Opinion: Silver Saturday is worth saving – here’s how

Future of national knock-out competitions under threat as Men's Cup holders Hawick question its value

14-man Lasswade put up a brave fight against Falkirk in the National League Cup Final on Saturday. Image: Peter Watt
14-man Lasswade put up a brave fight against Falkirk in the National League Cup Final on Saturday. Image: Peter Watt

JUDGED on their respective merits, it was a toss-up between Hawick’s narrow victory over Edinburgh Accies in the Men’s Cup Final and Cumnock’s comeback success against Moray in the Men’s Shield Final for match of the day at Silver Saturday, with Falkirk’s win over 14-man Lasswade coming in third. None of the three women’s games, unfortunately, were close enough to command ‘epic’ status, although they still contributed fully to a generally successful event played out in the Spring sunshine on the international pitch and in Hive Stadium of the Murrayfield campus in west Edinburgh.

Dark clouds, however, continue to haunt the national knock-out competitions with Ian Landles, President of Hawick, indicating in a radio interview pre-match that he doesn’t – as it stands – anticipate the Greens defending their title next year.

Hawick were the only senior Border club to compete in the National Cup this year, with the other sides deciding to pursue a localised solution to the well-documented challenges facing the club game in terms of player numbers, public profile and finance, by focussing instead on trying to rejuvenate the Border League.


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While this move has been widely viewed as a retrograde step by rugby supporters outside the region – and especially troublesome at a moment when club rugby really needs to step up to fill the void left in the male performance pathway by the disbandment of Super Series – the logic behind the Border clubs’ ambivalence towards the Cup is not irrational.

“We went to Dundee and we got no money because there was no crowd, and we had to pay £700 for the bus, so the Cup is a big cost in terms of finance for the Border clubs,” Landles told Borders Rugby Radio. “If there was a monetary prize at the end of it – not that we are unhappy to get a trophy – but that would be more of an incentive.

“With the restructuring next season [meaning four extra Premiership games], it looks probably likely that this may well be the last one,” he added.

Pressed on whether he thought there would be a Cup next year, Landles replied: “I doubt it, but there are those who make these decisions and it’s not me.”

While it is not always fair or helpful to hark back to a different era, it is worth remembering that when Hawick and another city side, Watsonians, competed in the first ever Scottish Cup Final back in 1996, the crowd figure was in excess of 22,000, which was more than twice the number that attended the 2015 Final when Hawick lost to Boroughmuir, while the ticket sales figure for this year – covering all seven matches – was just under 5,500.

That’s a pretty depressing trajectory, and there reaches a point where you have to either grasp the nettle and act decisively to turn things around or wave the white flag and focus instead on the things which are salvageable. The second of those options seems like an opportunity wasted at a time when a new Club Rugby Board has been created to bring energy, enthusiasm and fresh-thinking to how the community game is run and promoted.

If Silver Saturday is going to continue there are a couple of quick-fixes which would have an immediate impact.

A good start would be treating the teams involved with a bit more regard. Not only did the Men’s Cup Final kick-off at the family-unfriendly time of 7.15pm on a Saturday night, but there was no hospitality laid on for the teams afterwards – just ‘grab-and-go catering’ bags  and they had to be out the changing rooms by 10.15pm by which time all the shutters in the ‘fan’s village’ were already down. There were also no complementary tickets for the families of players. It was ‘grab-and-go’ bags for all the earlier games as well.

In the early years of the Cup, Murrayfield would host a media day before the event where reporters and photographers could fill their boots with material to promote the big day. They used to do the same for Super6/Series. But there wasn’t even a video conference offered ahead of Silver Saturday this year.

Meanwhile, Scottish Rugby’s weekly media schedule had a note at the top advising those wishing to attend to apply for accreditation, but the event itself was not listed alongside the various Super Series, pro team and Scotland Women matches in the actual timetable. Budgets are tight, sports desks are stretched, a bit of spoon-feeding goes a long way – it is little wonder that two national broadsheets which generally provide comprehensive coverage of Scottish rugby didn’t print a word last week about what is supposed to be the biggest day in the grassroots calendar. How can we expect people to get involved if they don’t know it is happening?

In fairness to the SRU, this does appear to be a genuine oversight following a recent reshuffle of the communications department – although the same thing happened last year. Pumping out some preview material on their own channels is all well and good, but the governing body’s horizons need to stretch beyond that.

Finding a sponsor would make a big difference, providing a cash injection which could be used to help incentivise more clubs to really buy into the Cup/Bowl/Shield/Plate (recent years have been blighted by team’s forfeiting ties), while also creating the commercial imperative to boost the competition’s profile.

Moving matches out of the almost completely empty international bowl to create more atmosphere in Hive Stadium is also worth considering, although that would create a logistical headache if we are sticking to the seven games on one site in the same day format, and club players may well feel short-changed at being deprived their chance to grace the hallowed turf.

