by STUART RUTHERFORD
BRUCE AITCHISON was head coach at Boroughmuir when they dismantled Hawick 55-17 in the 2015 BT Cup Final at Murrayfield. He jokes that out of the 10,000 YouTube hits there has been for the video of that game, 9,000 belong to him. It was a proud moment, and that is not diminished by the fact that less than a year later he was out of a job after the Meggetland outfit decided on a change of coaching regime.
It was a blow but it didn’t take long for the irrepressible Aitchison to get back in the game, linking back up with Murrayfield Wanderers – a club he knew well following two successful years with the capital side from 2011 to 2013 – and neither party has lived to regret the rekindling of acquaintances. With four league fixtures remaining, Murrayfield sit top of BT East Region League One and look well on their way to making a return to the National Leagues.
However, not satisfied with promotion alone, Aitchison has set his sights on further Cup glory as his side prepare to face Linlithgow in the final of the BT Edinburgh Shield this Saturday. Victory would secure passage to the national semi-finals, where the chance to play on the main pitch at Murrayfield is at stake.
“To leave Boroughmuir and to feel like I was never going to get another chance at the Cup was tough,” admits Aitchison. “But coming to this level, we set about making goals at the start of year and I said to the squad: Have you ever thought about the Shield? Because there is a chance you could run out on that [main Murrayfield] pitch come the end of the year. I mean very few adults get to experience that feeling.”
“To be part of that big day in front of the TV cameras, and your friends and family is really special. It’s something that I’d love for this group of guys to experience. Of course we’re not there yet. We have Saturday’s match against Linlithgow and that will be really tough. We’ve beaten them twice this season, but they are a cracking wee community club and they will be right up for it with probably the strongest team they’ve fielded all year – its amazing how everybody is available for a cup final!”
“But the lads know how badly I want them to make it to Finals Day. It would be a hell of a way to finish the season and it would be great way to cross off this chapter in the club’s history.”
Murrayfield have reaped the rewards of a successful off-season in which they they were able to attract several players who had previously plied their trade at a higher level. Back-row Callum Johnston joined from Selkirk, scrum-half Fraser Strachan from Stewart’s Melville stand-off Murray Hastie from Kelso – who also became the club’s development officer – all jumped on board to help the capital side take the league by storm, winning 13 of their 14 matches so far, and picking up 12 try bonus points along the way.
The recruits have been important, but Aitchison insists that much of his side’s success has been down to the feel-good factor that exists between the various squads within the club.
“You hear about some clubs who say that the first team is all that matters. That to me is quite sad, because you are valuing someone purely on their playing ability,” he says.
“Murrayfield is quite unique in that we have a woman’s team and we socialise together after matches. They add such a huge amount to the club and there will be lots of the girls on the touchline supporting us on Saturday, and by the same token our lads will get along to their games. In the past, the woman’s team have done well and have always had some success, whilst the men have sort of been the poor relation, but this season we – at a lower league of course – have been able to match the girls and so its created a real buzz about the clubhouse.”
“When you win, people want to train and they want to hang around for a beer. The older guys who have been involved in the club for years have been having a great time and I’m so glad because they have watched some tough stuff over the past few seasons,” he continues.
Whilst things have been going pretty smoothly on the rugby side, it has not been all plain sailing off the pitch. In June of last year it was confirmed that the SRU had decided not to renew Murrayfield Wanderers’ 25 year lease of the clubhouse behind the West Stand at the national stadium. With the capital outfit having been tenants for almost a century, the relocation will no doubt come as a shock, but Aitchison is quick to reiterate that the SRU haven’t been the “big bad wolf” in this process.
A new clubhouse and pitch has been earmarked at nearby Roseburn Park, although it will not be up and running until 2019, meaning that the club will have to use nearby facilities in the meantime.
“Until plans are complete, the understanding is that we will still have access to the artificial pitch at Murrayfield to play matches on – but again that could easily change,” admits Aitchison.
“However, it really just puts us in the same boat as every other club who have to train in a games hall or on astro-turf. At the moment we’re quite spoiled: we have the best facilities in the land. Next year that’s not going to be the case, but there is no point focusing on what you’ve not got. We just have to move forward. There are games halls and astro-turf pitches close by so we’ve really just got to find something that fits us as a club.”
“Personally, I believe leaving is a good thing, as the new ground becomes ours. You look at a club like Currie, who have made Malleny Park something to be intimidated by. In the Borders, places like Mansfield Park, Netherdale and Philliphaugh all have an identity. At the moment our identity belongs to somebody else, so going to Roseburn Park, it becomes our own home.”
Perhaps the first addition to the new clubhouse will be a shiny piece of silverware and a new YouTube video for their coach to watch a few thousand times.
Image courtesy: Adrian Henry – www.rugbypeople.net