IN 1993, when the game was still strictly amateur, and an ambitious debenture scheme was being used to fund the development of Murrayfield Stadium into the structure it is today, Edinburgh Wanderers were approached by the cash-strapped Scottish Rugby Union about the possibility of selling their Greenside Lodge clubhouse on Corstorphine Road and relocating to a custom-built facility adjacent to the Murrayfield back pitches, where the club had been playing their home games since the Union first took up residency at the site back in the 1920s.
The governing body was keen to upgrade the playing surfaces behind the West Stand and to install floodlighting in order to maximise use of the facility for the national squad and the wider rugby community, but they couldn’t access funding from the Scottish Sports Council [the precursor to SportScotland] on their own at that time. Having an established ‘open’ club – one of the few in Edinburgh to have always welcomed non-FP members – doing the asking was the ideal solution to their problem.
After careful consideration, the club found a buyer for Greenside Lodge and the proceeds from the sale – in the region of £250,000 [worth £495,000 in today’s money] – was invested in building their new clubhouse.
At the same time, the club submitted successful funding requests to the Sports Council and The Foundation of Sports and the Arts to pay for the present changing rooms, and to upgrade the back pitches and floodlighting. The total value of monies provided through the club to the project was around £800,000 [just short of £1.6m in today’s money].
However, a key stipulation of the Sports Council grant was that a lease be agreed between Wanderers and the SRU – the first ever between the two organisations in their 91-year relationship. A 25-year deal was signed with the SRU unequivocal at that time that the contract would be extended prior to its expiry.
During the last quarter of a century, the SRU have had free of charge and unrestricted access to the Murrayfield Wanderers facilities for their full international squad; Edinburgh Rugby; various age-grade, women’s and other representative teams; and even to Watsonians when Edinburgh were using Myreside last season.
All the while, the clock has slowly ticked down. In 2010, the club approached the SRU to discuss an extension to the lease and were told that this was unlikely to happen, or at least not for a similar duration.
Then, after a regime change at Murrayfield, a delegate of club representatives met with Robert Howat, the SRU’s General Counsel, in November 2014. They were encouraged by the tone of the conversation, with Howat stressing that, while their time as tenants needed to come to an end so that the SRU could capitalise on the real estate, the governing body was committed to helping make the move as painless as possible.
Howat indicated that the SRU had no definite plans for the land other than to reconfigure it in order to maximise earning potential. The club was asked to provide a proposal for their Murrayfield departure for Howat to take to the Board for consideration.
“We understood the SRU’s position and we were keen to work with them,” reflects Wanderers Vice President Bobby Frazer. “The club accepts that it has to move and has been doing all it can to comply with the SRU’s request.”
After extensive research into suitable alternative sites on the west side of the city, carried out in conjunction with Edinburgh Leisure [which runs Edinburgh Council’s sporting capability], Roseburn Park – just beyond the northern perimeter of the Murrayfield compound – was identified as the most attractive and convenient option.
“Since then we have met with Robert Howat on a number of occasions,” says Frazer. “At these meetings we have provided details of the club’s plans to move to Roseburn Park and the progress in implementation. We also requested an opportunity to speak to the Board and to provide them with a power point presentation.”
Howat declined these offers, insisting that he would keep the Board fully appraised.
Wanderers wrote to Howat in March 2017 to inform him that the club expected to be in a position to start using the pitches at Roseburn Park by season 2018-19, and to explain that they aimed to relocate the clubhouse by 2020-21, subject to planning approval and funding being secured.
There was no reply and, with time running out, a more formal letter was sent in April 2017, which explained the club’s exasperation at the way the situation was now being handled.
In that correspondence, the club asked for clarification on Scottish Rugby’s plans for the clubhouse and back pitches, for a realistic timescale to allow the club to move to Roseburn Park together with assurances for the immediate future, and for a proposal for compensation towards the costs of such a move “given the significant investment made by the club in the present clubhouse building, back pitch development and the history of the relationship between the two parties.”
Howat’s response is an object lesson in condescension –
“It has been made very clear to Murrayfield Wanderers on a number of occasions, stretching as far back as October 2008 (a letter to your then president) that it was unlikely that the Club’s lease would be extended. That message to the club has been repeated consistently to club officials, including to you when we first met at the beginning of November.
“Your letter rehearses the Club’s history at some length but does not recognise these earlier intimations to the Club. The Club now finds itself pushed for time. I am bound to point out that the expiry of the lease can come as no surprise and had the Club taken steps rather earlier then it might not be in the situation that it now finds itself.”
In fact, the letter did recognise these “earlier intimations”.
It said –
“Throughout our meetings you have been keen to impress the desire of Scottish Rugby to work with the club and not allow it to be left without proper clubhouse facilities and pitches to play on. You are aware that having made the initial planning request the club is still awaiting a decision from Edinburgh City Council on which our project is dependent. Until these decisions are made it is impossible to move to the next stage in the planning process and commence funding applications. As advised the total cost of such a move, including building and pitch upgrades, is circa £1.5 million.”
“Given all of the above the club finds it very difficult to understand the recent lack of communication and understanding apparently now being shown by Scottish Rugby.”
