Lions Hero: Fergus Slattery on Willie John McBride

Willie John had boundless enthusiasm and durability - both as a person and as a player - but above all he was a fantastic leader. [more]

Lions Hero: Fergus Slattery on Willie John McBride

Willie John had boundless enthusiasm and durability – both as a person and as a player – but above all he was a fantastic leader.

He was always good humoured, he seldom lost his temper and when he did it was in a controlled and deliberate and focused way. He was not a ranter and a raver and that made him all the more influential and inspirational.

Everything he said made sense, so in that way he was a man for all occasions, someone you looked to for advice.

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On the pitch and off the pitch he didn’t really change either. Often when people take over as captain they become more responsible and their character changes, but Willie was always the same person in every situation.

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We might have encountered eachother in a provincial match or something like that but the first time properly I met Willie was when we played together with Ireland.

It didn’t take long to realise this was an extraordinary guy. Well before we played together for the Lions I knew what sort of a leader he was.

But that’s not to say he wasn’t a lot of fun. Willie was great craic, capable of doing just about anything – in private of course – and always full of great banter on Tour. 


I remember a particular occasion on the 1971 Tour when myself and another Lion had been out late in Timaru – Willie had not been with us.

I was rooming with the great man at the time and was trying to sneak back into the room without disturbing him.

No sooner had I entered than the light clicked on and there was Willie in his undergarments and his pipe in hand.

All he said was: ‘Where’s that music box you bought in Hong Kong?’ I was non-plussed – it took me a while to work out what he wanted.

5-time tourist. 1974 captain. Record 17 Lions Tests. Happy birthday to the leader of the pride Willie John McBride!

— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) June 6, 2016

But I had bought a music box in Hong Kong and at 3am in the morning Willie was standing there demanding that I put on an Irish jig – proper dancing music.

And then we danced round the room like mad men – as abruptly as we had we started, we then stopped and went straight to bed.

That was Willie in a nutshell – always ready to have some fun at the drop of a hat in his own unique way.

Those little things always happened around Willie – he was always held in the utmost respect and the highest regards – you don’t go on five Lions Tours otherwise.

That is just an incredible achievement – I went in '71 and '74 and retired from the Lions after that – I could have gone on a few more but there was no way I could have managed it with a job, a life and everything going on at home.

But that just shows you how important it was to Willie – and for him to be part of the first team to win in New Zealand and the first to go unbeaten in South Africa just cemented his legacy.
John Dawes was superb in 1971 with Willie as pack leader but I would have to give Willie in 1974 in South Africa the title of the best captain I ever played under.

His manner and his composure were first rate, no situation was ever too troubling – if there was a problem Willie would solve it – in a calm and easy manner.

That was just the type of man he was.

Fergus Slattery, on the charge on the 1971 Tour, toured with McBride in 1971 and 1974
Fergus Slattery was in conversation with Charlie Talbot-Smith

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