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Let them roam

  • By Adam Julian on tour. 

Swathes of empty seats isn’t a problem exclusively confined to New Zealand rugby stadiums.

In the Celtic-South African combined Pro14 the size of venues and accommodating spectators has attracted significant debate.

Nowhere has this topic been more papabile than in Edinburgh. In October 2018, after 20 years of hag

Right there – at Murrayfield.

gling, a new 7,800 seated stadium at the west end of Murrayfield was finally approved. Coach Richard Cockerill acclaimed.

“This will become our own atmosphere, our own pitch, our own stadium, our own branding, all those things. We can build our own identity and move forward.”

For the past two decades Edinburgh have chopped and changed between Meadowbank, Myreside and Murrayfield.

Murrayfield is the base at present. At full capacity it holds 67,144 fans. In 2018 the average attendance for Pro14 fixtures was 8,549. Often Edinburgh struggles to attract even that figure, despite being a reasonable team.

A shrill wind echoes violently in my ears as I approach one of the great rugby cathedrals for the first time. It’s freezing, barren and an entire circuit of the arena reveals little sign of life.

The ticket purchased doesn’t specifically denote a seat number. This is going to be a real fizzer.

Former commentator Bill McLaren is a hero to any serious rugby pundit. There is a small stature of Bill at Murrayfield, but where is it? If I choose to cast a hasty retreat at the very least I want my picture with Bill.

I make a polite inquiry to an elderly staffer. Rory can’t stop talking. He’s been working at Murrayfield since 1992. He cried when Doddie Weir delivered the match ball ahead of the All Blacks test in 2017. The local legend is a sufferer of motor neurone disease.

The Rolling Stones sound better at Murrayfield than they do at Hampton insists Rory. The unique roof design traps the noise within rather than filtering it outward towards the posh, whinging neighbours. These residents used to be more belligerent about racquet than those at Western Springs.

What about Bill?

Rory reminisces on the occasions he met Bill and then explains Bill is in the reception area on the opposite side to where we are chatting. The reception is closed to the general public tonight, but you can see Bill through the window.

Swell. (In a Harry Callahan voice).

The reception is barracked by a monster of a man who’d give William Wallace a fight for his money. There is no chance this large foreigner will open the doors to a lost tourist, especially in the hostile Brexit climate. In New Zealand security tip water out that is beyond a litre tall. God knows what this guy is capable off.

Adam with Bill McClaren.

It took less than a minute and the photo was secured.

Now to the issue of seating.

“Where do I sit sir?”

“Just walk through the tunnel on the left sir.”

“Ah, that’s the field.”

As long as you don’t hurdle the advertising boards, on quiet days at Murrayfield your free to roam.

The security guards are your friends. Another bloke, a tenacious hooker in his youth, was a representative in the British swim team. He rues turning down selection for the England Under-21’s to stay in the water.

“I could have played the World Cup,” he sighs.

The hits can be heard while grownups slip beer and kids kick balls and laugh.

The food stalls were on the field. At Murrayfield the stands are a lot closer to the field to so even in the back of the stand it’s a better view and Murrayfield is Murrayfield. Westpac is the worst run arena in the world!

It’s so simple.

If you can’t fill the seats at least stop treating the diehards like complete idiots.

The identity of the arena is just as important as the identity of the team.

For a Lions match the fan experience at the Westpac Stadium is about as personable as Putin. Even the tragics struggle to justify going to the lifeless ‘Cake Tin.’

In New Zealand any number of larger stadiums could emulate the Edinburgh example. There’s the space, why not the will and some common sense?

If it’s good enough for Murrayfield, then it’s good enough for anywhere.

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