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Friday, 14 November 2014

Absent friend

Sadly, the Paisley RFC family has lost another member. Dan Witchell left us far too soon. It's fair to say we're all devastated by his loss. It's always hard to recover from news such as we've just had. I'm sure we will, but right now it seems too hard. We loved Dan. I don't mean liked, we loved him. He was our brother. His life, though, is well worth celebration.

A few years ago, after having coached junior rugby for about 15 years, I took a step back and, for a while at least, settled for being a Paisley RFC fan rather than being actively involved in the running of the club (that didn't work out for me, but bear with me. About this time, a bit of an oddity appeared on my horizon. The first time I saw Dan Witchell, the new Welsh prop at the club, I thought, "He looks a bit small for a prop." He was too, and not small as in short (he was) but small as in, well, typically props looked like me. OK, fat. Dan was slightly built. Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine him being useful in the front row. Well, I was wrong. The little bugger was strong as an ox. The first time I saw him play, he revelled all afternoon in absolutely pumping his opposite number, an ox in the real sense. Dan one, me nil. What a player. He tackled himself to a standstill. He nipped around the field like a scrum half, exhibiting a certain joie de vivre. He was just a great wee rugby player.

Of course, as I got to know him better, I realised his scrummaging ability was the tip of the iceberg. He was an accomplished artist, and not in the conventional sense. His work was, is thought provoking and was often coupled with verse. I'm proud to say I own a couple of Witchells. Dan worked mainly in ink and just about everyone at the club has a favourite. His legacy to us is the huge mural he painted by our clubhouse door, a stylised version of the club shield. It's beautiful.

Of course, Dan, like most of us, had personal demons, and he battled them most of his life. He didn't win every time, but he always bounced back. He was a man of faith, and while I'm not, I strongly believe that was part of what kept him going. Above all, he was a decent man. He would help anyone in any way he could. He had a streak of kindness a mile long. He was no saint. I know he wasn't proud of everything he did, but the good in him seems to dwarf any shortcomings.

What I wish for now, and what I'm sure will happen, is that those who loved Dan will not mourn, but will celebrate his life. We'll tell stories about him. We'll recall the funny side of him. We'll probably get drunk singing his name. But above all we'll think this of him; we didn't know him long enough, but just imagine if we'd never known him at all. We miss you Dan, but we won't forget you.