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Visit to BT Murrayfield: Edinburgh meeting of 25 October 2018.

Scottish Region Committee Member Graham Atkins (font) with our host, Alex Thomson of the Scottish Rugby Union.d

Scottish Region Committee Member Graham Atkins (font) with our host, Alex Thomson of the Scottish Rugby Union.

© John Yellowlees, 2018

Alex Thomson of the Scottish Rugby Union talked on the hoof as he gave us a fascinating look behind the scenes at Scotland's home of rugby, Scotland's largest stadium and the fifth-largest in the UK.

Unlike in England, everything related to national rugby north of the border belongs to the Murrayfield-based Scottish Rugby Union, including the professional teams Edinburgh Rugby and Glasgow Wanderers.

The national women's team plays at the Scotstoun ground in Glasgow because its capacity is more in keeping with the typical turnout. Five years ago it had no cap, but it can now count eight professionals in its ranks. On 27 November the team meets Canada there.

Rugby has been played at Murrayfield since 1925, and the stadium was rebuilt in 1994. When it hosts other activities, the layout has to be reconfigured - football matches cannot be hosted without segregation of the fans, and portaloos have to be placed outside the ground.

The rugby season comprises the autumn tests and in the early months of the year the Six Nations. When the season is over, the pitch is killed and boards put down for any summer events including this year The Rolling Stones.

Had the Scottish Football Association carried through a recent proposal to relocate from Hampden, SRU would have had two-and-a-half years to plan for their arrival. Instead Murrayfield has found itself hosting the Betfred Cup semifinal between Celtic and Hearts, with just two and a half weeks to plan! However Murrayfield did host without trouble Hearts home games at the start of last season while Tynecastle refurbishment was being completed, and the worst crowd behaviour has been associated with the Edinburgh v. St Andrews varsity match, with sometimes over one hundred seats ripped out.

Rugby may be an old game, but SRU staff are predominantly young, with more women than men. The commercial department is the biggest earner, from sponsors such as BT, Edenmill and Netflix, for SRU are not-for-profit and any takings go back into the game. The women's team is now sponsored by SP Energy Networks.

The press gallery commemorates Bill McLaren, the "voice of rugby" from 1953 to 2002. A teacher proud of his  Borders roots, Bill was famous for his quips such as that "a day out of Hawick is a day wasted", and his son-in-law is now a commentator. The beer fridges have to be changed according to who is the sponsor.

In the changing room the seat belongs to the position. No-one is bigger than the team, and the matchday rituals encourage the team spirit. Nearby a roll of honour lists the 1097 men who have so far played for Scotland. An icebath cools muscles after the game.

A team of one hundred volunteers the "blue crew" help look after spectators on match days. Silver Saturday is when the Edinburgh and Glasgow teams play each other. A new smaller stadium is proposed for Edinburgh Rugby on the back pitches at Murrayfield.

A measure of rugby's ever-increasing popularity is that when Scotland last played Fiji in 2009, the crowd numbered 22000 : but for their return this autumn the game is already a sell-out with all 67000 seats gone. Preparations for the autumn tests and for the Six Nations start six months in advance, so that even while the national team is playing abroad over the summer the office is busy selling tickets.

The Scottish Region thanks Graham Atkins for organising the visit.

Report and photograph by John Yellowlees.


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