Howat, however, was in no mood for understanding the club’s plight. At one point he mocks the use of the word “hope” when detailing Wanderers’ relocation plans, despite the fact the club had made every effort to keep the SRU abreast of their efforts to secure a viable new home.
At no stage did Howat give any indication of plans for the Murrayfield clubhouse and pitches after Wanderers’ eviction. He did, however, grudgingly grant a one-year extension to the lease until 31st August 2018 (with rent deducted from the £52,000 compensation the SRU are due the club on termination of the lease). Requests to retain access to car-parking facilities, the clubrooms and the artificial pitch for training purposes on an interim basis were dismissed out of hand.
“There is no compensation due to Murrayfield Wanderers,” concluded Howat.
Despite a number of emails from the club either providing an update or requesting a meeting, or both, there was nothing more from Howat until 14th February 2018, when a single sheet letter, signed by the General Counsel, was delivered.
It stated –
“We, Scottish Rugby Union Limited (formerly Scottish Rugby union plc), your landlord in terms of the lease, notify you that you must remove from the property (as more particularly described in the lease) on 31 August 2018 in accordance with the terms of the lease which has been running on tacit relocation since 1 September 2017.”
The club is keen to stress that Nick Rennie, the soon to be made redundant Head of Club Services for the SRU, along with Steve Turnbull, the Club Services Manager for Edinburgh, and their colleagues in the Domestic Rugby Department, have done all that they can to provide support during this process, helping secure a £50,000 grant through the SRU’s Club Sustainability Awards programme to go towards upgrade the two pitches on Roseburn Park to an appropriate level for a National League Division 3 team.
It was hoped that the remaining £100,000 required for this work would be provided by SportScotland, but that application was turned down last month on the basis that the reduction of pitch capacity and floodlighting resultant from moving away from Murrayfield is “likely to impact negatively on the amount of training and development that can be undertaken by the Club, particularly when you factor in the loss of access of the existing 3G pitch.”
Essentially, the club’s enforced departure from the Murrayfield facility which they initially funded [through SportScotland] has barred them from SportScotland support as they try to start over again at a new home, on the basis that the move is likely to lead to a reduction in participation.
The club will, as they promised Howat in March 2017, play at Roseburn Park this coming season. They have secured a temporary clubhouse within Murrayfield Ice Rink (some 500-yards from their old clubhouse) and are focussed on getting planning permission and then raising the funds necessary to construct a new permanent home. They will train – coached by Scotland international centre Mark Bennett – at nearby Saughton Park.
It has, however, had a destabilising effect, especially within the highly successful senior women’s section, with discussions ongoing about the prospect of switching allegiance to Super 6 franchise Heriot’s.
Meanwhile, the SRU say they have no firm plans at the moment for the clubhouse building which was constructed and paid for 25 years ago by Murrayfield Wanderers, although it is understood to be earmarked as a base for Edinburgh players next season. The pro team have submitted a planning application for a custom-built semi-permanent 7,800 capacity mini-stadium to be located on the back pitches at Murrayfield.
“Scottish Rugby has worked for a number of years, across the business, in support of Murrayfield Wanderers. We have remained in close contact throughout this process and will continue to support them through this period of transition,” said a Scottish Rugby spokesperson.
The spokesperson added that SRU ground staff will be made available to tend Roseburn Park and a shipping container to store memorabilia is also apparently being provided until the new clubhouse – which is being built in conjunction with Murrayfield DAFS cricket club and will hopefully include a public cafe – is available.Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 3)
Fact file –
WANDERERS FOOTBALL CLUB (later to become Edinburgh Wanderers) was founded in 1868 and was one of the 10 original member clubs of the Scottish Football Union (the precursor to the Scottish Rugby Union) which attended its inaugural AGM convened on 9th October 1873.
Without a home ground in its early years, the club played all of its games away from home (the clue is in the name). In 1875, Wanderers found a base at the Grange cricket ground in Stockbridge, then, in 1902, they became tenants of the Scottish Rugby Union at the Union Field in Inverleith. In 1928, they followed the governing body across the city to take up residency at Murrayfield – where they have been located for the last 90 years.
The club performed an important function in Scotland’s capital as the only ‘open’ senior club in the city up until the mid-1970s, attracting an impressive battalion of players who wore the dark blue of Scotland, including David Bedell-Sivright, Arthur Smith, John Douglas, Alan Lawson and Bill Gammell.
They sold their Greenside Lodge clubhouse in 1993 to take up full residency inside the Murrayfield estate, helping the governing body access public funding to upgrade the facilities which would not have been open to them otherwise.
They merged with Murrayfield RFC – who were also tenants inside the national stadium complex – in 1997 to create Murrayfield Wanderers.
Edinburgh Wanderers launched Scotland’s first ever mini section in 1975, with 238 kids turning up for the inaugural training session in pouring rain on Murrayfield’s pack pitches; the women’s section was launched in 1995 and has grown into one of the biggest and most successful in the country; and the club also has very close association as the host venue to the Caledonia Thebans (Scotland’s premier gay and inclusive rugby club).
Th club’s extensive community programme takes rugby across west Edinburgh and into schools such as Tynecastle High and Wester Hailes Education Centre where the game has not traditionally been available.