There is a sketch from the Armando Iannucci Show which brilliantly sends up the experience of Scottish TV viewers. With the advent of digital television the differences in what viewers in Scotland are subjected to compared with those in the rest of the UK is not as stark as the 80s and 90s. However this writer still recalls being unable to enjoy the television premiere of Terminator 2: Judgement Day but cannot recall what the alternative programme was. It could well have been a failed Dougie Donnelly chat show.
The unique feeling that always accompanied the announcement “except for viewers in Scotland” returned at Murrayfield on Saturday. The pre-match entertainment and build up – once a spectacle brimming with fireworks, explosions, and flames shooting into the air – was reduced to something less entertaining than the highlights reel of Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade.
Grant Stott did a brilliant job with what little resources he was given. There was a pitch side quiz with a fan of each team which might work as entertainment on radio but not as a build up to one of the oldest sporting matches in the UK and the crowning moment on the Murrayfield calendar. After all the game only comes to Scotland every two years.
At half time we had a “kiss cam” and “flex cam” both borrowed from US sports but delivered here with all the pizzazz of a cabaret in a one star Alicante hotel. These were interspersed with footage of a pre-recorded interview with Mark Bennett and Gordon Reid which was barely audible. The SRU might as well have put up a repeat of Paul Coia’s Catchword.
The responsibility to build an atmosphere within a stadium cannot be left to the crowd alone – especially not the Murrayfield crowd, who self-generate as much atmosphere as a wet fart in a lift. The SRU overcame this in the past by delivering pre-match entertainment that went some way to warming the crowd up but this was absent on Saturday. Some may say the team’s performance is also partly to blame for the lack of an atmosphere but that is a two way street and there is no doubt teams can feed off the energy and passion of the crowd. For most of Saturday’s game “Swing Low” filled the air only to be met with a chorus of boos. If that’s the best response the Murrayfield crowd can muster then it’s no wonder the Scottish players weren’t firing on all cylinders.
There were pockets of resistance around the ground. One group near this writer gave Loch Lomond a good shot a couple of times but failed to make any impact on those around them. There is certainly a desire amongst fans to create a better atmosphere and following the game a Twitter account @murrayfieldsong was set up to try and return some fire to the Murrayfield crowd.
Plenty of column inches have been filled with the negative aspects of Saturday’s game (and atmosphere) and it’s very easy to criticise. With that in mind we’ve come up with three ways the SRU and the Murrayfield crowd can make the stadium a hostile environment where visiting teams fear to tread.
1. Pipers piping
This writer has a deep loathing of the “England Band” that follow the England Football team but they do serve a purpose in creating an atmosphere within the stadium. The stadium announcer is unable to play music or make announcements during play. However there is nothing to stop a group of fans with instruments from striking up during the match. The formation of an “unofficial” Scottish Rugby Pipe band that attends games both home and away (although some smuggling may be required) might help generate a party atmosphere even when things aren’t going our way on the pitch.
2. Bring back the razzamatazz
Although ridiculed when it was first introduced in the early 2000s the fire, explosions and canons that used to mark the start of matches at Murrayfield did help to stir the crowd up into something approaching a frenzy. It certainly beats Grant Stott carrying out a pitchside quiz with drunk fans. Half time shouldn’t be neglected either and there’s no reason why a band couldn’t be wheeled out onto the pitch to keep spirits up during the break. The likes of Runrig and the Proclaimers have graced Hampden during half time and there’s no reason why the same shouldn’t happen at Murrayfield.
The SRUs finances are supposedly in better health than the early 2000s when the standard of pre-match entertainment was much better. There’s no reason why some investment can’t be made into improving the match day experience for fans.
3. The sound of silence
Babies are soothed by the sound of white noise. Any parent who has invested in Ewan The Dream Sheep will testify to that. Generally, as human beings we find noise comforting and silence uncomfortable. Booing kickers doesn’t have the effect that fans think it has. Trying to make a kick in dead silence with 67,500 hostile eyes staring at you is terrifying. Trying to make the same kick surrounded by a wall of sound is much easier. The problem, historically, is not unique to Scotland or Murrayfield but other fans in other stadiums are now “respecting” kickers by remaining silent and it’s time Scottish rugby fans did the same.