The need for Edinburgh to find a more suitably sized home has been a larger than average elephant in a particularly small room for some time now but, if anything, their most recent match made the case even stronger.
Last Saturday’s final Guinness Pro12 game against Cardiff attracted a decent crowd by Edinburgh’s normal standards, nearer 5,000 than 3,000, but, as a dire second half unfolded and a 17-7 lead turned into a 21-17 defeat, the atmosphere got eerier by the minute. All too often Edinburgh’s matches at the vast BT Murrayfield descend into a vicious cycle which sees the play on the pitch unable to get the crowd going and the lack of atmosphere clearly hampering the home players. Visiting teams must often view it as essentially a neutral venue and the difference with what Glasgow have created at Scotstoun is stark. Yesterday’s welcome announcement that the club will play the final six matches of next season at Myreside with a view to a more permanent move, threw up many questions about how the facility takes shape as a Pro12-ready venue, but the reason for leaving BT Murrayfield is a pretty simple one.
Asked if the lack of atmosphere at the national stadium was the prime motivator for the move, Edinburgh managing director Jonny Petrie replied: “Absolutely. That’s why we’re sitting here today.”
Petrie, pictured right, the 45-times capped former Scotland flanker, took on the MD role last summer and, alongside dealing with a large number of soon-to-expire contracts in his playing squad, the search for a new home has been a key task.
“We’ve been out exploring our options across the city over a period of time,” he explained. “Through that period of diligence, Myreside presented itself as a fantastic opportunity with great potential that rose to be the best opportunity for us.
“The club base will remain here [at BT Murrayfield]. The operation of Edinburgh Rugby as a business and a training base will be staying here.
“During the course of the week we will likely do our Captain’s Run at Myreside. We might get the odd session where the kickers practise up there as well, but our training base will stay here.”
Myreside has been home to Edinburgh before, at the turn of the millennium following a couple of European games at Easter Road in 1998-99.
The Welsh/Scottish league, which the then Edinburgh Reivers were competing in at the time, was not exactly synonymous with the word glamour, but Myreside did attract a bit of stardust in August 2000 when Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher took in a match there. The band’s manager Marcus Russell was also owner of Ebbw Vale at the time and Gallagher saw Edinburgh beat the Welsh side on the eve of an Oasis gig at Glasgow Green. Then came an unsatisfactory two-year spell at Meadowbank before the move to Murrayfield, though the home of Watsonians hosted a Pro12 match as recently as February 2015 against Ospreys when the national stadium was being prepared for the Wales international that weekend.
Petrie said that the 1872 Cup home leg, which this season attracted a record 23,642 crowd, will always be played at Murrayfield, as well as any “event games” such as European knock-outs or Pro12 semi-finals which could attract a sizeable gate.
The eight months prior to the move will give the Edinburgh/George Watson’s College partnership time to take consultations, traffic plans and make the necessary developments with temporary stands and infrastructure, including brightening the floodlights for TV. The pitch will remain as grass initially but Petrie said the installation of a 4G or hybrid surface such as the one now in place at Murrayfield could be looked at down the line.
In the past, rugby at Myreside late in the season has been curtailed by the posts coming down during the Easter holidays and athletics taking over the field but George Watson’s College principal Melvyn Roffe stressed yesterday that the school was “committed to providing for the six games” which will run into May. Mr Roffe said he was confident that parents, pupils and the community will view the development as a positive one. “Our neighbours are being informed as we speak,” he said. “We’ll be having a public engagement meeting with them in June. If I know anything about the people who live near Watson’s, many of whom are my neighbours as well as parents of the pupils, they will be very excited about this. They will clearly have questions and we need to work with them to make sure they are properly answered.
“We are confident the planners won’t have an issue with the six fixtures next season. Obviously we will need to go through the full planning process for anything further that takes place on the site.
“That’s why we are taking this two-stage approach. It means we can be clear about what the intention is without making it a fait accompli. We can engage with planners and neighbours. We’ve got eight months to do this before the first match takes place. We’re not naive about this. There will be impacts – traffic in the area is one of those issues. But we believe there are imaginative and creative solutions to that, working in association with Edinburgh Rugby and the City Council.”
Petrie was adamant that the move does not represent a retreat to a bastion of the Edinburgh rugby establishment which would impair efforts to broaden the appeal of the team and the sport in the capital.
“No I don’t subscribe to that opinion,” he said. “We all know that George Watson’s has a great heritage as a fantastic rugby-playing school. We don’t get away from that heritage in the city, which has a strong connection with the independent school network.
“But George Watson’s operate on a wider community basis and, equally, we as Edinburgh Rugby have got a significant community outreach programme which takes us much wider out into the emerging state schools.”
Edinburgh’s ninth-place finish suggests that on-field problems are just as pressing as off-field ones but Petrie said: “What we are here to talk about is us growing a club. Yes we are obviously disappointed where we’ve finished the league season but we’ve been through a process of freshening up the squad, looking to next season and beyond and improved performance on the field combined with an exciting move to Myreside is a great place for us to be as a club.”