David Sole: The Interview
When you have been involved in one of the greatest-ever sporting achievements in your country’s history, it might be difficult striving to persuade your children to enjoy games for their own sake.
But David Michael Barclay Sole has managed it just fine.
It’s more than 25 years since Sole led his team out to Murrayfield in a famous slow gladiatorial march as the prelude to pummelling England’s hopes into the turf and winning a tumultuous Grand Slam showdown in Edinburgh. But the man himself hasn’t changed much.
Now, as then, he picks his words quietly, pragmatically and with such a degree of care it’s difficult to equate his rationale with the searing look of aggression in his eyes whenever he walked on to a rugby field during a career which saw him amass 44 caps, 25 as skipper – and he retired at only 30 – while becoming one of Scotland’s most totemic figures in the scrum.
And yet, although we had hooked up to talk about cricket – another of his great passions – Sole, as you might expect, had some thoughts on the recent Six Nations Championship where the English Class of 2016 achieved the coveted prize which eluded them in 1990.
“I try to stay positive and I believe we have the basis of a really decent side, but I think if the Scots had played as well against England [they lost narrowly] as they did against France [whom they beat emphatically], they might well have turned them over and won the Calcutta Cup,” said Sole, who has carved out a prestigious business career, including being a member of the company ‘School for CEOs’.
“It was good to hear the crowd at Murrayfield getting excited again, because the stadium has sometimes been a bit too quiet recently. There were lots of plus points and we are moving in the right direction.”
As a fellow who savoured a British and Irish Lions triumph in Australia in 1989, prior to his team almost becoming the first Scottish XV to beat the All Blacks in their own backyard in 1991, Sole has travelled the world, but has always remained close to his roots. Nor has he been the type of myopic individual who has allowed his life to become stuck in a cul-de-sac of nostalgia.
Instead, the 53-year-old was understandably proud of his children and seemed happier talking about their assorted exploits and talents than taking another stroll down his own memory lane. After all, whether in rugby, where Jamie has followed his father into the ranks at Edinburgh Accies or netball, where his daughter Gemma represented Scotland at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, or cricket, where both Chris and teenager Tom have already played for Scotland at age-group level, Sole has been at plenty of diverse arenas in the last few years.
“It has been a joy and I am proud of all of them, because they have all gone out and found different sports to pursue and there was never any pressure on them, but they have worked very hard to be as good as they can be,” said Sole.
“I grew up playing cricket, and I’ve always been interested in it, whether at school or at university, where I was in the same team as Richard Ellison, who went on to play Test cricket for England [between 1984 and 1986] and I still turn out occasionally for the Forty Club, which is always enjoyable.
“It is obviously a different challenge from rugby, which has much more physicality, and a focus on set pieces, but I have always liked the tactical aspect of cricket and then, of course, when you watch a match like [Sunday’s] T20 final, you can’t help but be caught up in the excitement of it all.
“It was just an amazing game. There were incredible sways both ways during the course of the match and it had a final over that nobody will ever forget. It was great entertainment, but heartbreaking for England – and it will be a big test of [Ben] Stokes’ character to see how he comes back [from being hit for four consecutive 6s by Carlos Brathwaite at the climax].”
As you will have noticed, this man knows his cricket. And Sole, snr, is clearly thrilled by the progress of his sons in the summer pursuit. Chris, 22, was involved at the Under-19 World Cup in 2014 and now, Tom, who is still just 19, has signed a contract with Northants and been selected in their squad for the county’s match against Oxford MCCU at The Parks this week.
It wouldn’t do to get overly carried away at this stage, but there are some lofty expectations for the youngest member of the family, who benefitted from spending time at the Ben Williams Cricket Academy in the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand.
“Tom is very focused, very determined to keep improving and performing at a high level and going to Northants should help him in that aim,” said Sole, who places less emphasis on talent running in the family than the virtues of hard graft.
“I never had any input into what the kids decided to play other than doing what I could to get them interested in sport and exercise. But Tom is somebody who is working very hard and he was the one who wanted to move to England [from Edinburgh club Grange], and test himself in what is clearly a more intense environment than you will find on the Scottish scene.”
The youngster has created a favourable impression already since joining the county ranks and struck an excellent unbeaten 40 and picked up three wickets last month as the Wantage Road personnel geared up for their 2016 campaign. As somebody who was in Scotland’s U19 ranks at only 17, it’s evident Master Sole has an abundance of ambition and raw potential.
So how might it all unfold? “I’ll be there in the background supporting them and cheering them on, and I can tell you I was as proud as anything when Gemma played for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games,” said Sole. “The dedication that all of them have shown so far has been inspirational”.
Few Scots know more about the latter quality than David Sole.