 

 

The Club Rugby Board should claim the date for their showcase event a year in advance – do it now – like an astronaut sticking a flag in the moon’s surface.

Not only will that reduce the potential for clashes with family holidays, weddings and other real-world events, it would allow clubs and the governing body to start promoting the occasion as an opportunity for all of clubland to come together and celebrate this currently struggling but still vitally important tier of the game, with club members being encouraged to start buying tickets for an all day-festival long before they know if their own team is going to be involved.

The matches should be a key component of the day but not the sole focal point. Instead, the Murrayfield campus should be brought alive with attractions such as mini/midi/touch tournaments on the back pitches, coaching clinics, bands, silent disco … Why not be creative?

Surely the likes of Darcy Graham (Hawick), Harry Paterson (Edinburgh Accies), Jade Konkel (Hillhead Jordanhill) and Francesca McGhie (Watsonians) could be persuaded to come along to sign a few autographs and generally add some stardust to the occasion?

Back in 2016, Heriot’s head coach Phil Smith caused a surprising stushie by suggesting at one of these long-forgotten pre-Finals Day media conferences that tickets for that weekend’s event should be free – which seemed to spook the bean-counters. But would it really be such a big blow to finances if it meant significantly more people in the campus, engaging in the game, and potentially spending money on food, drink, merchandise and so on? This year an adult ticket cost £10 if bought prior to the day and £15 on the day, while it was  £5/£10 for over 65s and £5 for U18s. The key to free tickets would be offering prize money (from sponsorship revenue) to offset the loss of ticket commission for clubs.

The PA system at Murrayfield was utilised on Saturday to encourage people to sign-up for the SRU’s Community Recognition & National Awards night on 24th May [£48.33 per head excluding VAT] and the Community Game Conference the following day. Two very worthy enterprises which absolutely should be promoted – but, realistically, how many 14-year-old kids are going to nag their parents to go to that? Turning Silver Saturday into a proper rugby festival could be a game-changer.

Club rugby is in desperate need of more vibrancy, more buzz, more positive energy, and more publicity. Silver Saturday can be at the forefront of that push.


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About David Barnes 3991 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

17 Comments

  1. Change is needed but above all active SRU participation and organisation a must. Agree male final day on a different date from the ladies.
    A joke if eg Hawick are £700 out of pocket after one cup game away at Dundee. Should be prize money via a sponsor.
    Sadly indicative of SRU attitude to the grassroots game.

    • Hawick’s 230 mile round trip to Dundee is well eclipsed by Caithness Kraken’s 512 mile jaunt to St Andrews for the semi followed by 526 miles for the trip to Murrayfield!
      The win was worth it ….

  2. Having had the privilege of playing for, 2007, and now supporting Falkirk RFC on Silver Saturday I’d make the following observations, and bearing in mind I’ve plenty previous on criticising the SRU. I think
    1/ it’s outstanding that the SRU open our home to the Clubs. It must be a huge logistical piece of work to bring it all together.
    2/ its playing on the BIG pitch that’s the draw for Club players, for most a once in a lifetime experience. The Hive just doesn’t have that draw. I can live with ‘lack of atmosphere’ …..believe it’s not lacking if your Club is playing.

    Some detailing to work on
    – in 2007 we were fed upstairs, grab bags not so good.
    – mascots….surely every player could have x1 kid? It’s a huge day for the entire Club, esp Mini sections, too.

    – We need a properly structured Cup Comp – early comms on game dates – August should be do-able?
    Our Forums should/are picking this up. Personally I’d run Pool Stages in parallel with the Leagues using these as potential rest weeks if required from League Duty for some players if needed, with last 8s in late a March / April
    – I think, if we’re to allow everyone on the Big Pitch then needs to be over 2 days – multiple permutations for that.
    – don’t think we need 2:45hrs between games? 80 mins, plus 10 ht + 30 mins for presentation and photos = ample.
    So let’s take 30 mins from the 2:45 and we start game 3 at 4:00 and the Final at 6-6:15pm.

    Otherwise, moaning about the price of a beer….you pay the £1 for the cup during an International?

    It’s a great day for the Clubs lucky enough to be involved.
    It can be yet better, but we, the Clubs, can influence & assist on that.
    .

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    • Certainly wasn’t a lack of atmosphere in the Nat final fair play to the Falkirk and Lasswade fans. Noise didn’t let up which reinforces how important games be on the big pitch.

    • I was not complaining about the price of a beer and I have no objection to paying cup deposits. However the deal involves obtaining a refund of said deposits and on Saturday, if you stayed until after the presentation of the Final’s medals and trophy, the bars were closed. I spoke to a Steward who told me I was by no means the only person complaining.

