Image courtesy of Scottish Rugby/SNS Group
EDINBURGH RUGBY managing director Jonny Petrie (JP) and George Watson’s College principal Melvyn Roffe (MR) met the press on Tuesday afternoon to unveil their vision for Edinburgh’s move from Murrayfield to nearby Myreside for the final six matches of next season. Both parties hope that this can be the start of a longer term relationship.
Here is what they had to say about this significant step for the capital outfit in their on-going quest to become a club with a real sense of identity and properly engaged with the city in which it is based.
- “IT IS NOT A FAIT ACCOMPLI” … BUT IT IS HAPPENING!
JP: “This is just the beginning of things. We are making the move in January to give ourselves the time to ensure we get this right. We now have the time and desire to enter into consultation, which will allow us to fully address all the question people have ahead of going there for our first match.”
“We speak to supporters on a regular basis. Every match night I am in the clubhouse in the Thistle Suite at Murrayfield and we talk about what has happened on the pitch and also about the stadium. We have consulted with supporters through surveys in the past, so we understand the general sentiment about the venue side of things.”
“We are already getting in the diary over the course of the next couple of weeks some open sessions for our season ticket holders and our wider supporter base, to have some genuine input into the project. This is not being presented to supporters as a fait accompli – I want them to feel involved and part of what we are trying to do.”
MR: “Our neighbours are being informed as we speak [Tuesday lunchtime].We will have a public engagement meeting with them in June. If I know anything about the people who live near Watsons – many of whom are my neighbours as well as parents of the school – they will be very excited by this. They will clearly have questions and we need to work with them to make sure these questions can be answered.”
“We’re confident that the planners [city planning department] won’t have an issue with the six fixtures through next season, and obviously we will need to go through the full planning processes for anything further that takes place on the site.
“One of the reasons why we are taking this two stage approach is that it means that we can be clear and public about what the intention is while not making it a fait accompli. We can engage with the neighbours, we can engage with the planners, and we have six months to do that before the first match takes place.
“There will be impacts – traffic in the area is one of those issues – but we think there are imaginative and creative solutions to that, working in association with Edinburgh Rugby and the city council.”
“This is a big thing for the city and we are confident that we can get the support of the city authorities provided we can make the case in the proper way.”
- IT IS A SUCK-IT-AND-SEE SORT OF ARRANGEMENT
JP: “It will see us play all six of our home matches in both the Guinness Pro12 and the EPCR Challenge Cup at Myreside from January 2017 through to the end of the season. The intention upon the success of this initial trial period is to see Edinburgh play the entirety of season 2017-18 at the venue as part of what will be a longer-term collaboration with the school.”
“Our capacity when we have gone there for previous Pro12 matches has been around the 4,000-4,500 mark. Putting up temporary stands and supplementing the existing facilities in the main stand will allow us to take that to the 5,500-6,000 mark – with the opportunity to grow that on demand.”
“The temporary stands will likely be at the ends where we know there is room to do that, and then it is about looking at what we can do to improve the terracing [opposite then main stand] as well.”
“It is a different approach to the way we have viewed Myreside before. We want to look at all the ways we can enhance the facilities to make this a venue that is fit for purpose for professional rugby matches, and creates a really good match-day experience for our supporters.”
“We are understanding and cognisant of what our average crowds are outside of the 1872 Cup, and we all believe that being at an enhanced Myreside will allow us to grow that, along with improving performances on the field.”
MR: “Both Edinburgh Rugby and the school are looking for this to be a medium to long-term arrangement which will bring benefit to both sides. We are at an exciting stage in terms of our own thoughts about the development of our campus and we were looking for a dependable, high-quality partner to work with us on those plans.
“That’s why we have given ourselves time to consult our neighbours, consult our school community and make sure that we do this right, so that the benefits are there for all our stakeholders. We are absolutely confident that we can do it really well and we can bring value to our club and value to our school.”
