THERE was a long-standing tradition at Scottish Rugby Union AGMs up until just a few years ago which involved the late George Russell – a true rugby stalwart who fulfilled almost every voluntary role there is in the game at one time or other – pleading with Murrayfield’s top brass to sanction the creation of a museum at the national stadium.
He was consistently fobbed off with vague promises to look into the matter, which never went any further. There was even a vote by clubs in 2011 which compelled the paid executives to get their act together on this – or it should have compelled them – but that came to nothing as well.
You can draw your own conclusions on what this says about Scottish rugby’s current overlords, their attitude to the game’s history and their disregard for the clubs they are supposed to represent – but the reality will remain that there is no appetite for a museum at Murrayfield and that’s not going to change any time soon.
All is not lost, however. As the birthplace of international rugby, Raeburn Place is perhaps a more appropriate home for such a museum, and that’s what we’re going to get when the next stage of an ambitious redevelopment programme for the historic venue in the Stockbridge area of Edinburgh is completed.
The whole project is being driven by The Raeburn Place Foundation with the stated aim of opening up the venue to wider use as a community sports hub whilst protecting its sacred heritage.
“The really important thing for us is that people realise that this is not an Edinburgh Accies project,” explains Alastair Graham, fundraising coordinator for the Raeburn Place Foundation. “This is a sperate charity, and while the charity regulators agreed that the legacy clubs – the football and cricket clubs as well as Edinburgh Academy school – could continue to use the facilities to the same extent as they did before, they can’t receive any financial support. For example, the rugby club is paying market rate for its new clubhouse facilities. Any money this project does raise will go is to charitable purposes, such as the BATS youth rugby programme in north Edinburgh which is really important to us.”
£10 million has already been raised and spent on the project, and the impressive new stand at Raeburn Place which constituted phase one of the development is now almost ready to go, so the Foundation’s focus has turned towards the museum phase.
With that in mind, filming has begun on ‘The Great Game’, an hour-long documentary which will relive the first ever international match played 150 years ago last month, and attempt to explain how that game between Scotland and England changed the face of sport forever.
This film, which will be a centrepiece of the museum, features director Magnus Wake and rugby journalist/author Richard Bath interviewing some of the biggest names in rugby as they explore the social, political and sporting background to one of the most seismic days in sporting history.
The documentary has been financed by individual donors, donations from the GPS Macpherson Charitable Trust and the Gordon Brown Memorial Fund, and corporate sponsors Famous Grouse and Brewin Dolphin. However, as a charity the Raeburn Place Foundation are keen to offer all rugby fans the opportunity to support this project so have launched a crowdfunding campaign where fans can have their name added to the credits for as little as £50.
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The Raeburn Place Foundation is also launching an appeal for anyone with rugby memorabilia such as photos, diaries, jerseys and caps to come forward [contact Richard Bath – [email protected]].
Several important items have already come to light which will appear in the Museum of International Rugby and feature in ‘The Great Game’ documentary.
“Raeburn Place is one of sport’s hidden cultural and sporting shrines, and many people don’t yet appreciate its significance,” adds Graham. “The redevelopment of the ground will not only put it back at the centre of the community, promoting sport and heritage, but will also consolidate its unique status as the birthplace of international rugby.
“The commissioning of The Great Game documentary is a tangible sign of Raeburn Place’s renaissance, and marks the start of the next stage of our project – the Museum of International Rugby, at the ground where it all began.”
3 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
- A POTTED GUIDE TO THE 1871 GAME
In 1870 the English football (soccer) authorities staged a game at The Oval in London against a ‘Scotland’ side that featured nobody based in Scotland, with several players having very dubious Scottish bona fides. This match – which is not counted as an official international – caused outrage in Scotland, where rugby was by far the dominant code. On 8th December 1870 a challenge was issued in Bell’s Life by the top Scottish rugby clubs to their English counterparts, resulting in a game at Raeburn Place, the home of Edinburgh Academicals, on 27 March 1871.
Played before 4,000 spectators, with two 20-a-side teams over two 50 minute halves, the game was an enormous success. Scotland won by two tries and a goal to England’s single try in a match packed with controversy. The game sparked a huge upsurge of interest in the game and the creation of many of the clubs which still exist today. Many of the 40 players – which included Scotland’s Alfred Clunies-Ross, the first black player to play international sport – went on to have major roles in the development not just of rugby but of several sports worldwide.
- THE GREAT GAME DOCUMENTARY
This hour-long documentary aims to generate interest in the story of the 1871 international, and in Raeburn Place’s part in this remarkable story. With expert opinion and rugby personalities, dramatic reconstructions and incredible newly found archive material, we will tell the very human story behind the game that marks the genesis of international rugby.
Once the film is made it will be screened in Scotland and is intended to be distributed internationally through streaming sites. The film will also become a centrepiece of the new Museum of International Rugby.
The two principals are film director Magnus Wake and rugby journalist/historian Richard Bath.
- THE RAEBURN PLACE FOUNDATION
The Raeburn Place Foundation (RPF) is the charitable body which oversees the running of Raeburn Place. It has a 99-year lease on the ground from the Edinburgh Academical Club, the owners of the freehold title, and has been responsible for the development of the ground. The RPF commissioned the Great Game documentary as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations and as part of the Museum of International Rugby, the final phase of the ground’s redevelopment.