David Barnes, in his book “The Accies”, tells a wonderful story on the final page. It’s about Richard Escot, chief rugby writer of L’Equipe, who, every two years when France travel to play Scotland at Murrayfield…
…makes a pilgrimage down to Raeburn Place and stands at the wall next to Inverleith Pond to look across the park. I once asked him why he does this, and he said that he tries to imagine what it must have been like at that first international between Scotland and England in 1871, and imagine too all the great players who have graced this ground since 1858; and then he said: “This is where the soul of Scottish rugby is kept.”
And yet, that very soul is in danger.
Plans will shortly be submitted to redevelop the ground and include a 2,500 seater stand, a rugby museum, function suites and a retail development that will provide the club with the sustainable income which any club that owns its own ground sorely needs.
Raeburn Place, as a result of its place in the history of Scottish rugby, transcends club rivalry. We may not all be fans of the Accies, far from it…, but there’s a little bit of Raeburn Place in all who value our game. The story of Richard Escot shows that this rugby ground transcends national borders as well.
But for all the talk of history and prestige, this really is a story firmly grounded in the present with big plans for the future.
What would Richard Escot see as he walked along beside the pond now?
He’d see activity, that’s for sure. He’d see one of the biggest clubs in Scotland, one that regularly fields four senior teams, a thriving mini section and one of the biggest and most inclusive community rugby programmes in the country. And yet, such a thriving hub of community sport is run, somehow, from a temporary portakabin costing £100,000 a year, an unsustainable outlay currently being met by several members. The former clubhouse, once a hub of activity in Stockbridge, lies in an ugly mound of rubble, now grown over with grass, the result of a failed partnership with Festival Inns who had agreed to finance the redevelopment in conjunction with the Raeburn House Hotel only to go bust shortly after demolishing the clubhouse, killing the development which would have secured Raeburn Place’s future.
Scottish rugby needs all the help it can get to just hang on at the top table of international rugby. Successful players at the top table right now relies on the thriving youth programmes of fifteen years ago. We need a club game that’s as close to the professional game in quality and facilities as it possibly can be. For all that to happen, we need first-class facilities that draw people in to the game and we need our clubs on a secure financial footing. Money worries are not confined to the professional game. The more first-class facilities there are in Prem 1, the better for all. Club rivalry doesn’t even enter the equation. To that end, all clubs should be supporting the Accies plans to redevelop Raeburn Place in the face of local “NIMBY” opposition.
It’s time for all in the rugby community, from Langholm to Lerwick and everywhere in between, to stand up and show their support for the history and future of one of our own landmarks, for when it comes to the wider Scottish game, we really are all in this together.
Sign the Online Petition
(All images courtesy of Michael Laird Architects)