- THE FACT THAT MYRESIDE IS OWNED BY AN INDEPENDENT FEE-PAYING SCHOOL SHOULD NOT BE AN ISSUE
JP: “We all know that George Watson’s has a great heritage of rugby in the city – it is fantastic rugby playing school – but within that they operate on a wider community basis. And Edinburgh Rugby has a significant outreach programme which takes us much wider into the community across the emerging state schools and beyond, rather than just operating within that independent school network. So, I don’t subscribe to the opinion that this is pandering to that.”
MR: “It is important to us as a school that we are really making our contribution to sport in the community in the city of Edinburgh, and this is one very important – and high-profile – way we intend to do this.”
“This partnership is about making a very clear statement that we are part of the Edinburgh community and we are interested in ways in which we can increase our beneficial impact and not be cloistered behind a closed door. That’s never been Watsons, and it is certainly not Watson’s as we move forward.”
- THE PLAYING SURFACE IS FINE … FOR THE TIME BEING
JP: “In the initial period we will be playing on a grass pitch that will be looked after in collaboration between Edinburgh Rugby and the school, so that we get the best of that surface during the months we are there.
MR: “We’re confident that the current pitch, which is used to fairly extensive use, can be made more than resilient enough for next season, with the help of Edinburgh Rugby. We have been looking at artificial playing surfaces so that does play into this partnership arrangement – but nothing is written in stone yet.”
- THE OFF-FIELD FACILITIES WILL BE UP TO SCRATCH
JP: “There are terms of the participation agreement with Pro12 Rugby that we need to fulfil and in previous years we’ve been very lucky to play at an international class stadium with an international class pitch, but it is right that we move from here to give ourselves the space to grow and move forward.
“We will be working very closely with the school to make sure that we fulfil the terms of that participation agreement with Pro12 Rugby and also make sure that we create a good experience for supporters, players and for all the stakeholders.”
“We need to build a crowd there and being in a venue which creates an atmosphere and has good facilities for supporters will help us do that – combined with performances on the pitch.”
“In terms of the facilities for hospitality and so on, we are working with the school just now on what that operational plan will look like – and the school has made its entire campus and resource available to us to be able to deliver on the things we need on match night and that will form part of the operational plan.”
MR: “We’re not as plush as Murrayfield, but we may be the second best rugby venue in Edinburgh. It’s about looking at how we turn a very good facility at the moment into a truly outstanding facility – for school use, for Edinburgh rugby use, for Watsonians use, and for broader community use as well. That’s the broader prize at the end of this, making sure we have an outstanding facility for all the people involved.”
“The changing room facilities have been upgraded in recent years and they are more than adequate for the job. There are other opportunities for development in the stand which we will be looking for as we go forward.”
- MYRESIDE WILL BE THE MATCH DAY VENUE BUT EVERYTHING ELSE STAYS WHERE IT IS
JP: “The operation of Edinburgh Rugby as a business and as a training base will stay here [at Murrayfield]. During the week we will likely do our captain’s run at Myreside, and we might do the odd session when our kickers go up to Myreside, but our training base on a day-to-day basis will stay here for now. We’re very fortunate with the facility we have at BT Murrayfield for training.
“The school does have longer term development plans and we will continue to work in collaboration with that, but for the foreseeable future, our training base will stay here [at Murrayfield].”
- THE INTER-CITY DERBY WILL CONTINUE TO BE PLAYED AT MURRAYFIELD
JP: “Given the fact that we had close on 24,000 people there for that [match] this year and we see the potential for that to continue to grow, we would always look to bring the 1872 Scottish Cup back to BT Murrayfield.”
- THIS WILL NOT LEAVE GEORGE WATSON’S OUT OF POCKET
MB: “In the six match arrangement we are looking to cover our costs. Beyond that we are looking at a business model which is mutually beneficial. We are not putting free income in.
JP: “There isn’t an initial capital investment in this project from Edinburgh Rugby. The temporary stands are, as they state, temporary facilities, and that becomes part of the on-going operating cost of the business. The commercial model we have built behind this stacks up with that cost built in
- MYRESIDE IS THE BEST OPTION AVAILABLE
JP: “We’ve explored our options across the city over a period of time. We’ve got our challenges here as there are with the other venues, but during that period of diligence the opportunity to partner with George Watsons presented itself as having great potential, and that rose to be the best opportunity for us to move forward.”