After moving to London, he helped to found the London Bristol Rugby Society, but still returned to Bristol regularly and even attended the club's emphatic 37-3 victory over Rotherham in January this year.
Bristol legend Derek Neate, a good friend and team-mate of Macdonald's, as well as a fellow former Avonmouth man, paid tribute to the "elder statesman" and "enforcer" who "did so much for Bristol rugby".
"If people slipped below the standards he expected of them, he would soon let them know," said Neate.
"I remember one game against Northampton, where Laurie Watts, who was playing in the centre, dropped the ball after we had won a scrum. Bert told him, 'We worked hard for that ball' and, after a pause, 'you go in the front row and see what it's all about'.
"This was a first-class match and Laurie couldn't believe it. But Bert, who was playing in the second row, put him in the front row, where he was up against Ron Jacobs, the England prop.
"Bert said to Ron, 'Right, give him a good, hard scrummaging'. I don't think anyone could believe what was going on, but I don't think Laurie dropped the ball again for a while!
"Bert was a good man, who looked out for us youngsters in that Bristol side, and he will be missed by everyone who knew him – except maybe those who refereed him."
Bert Macdonald's funeral will be held at Slough Crematorium on Monday, May 14, at 1pm. It will be followed by a wake at the Fox & Pheasant in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire.