Carlton’s Olympian All-rounder

Visitors to Grange Loan may notice the picture of a particularly distinguished looking cricketer, resplendent in striped blazer, hanging on the wall of the pavilion. The gentleman in question is probably the major figure in the history of Carlton Cricket Club – Dr N.L. Stevenson.

By any standards, Stevenson was a remarkable character. He played for Carlton from 1892 to 1948, 34 of these years as captain or vice captain, and excelled at a range of sports, including rugby (for which he trialled for Scotland), athletics and hockey. It was at this latter sport that he represented his country at the London Olympics of 1908 …

As an Edinburgh lad born and bred it would be reasonable to assume that Dr Stevenson’s Olympic adventure would have been as part of the Great Britain team. However, that wasn’t the case. It’s a strange and relatively unknown fact that Norman Lang Stevenson went to the Olympics as a member of the Scotland team.

The 1908 Olympiad was the fourth such event and had been moved to London after the originally planned hosts, Rome, had to pull out due to financial difficulties caused by the need to divert funds to aid Naples following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius  in 1906. The Games in 1908 were a far cry from the commercial monstrosity we’re familiar with today. 22 nations competed in 22 sports, spread over a period of 187 days. The hockey event was the last event of all, held in late October.

Due to internal politics, the four home countries competed as separate teams at hockey – the first and only time this would happen in any sport in the Olympics. There was no trial held to select the Scottish squad; instead they were selected from a small band of clubs in Edinburgh and Glasgow. This rather relaxed approach to selection was amplified when Stevenson made a late addition to the squad as the Scots travelled south the day before their first match. As the train pulled into Hawick station, Stevenson spotted a rugby acquaintance, Ivan Laing, on the platform. Stevenson asked Laing what he was up to; when Laing indicated that he hadn’t anything special planned he was promptly invited to join the squad. This invitation was extended notwithstanding the fact that Laing had, reputedly, only ever played mixed men’s/women’s hockey.

The first game for “the Scotch” (as they were described in the official report of the Fourth Olympiad) was actually the tournament quarter final, when they defeated Germany by 4 goals to nil. There were three players from the Carlton club in the Scotland line-up for this match, Dr Stevenson being joined by H. Fraser and Captain Foulkes.  If Stevenson’s last minute ‘selection’ of Laing on the platform of Hawick railway station seems the stuff of comic books, it does appear to have been yet another example of Stevenson’s sporting golden touch. The official report of the contest casually notes that: “At the beginning of the game Scotland attacked and, from a pass by Stevenson, Laing quickly scored the first goal”. Far from being a flash in the pan Laing was prominent in a number of attacks and also had an assist as Scotland ran out winners by four goals to nil.

There was to be no further success for the Scots as they were sent homeward to think again by England, who won the semi-final encounter by six goals to one. However, Carlton’s foremost all-rounder had already written another extraordinary chapter in a remarkable personal sporting history.

Dr Stevenson, Honorary Life President, with the 1964 Carlton side

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