Six Nations in Scotland – a History of Murrayfield
It’s that time of year again, where the participating countries of Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales, France and Italy come together and compete in the famed Six Nations Rugby Tournament! Despite a poor showing by Scotland this weekend, the Six Nations Tournament is still on everyone’s lips here, and Scottish fans will follow it all the way – no matter if we win or lose!
Each nation who participates has their home stadium of course, and will host and play at least two of their five tournament matches there. Of the six participants, three nations use relatively new facilities, France’s Stade de France, Ireland’s Aviva Stadium, and the Welsh Millennium Stadium. The remaining three date back to the early 20th century; Twickenham in England, Stadio Olimpico in Italy, and Scotland’s own Murrayfield, in the West End of Edinburgh. It is of course Murrayfield that we are going to take a closer look at.
Although it is now recognised as the true heart and home of Scottish rugby, this wasn’t always the case. Before Murrayfield was built, matches were played on the cricket fields of the Edinburgh Academical Society from 1871; but both the cricketers and rugby union became increasingly frustrated by the situation as fields became badly damaged by near-constant use, scheduling was a nightmare – especially for international games, and rights of access caused complaints to fly back and forward between the governing bodies of the two sports! It was soon realised that dedicated grounds were required and the first pitch was built in Inverleith in 1897.
25 years later however, the “temporary” stands, despite being much improved since the opening, were still being used, causing concerns about safety, and the lease on the Inverleith location was about to run out. Rugby had also soared in popularity by this point, and there simply wasn’t space to build the type of stadium now needed to accommodate all the fans who wanted to attend games. During a protracted decision making process it seemed at one point that the base for Scottish rugby might have to be moved to Glasgow’s Hampden Park and share space with Queen’s Park Rangers football team, however finally a deal was worked out to purchase 19 acres of land previously used by the Edinburgh Polo Club at Murrayfield!
Fittingly enough, Scotland’s last game at Inverleith took place on Burns Night of 1925, and resulted in a Scottish victory against France – a fitting tribute to the bard! This was an important game for them in that year’s FIVE Nations Tournament (it didn’t become the Six Nations until later), as they were unbeaten so far, with their final match taking place at the newly opened Murrayfield Stadium on March 21st. That match was against England – again a very fitting start to the Murrayfield history, especially since Scotland won the thrilling match 14-11, watched by thousands of excited spectators, to win the tournament, and their first ever Grand Slam – finishing the tournament unbeaten – though it wasn’t commonly called that yet.
The new stadium proved so popular, that by 1927 expansion was already necessery with extra pitches, stands, bridges and car park being built to the west of the original site. But Murrayfield wasn’t only used for sport; when World War II broke out use of the grounds was provided to the Royal Army Service Corps, who used the space as a supplies depot. During this dark period of history international matches were cancelled and teams on the local level struggled to get by, with many amalgamating. As an effort to keep troops spirits up, two matches a year were organised as Scotland v. England Services Internationals, played on a home and away basis with the Scottish matches played back at the old Inverleith stomping grounds until Murrayfield was de-requisitioned in 1944.
After the war a series of “Victory” internationals were played between friendly nations to entertain and re-establish rugby as a popular game, followed by intensive repairs and reconstruction at Murrayfield which had been understandably neglected during the fraught war years.
As the decades since the war passed by many minor maintenance and cosmetic upgrades were undertaken and Scottish rugby grew and grew in popularity. Throughout the years the fans increased in number and passion, coming to international matches in kilts, novelty hats, waving flags and, of course, sporting a variety of Scottish rugby shirts – the game’s answer to the fabled Tartan Army of football fandom!
Due to the ever-present threat of rain and hard frosts in Scottish winters, pitch maintenance has been a big concern for the skilled workers in charge of caring for Murrayfield – an underground “electric blanket” was fitted in 1959 to protect the turf, and lasted over 30 years before being replaced by a more modern system of gas heated water pipes in 1991. One thing which was considered back in the mid-20th century, was floodlighting. However, at the time, it was deemed unnecessary for Murrayfield, though the debate led to the international rugby union giving more support to district level teams to obtain proper lighting systems to allow for play and training during winter.
But as the game continued to grow, it became abundantly clear that the stadium could no longer meet the demands of its fans. With the massive overhaul of the facilities in 1994 Murrayfield became a truly modern stadium, with proper floodlighting and seating for nearly 70, 000 spectators!
The stadium has always been used by other groups – for purposes as far from one another as can be imagined, pop concerts, religious festivals, ladies lacrosse, Highland Games (and the Clan Gatherings!) have all been held at Murrayfield at one time or another, and this multiplicity of use has ensured the stadium has a special place in the heart of many Edinburgh residents and sport fans!
One more game will be played at Murrayfield for the Six Nations 2014 Tournament, Scotland versus France, so here’s hoping we do a little better than we have so far! As usual, we love to hear your comments and thoughts so let us know below if you have a special memory of a game at Murrayfield, or perhaps if you’re looking forward to visiting the stadium in March to cheer on our boys!