Iconic rugby teddy to lead tributes to Oliver

The British and Irish Lions mascot from the triumphant 1974 tour of South Africa is undoubtedly one of the most famous teddy-bears around.

British and Irish Lions captain Willie John McBride and the famous mascot, both of whom will be at the Oliver Turkington Memorial dinner in September.

He will be making a rare visit to Northern Ireland this September in order to lead the tributes to Moira man Oliver Turkington.

The lion famously held aloft by British and Irish Lions rugby skipper Willie John McBride will accompany the skipper to Coleraine on Saturday 13 September, when McBride will be the principal speaker at the Oliver Turkington Memorial Dinner.

The special charity event is being held to mark 25 years since Coleraine Inst First XV toured Japan and to remember Oliver, from Moira and a boarder at the school, who sadly died in 2007 after a long battle with cancer. Playing at blindside flanker, he was widely regarded as the stand-out player on the trip.

Oliver Turkington.

Proceeds from the event, which will be compered by comedy duo Grimes and McKee, will be split equally between Cancer Research UK and the school rugby club.

Paul McBride, captain of the 1989 Coleraine Inst squad in the Far East and son of the Lions legend, said his father was only too willing to bring the mascot along when asked.

“My dad knew Oliver well and is keen to do all he can to make the evening the biggest possible success,” he said.

“It has been interesting to watch him and the mascot age together over the past 40 years and I suspect it will be a topic of discussion amongst the guests to decide which of them now looks in better shape.

“I don’t think the mascot has ever been to Coleraine so I’m sure it will be doubly excited about the trip.”

Willie John McBride added: “There was a duty boy appointed every day on tour – every player taking in turn - with duties including looking after the mascot.

“We never lost the mascot once in the three and a half months we were in South Africa which, looking back, was quite an achievement itself.”

Barry White, who is co-organising the dinner with fellow Japan tour team-mate and current Coleraine Inst First XV coach Richard Beggs, is thrilled at confirmation of the mascot’s attendance.

“Those images of Willie John McBride leading his team of ‘Invincibles’ onto the field in South Africa with the lion held high above his head are amongst the most iconic in all of sport,” Barry said.

“Every member of the ‘74 squad was given a replica after the tour was over as a keep sake. But the original mascot which travelled with the players is the one which Willie John will be bringing with him, and I’m sure there will be no shortage of guests wanting to have their photo taken with it and its illustrious owner.

“It adds another novel element to what will be an outstanding evening of fun, camaraderie and, of course, happy memories of Oliver. It looks like being a sell-out so I would encourage anyone who wants to come to buy their tickets as soon as they can.”

Tickets for the Oliver Turkington Memorial Dinner, priced at £45 each, are now available by calling Diane Armstrong on 028 7034 4331 or emailing [email protected]