Calcutta Cup: All to play for as Six Nations rugby brings welcome boost for beleaguered hospitality sector

Glasses have been polished, tables laid and pillows plumped across Edinburgh in preparation for what is expected to be one of the biggest weekends of the past two years for the beleaguered hospitality industry – and for Scotland’s national rugby team.

By Ilona Amos
Saturday, 5th February 2022, 4:55 am

Undulating masses of supporters making their way through the streets of the capital’s West End on their way to and from the Murrayfield home stadium is an almost-forgotten spectacle.

But all that will change today as the 2022 Six Nations kicks off, with fans welcomed back to the championship in full force for the first time since the outbreak of Covid-19.

Tickets for the match are sold out, with a capacity crowd of 67,000 due in the stands for Scotland’s opening match against England this afternoon.

Craig Ford, general manager of the Roseburn Bar, has been serving rugby supporters for the past 25 years but is expecting a "euphoric" atmosphere this weekend after two years of coronavirus restrictions. Picture: John Devlin

Last year's tournament was played out in empty stadiums, with more away wins overall as the concept of home advantage became redundant without supporters.

Now there are high hopes for both the team, who have been tipped to do well, and for local businesses.

Scotland achieved notable victories over England at Twickenham and France in Paris in 2021, but they lost at home against both Wales and Ireland.

It will be the home side’s first Calcutta Cup game with fans present since February 2020.

Recently launched Dine Murrayfield, which opened up during the Covid-19 pandemic, is fully booked this weekend as rugby supporters bring a sense of normality back to Edinburgh's hospitality sector. Picture: John Devlin

Read More

Read More
Six Nations 2022: Get 30% off an annual subscription with The Scotsman

Scotland scrum-half Ali Price thinks the return of fans will galvanise the team this weekend.

“The crowd at BT Murrayfield are incredible,” he said.

“Their energy is something you can’t compare.

Rachel Rafferty, bartender at the Murrayfield Bar and Kitchen, is ready for a busy weekend and the first Six Nations championship since the pub opened last summer. Picture: John Devlin

“They are definitely the 16th man for us.

“In terms of those losses last year, we will never know whether it might have been different with a crowd.

“But what we do know is that if we are playing well and we can bring the crowd into the game, it’ll help us massively because we can feed off that.

“That has an effect on the opposition too, and anything we can do now with full stadiums back will hopefully give us an advantage.

Staff at the upmarket Murrayfield Hotel have been busy getting ready for guests arriving - the 44-room hotel is fully booked for accommodation, dining and drinks this weekend as Scotland take on England for the Calcutta Cup. Picture: John Devlin

“We all missed the crowds.

“You miss the buzz you get from a full house.”

The weekend will also be a significant moment for the recovery of the hospitality industry, which has been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Roseburn Bar, just round the corner from Murrayfield stadium, is showing all the Six Nations matches live on television for those who can’t make it in person.

General manager Craig Ford and his team are expecting a full house and have been preparing all week, with the cellar full to bursting and extra staff on the rota.

He says this weekend will be a welcome return to something close to pre-Covid trade.

The BT Murrayfield stadium will host a capacity crowd of 67,000 fans for Scotland's Calcutta Cup rugby match against England on Saturday - this year's Six Nations championship will be the first to allow spectators since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out two years ago. Picture: Scottish Rugby/SNS

“It has been a very strange time,” he said.

“There has been lots of uncertainty and we haven’t seen some of our regular customers for about two years.

“The rugby matches are great fun.”

The Roseburn Bar has been serving up refreshments since it was first established in 1886.

Mr Ford has been working there for the past 25 years and is no stranger to rugby weekends, but says this one will be the biggest in two years.

“During the lockdowns the whole unknown factor was hard, with nobody sure how it would end and when we might come out of it,” he said.

“I expect the post-Covid atmosphere will be euphoric.”

The manager expects the pub will serve up more than 2,000 pints of lager over the weekend – three times the usual weekly amount, with a regular week’s takings likely to go in the till on Saturday alone.

The Murrayfield Bar and Kitchen, just along the road, was taken over by new owners during lockdown, reopening in June last year after a major refit.

A loyal base of local customers has built up and kept it going through challenging times, with rugby and football matches bringing welcome extra footfall.

Bartender Rachel Rafferty has also been stocking up and getting everything in order ahead of the big weekend.

“We have been lucky to have a good base of regular customers, many of them residents from the local area, who have been coming in for drinks and lunches,” she said.

“But rugby and football matches are a big bonus, bringing in lots of fans.

“We love it when there is rugby on, like the Autumn Series at the end of last year.

“But this will be our first ever Six Nations and with crowds back at full strength, it will be exciting.

“It will be a great day for everyone.

“We’re expecting a great atmosphere.

“I think it will give us a sense of normality to have fans back in the stadium, people back in pubs and crowds out enjoying themselves.

“It reminds you that things can be OK after Covid.”

All 44 bedrooms at the nearby Murrayfield Hotel are also full this weekend, and all tables for meals and drinks are booked out, including outdoor beer gardens and marquees.

Staff have been working flat out, cleaning, changing sheets, fluffing towels and preparing food for guests.

The Dine restaurant group has not only survived the pandemic, but has come back stronger.

Its second premises – Dine Murrayfield – opened during lockdown and two more branches are due to launch in the next few months.

Both the inaugural restaurant in Cambridge Street and the new Murrayfield site are fully booked this weekend.

Leah Renton, assistant general manager for the group, admits the past two years have been a “hard slog” for everyone, businesses and individuals alike.

“We closed during the first lockdown and then started doing home deliveries,” she said.

“That was a godsend for us.

“Not only did it keep us going, it was good for our regular customers.

“It was all really difficult, but we were really lucky and the support our clientele gave us was really fantastic.

“The return of the rugby this weekend will bring a much-needed boost for the local economy and the wider area, benefitting the whole hospitality sector – from hotels and guest houses to bars, restaurants and cafes.

“It comes at a time when we really need it most, bringing a great morale-boost for everyone.

“We really do embrace the return of fans to the stadium.

“It’s significant for the local area and really does mark a positive step for both the local community and for hospitality businesses.”

A spokesperson for Scottish Rugby said: “The return of crowds provides not only a lift for the team and enjoyment for supporters, it also helps to generate millions of pounds for the Scottish and local Edinburgh economy, especially through the hospitality sector, which has faced challenges itself throughout the pandemic.

“We can’t wait to welcome fans back to BT Murrayfield for what promises to be a fantastic opening game of the tournament.”

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We’re more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven’t already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.

Leah Renton, assistant general manager of the Dinerestaurant group, says crowds coming out for the Six Nations rugby matches will provide a much-needed boost for businesses and the local community as the pandemic eases. Picture: John Devlin