How do you solve a problem like Murray-a (field)?

“I’ve watched enough games involving their sides, to wonder what they actually bring to the event, because Murrayfield is like a morgue. Edinburgh and Glasgow have achieved very little over the years, and if there was any move to set up a British league in the future I don’t think that anyone would be rushing to sign up the Scottish sides.” Jonathan Davies, quoted in the Sunday Times

Okay, so he has a point – the Scottish pro sides have woefully under-performed in comparison to their Celtic brethren in recent years. Although setting up a league without the Scots would restrict his ability to mispronounce Malcolm Changleng’s name at every opportunity.

Name-calling and the non-sequitur of his opening sentence aside, the Scottish pro teams remain occasionally competitive (Glasgow beating Cardiff, Edinburgh’s away win at Ulster this weekend), and hold mid table positions in the Magners League without ever really challenging for honours. Couple that with the potential of their respective set-ups and various blends of youth and experience (Lineen with his southern hemisphere muscle, Robinson with Edinburgh’s at times fearless vitality) and it seems clear that the thing that would really help is a decent crowd to watch it all, the famed 16th man that the likes of Munster, Ulster or Llanelli can bring off the bench to help push their side over the line.

Consider Simon Taylor’s decision to move to Stade Francais into a back row that already has Remy Martin, Sergio Parisse and Mauro Bergamasco. Only now getting a game due to injuries to the others, Taylor still chose this over staying at Murrayfield, surrounded by political infighting and poor crowds. You feel the fact that Stade can sell nearly 80,000 tickets for a league game against Toulouse while Edinburgh struggle to get 4,000 for a similar fixture, at home to the Frenchmen in the Heineken Cup, may have had something to do with it. (Although this was a pretty good crowd for Edinburgh, you wonder what would happen if 80,000 people actually tried to turn up at Murrayfield for an Edinburgh match. They’d probably turn them away).

I don’t think getting rid of Edinburgh and Glasgow is the answer to getting well-supported teams. I feel it would create one or two powerful “super” clubs (ala the Old Firm) from the Premier League who the rest of Edinburgh or the Borders (and to a lesser extent Glasgow) would more than likely refuse to get behind, splitting along parochial lines, which was a problem highlighted in the demise of the Borders. Surely city based teams with no fixed club-based allegiance are the only way forward in Scotland, but they should work with the Premier League clubs, sharing players, coaches etc and Andy Robinson certainly seems to be trying to take steps to build such bridges where the SRU have tried and failed. Perhaps his credentials at club level with Bath give him credibility the SRU cannot muster.

Variously – and only in relation to club games it seems, as the atmosphere is fine on international days – Murrayfield is described as a tomb, a mausoleum, a coffin. The SRU somewhat wistfully try to convince us it’s a castle. But never a cauldron, like the Stade Geoffrey Guichard in St Etienne that managed such a ferocious atmosphere with only 30,000 people – a stadium incidentally designed like an English football ground. But Glasgow play at a smaller football ground, and they suffer from similar problems so it can’t just be that the stadium is crap. Indeed the problem may be that Murrayfield is far from crap – it boasts world-class facilities, already paid for by the SRU. Why pay out more money (that they don’t have) to move permanently?

Okay then, how about a temporary move?

It seems if Munster and the Crusaders can remain highly successful whilst still farming out the odd home game to Cork or Nelson (the Crusaders have even touted hosting games in Melbourne in the past) then surely Edinburgh or Glasgow could spread the game in their own respective catchment areas to try and build a fan-base, and perhaps prove to the SRU that there is support for the game in other areas. It worked for internationals held in Aberdeen and Perth, would it work for club games? There has been a lot in the press this weekend regarding Scotland’s poor attendances, with various solutions offered. Netherdale has been touted by Allan Massie as somewhere with the facilities to host an Edinburgh game that is closer to Edinburgh than Cork is to Limerick. And the people of the Borders might even turn up en masse just to spite the SRU for closing down their own poorly supported pro team, the Reivers.

I live in the North of Scotland, so a trip to Edinburgh every weekend is tricky for a man without a car or a bottomless wallet, but I go to matches when I am in Edinburgh, I went to France and watch as much as I can on TV. I am a Scotland rugby supporter, but feel powerless in this instance other than badgering my Edinburgh-based friends to go along. So I’ll watch the STV show on a Sunday, I’ll keep on posting and I’ll keep on saving up to go to New Zealand in 2011. But if you get the chance to go along and watch, why don’t you?

Apologies for the appalling pun in the title. I was going to try and shoehorn Brian Moore in to make it Moore-ia, so you should think yourself lucky.

UPDATE: Just noticed this on the Edinburgh website – I wonder if Robinson has been on at them, or if this is part of a new strategy:

“Nevertheless it proved to be a productive weekend for everyone involved in rugby in the Scottish capital and, we will regularly promote the local club games involving our players as we strive to strengthen the bond between Edinburgh Rugby Club and the rugby clubs of Edinburgh.”

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3 comments on “How do you solve a problem like Murray-a (field)?

  1. Al on

    Just a quick comment on the lack of crowds at Murrayfield at Edinburgh games.

    I used to live a 5 minute walk from the stadium and I’m now about 10 minutes. I’ve been to one(!) Gunners game. Why?

    2 main reasons:

    (1) Prices. The price of a season ticket is very competitive. The price of a single game ticket, considering the quality on show, is shocking. I would go a lot more if I wasn’t being asked to shell out a bloody fortune to go to a single game.

    (2) In Edinburgh’s case poor management. Not on the playing side but with regards to the running of the club. I seriously thought about getting a season ticket for the Gunners this year, especially when they ‘signed’ Larkham. Cue much interest in local and national press. They then go and blow this by throwing the toys out of the pram. Edinburgh is a mess and I’m not inclined to give my money to the club whilst it is still a mess.

    A lack of professionalism is killing the Gunners. Poorly advertised locally and not sure how they link into schools but surely free tickets for all school kids would boost attendance, sales of merchandise and drive parents to go.

    Anyway, just quick thoughts. Nice article B.


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