  3. I have season tickets for Edinburgh and a season pass for Scotland yet I received zero e-mails or other promos encouraging me to attend. Sounds like real prize money is the key – if promoted properly surely prizes of £10k and £5k could be found for each winner and runner up. Also make it a big day out – learn from the NFL – lots going on, can we figure out a tailgating area? Fun for the family, lots of the top players around. Some fun stuff a past heroes 7s game – Scotland vs england. Live streaming, negotiate cheap train and coach tickets from the participants towns, there’s so much that could be done. Concessions make money so free tickets for each player.

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  4. On tickets, I brought an adult and a senior, initial cost £15, but after the “Admin Fee” of £1.50 per ticket = £18. That’s a 30% “fee” on the senior ticket. On “hospitality” if the teams got nothing more than grab and go bags, that is ridiculous. Also on “hospitality” beer at £6.80 a pint (against the advertised price of £5.80) due to the need to pay a £1.00 “cup return deposit”. I stayed to see men’s Cup presentation and to applaud the players off the pitch. Went to return my cups and found the bar shuttered and deserted.

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    • Shaun .
      The ‘Suits ‘ couldn’t care less about the real club supporter .
      Your comment says it all .the prices were ridiculous to say the least
      I can verify it’s correct cos that’s what I saw .i was there .
      Missed opportunity .but do you think they will care .absolutely not .
      We are seen as an irrelevance

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  5. Stv, can show English rugby. Why are they and the bbc not showing/ showcasing Scottish rugby. Who is going after this?

  6. Trying to pack too much into one day. I agree split out the men’s and women’s finals. Perhaps run it over a weekend?

    And yes The Hive is probably a better choice.

    Still comes down to the shape of the season and we need greater thought on that. The short term fix of inserting the S6 clubs up the leagues has probably crashed the Cup competition for next season. Almost like every decision has a consequence. Who knew?

    It also suggests club support funds need looked at. At get Hawicks complaint about travel costs. Prize money won’t fix that though. Travel reimbursement is welcome but doesn’t touch the sides of the cost of a bus.

  7. This article ties in very well with the Su day Times piece on ‘Tatty Murrayfield ‘ Whilst the stadium is a leader in terms of size and accessibility, ‘very little time effort or capital has been spent on public areas’. Toilet facilities are substandard, fan zones and refreshment areas give the appearance of being cobbled together at the last minute.
    If the SRU are genuine in wanting to make Silver Saturday a ‘go to’ occasion for families and fans, they need to provide 21st century standards and facilities that make people want to spend their time and money there.
    1990s standards don’t wash anymore

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  8. Totally disagree about taking games away from the international pitch. It’s a huge event for players to run out there and for many it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. There was certainly plenty of atmosphere in the day time games. Perhaps a Silver Saturday for men and Silver Sunday for the ladies would help the timings and the logistics. Securing dates for qtrs semis n final well in advance and don’t have any other rugby on that weekend would help too. There are plenty of ways that it could be better promoted but I can say that for players and fans it was still hugely valued and enjoyed. For some those will be lifelong treasured memories. Was great to have the streaming available for fans and family who couldn’t make it and frankly the coverage was better than some of the URC games. Club rugby needs events like this that gives a focal point to the season and the enthusiasm from those that were there needs to be built on. Defo don’t put it into the Hive !!

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    • As an aside on why Murrayfield rather than Hive, bear in mind the excitement for the youth sections who get to see players from their clubs running out on the international pitch. Indeed many get to go on the turf themselves as mascots. I know on of the clubs on Saturday who had players on the park who had served as mascots on the clubs previous visit and the whole youth section was bouncing before during and after the games. With so much rugby behind a paywall we need something that will really inspire kids to pick up a rugby ball and Silver Saturday/ Sunday on the Murrayfield turf can do that. Agree about the issues raised with travel etc and can confirm the prices were indeed correct for drinks. DW almost certainly correct about next year’s comp too. The harm S6 has done really is enormous. None of the logistics issues are insurmountable though and given that Keith Wallace was there to present trophies and see the enthusiasm for himself I would hope that some real effort is put into this.

  9. It’s simple – different dates for the men’s & women’s finals. a separate date for each. And I’d play all games on The Hive.

    A 7:15pm kick off time for the showpiece game is farcical, but likely to suit Alba, who got their just desserts by showing a damp squib while the men’s game was an epic.

    And grab-bags for the players? The union should hang their heads in shame

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  10. 22 league games
    4 cup games
    3 district games
    Sevens, oh to hell with them
    With the best players probably also being called into A games
    Oh and it has to be amateur
    It all adds up to pre season July through to end of May. It’s ok boys have June off
    A potential recipe for brown envelopes and broken and fewer players all under the duristriction of the Crb.

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