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Official Review by Sander Kolsloot, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Back in the 1920s, the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) had big plans to create a new national stadium for its rugby team, due to demands for a venue where international rugby could be played. At the time, only Glasgow’s Hampden Park was available, albeit a football ground. In 1921-1922, the SRU had the opportunity to obtain land in the Murrayfield area of Edinburgh, and at the end of 1922, the deal came to a close. The building was initiated in 1923 and in 1925 it was finally finished. The opening match on March 21, was a classic against rival England and 70,000 spectators cheered the Scots onto a huge 14-11 victory.
In 1927, land to the west was purchased. This enabled the SRU to prepare extra pitches for use by junior clubs. With the move to Murrayfield, the demand for tickets increased and it forced the SRU to add two wing extensions in 1936, consequently increasing the seating capacity to 15,228.
World War II provided a break in almost all of European sports, and this was also true for rugby. After the war, it became clear that maintenance had been neglected, and major repairs had to be carried out, such as replacing metalwork, roofing, and removing all the weeds from the overgrown terraces.
In the 1950s, Murrayfield was one of the first to install surface heating. This was almost a necessity as the wintry weather was of great influence on possible postponing of matches. The installed system held up for almost 30 years and was replaced in the 1980s with a more state of the art system, consisting of gas heated, hot water pipes.
The 1980s provided fruitful soil for the ‘concrete’ development of Murrayfield as well. In 1981, the planning and financing for a new east stand started and was finished by the end of 1982.
Also in the 1980s, the office and entertainment accommodation was found to be inadequate and, in 1985, the refurbishment of Murrayfield was continued with developments at the rear of the West Stand. The extension held offices, tea rooms, and suites suitable for festivities, conferences and so on. These developments made some space available within the West Stand area and, in the former large Committee Room, the Union established its National Library and Museum, which was opened in 1986.
Even after these quite radical renovations, the SRU still kept improving and looking ahead to keep up with the latest developments. In the beginning of the 1990s, the Scottish Rugby Union Committee decided to plan for an all-covered, all-seated Murrayfield Stadium, costing approximately £50 million.
The goal was to establish Murrayfield as one of the best sports facilities in Europe, seating 67,500 spectators. Construction was planned to start after the 1992 Five Nations Championship matches, with a completion date three years later. It consisted of three phases:
Phase One included the building of the stands at the north and south ends of the ground, with a combined capacity of 24,000 and was completed in January 1993.
In March the same year, following the Five Nations Championship matches, Phase Two started. In this phase, the demolition of the existing West Stand wings and their replacement with covered seated areas took place.
Phase Three began in the spring of 1993. The original West Stand was demolished entirely and a brand new stand replaced it. This new stand also hosts a very nice library which was opened in December 1995. Improvements were carried out to the press area and a floodlighting system was installed. New electronic scoreboards were established at the north and south ends. A new, larger museum is being planned to link up with the library and a new visitor centre.
The new, improved stadium has made Murrayfield one of the very best sports stadiums in Europe - and that was the planned aim of the Union. Today's modern, all-seater Murrayfield can hold 67,000 spectators and it is the biggest sports venue in Scotland.
Murrayfield has been the part-time home of the Scottish Claymores in the NFL Europe from 1995-2004, although never really filled up to capacity during those days. Additionally, it hosted the World Bowl '96, the NFL Europe championship game. Non-sports events have taken place here as well, most notably the 1982 Youth Rally to welcome to Edinburgh Pope John Paul II.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
If you've ever visited any sports venue, you will usually remember the food options. Mostly you'll find anything deep fried, combined with a post-mix soda or a half-warm beer of mediocre quality. If you're hitting the BT Murrayfield grounds and you're thinking it's going to be another one of those......THINK AGAIN.
For the average Six Nations game, you can expect up to 40 different food stalls, ranging from oysters (of course accompanied with a good champagne!), the famous 'Hog Roast,' noodles, fish and chips, lamb burgers, venison, and smoked salmon. You name it, it's all there.
Do keep in mind that prices tend to be on the higher end of an average person's budget. A nice brioche roll, topped with tender roasted 'hog' and some apple sauce will cost you £6, a meal deal (with chips) will put a £7,5 dent in your pocket. Pizzas are on offer for a "fiver," margherita being the favourite choice.
Getting in the mood for some food? Well, good food goes down better with a drink.
BT Murrayfield will provide you with a wide array of options, ranging from several types of beer (Guinness, Tennents, alcoholic and non-alcoholic), ciders, champagne and non-alcoholic options (the local "Irn-Bru" being the most exotic of them all). These drinks will be available from huge bars, divided between bottles and tap options. This provides for seamless ordering and efficiency. You'll probably have the shortest wait time for a drink in the northern sports hemisphere.
Done with food, alcohol and sodas? Looking for a good close to your meal and sports experience? Get yourself a great latte or strong espresso from the full coffee bar. Now that's something to look forward to!
In the majestic stadium, the atmosphere will depend on the outcome of the game. But be aware, it will either be great or fantastic. If you're a frequent visitor of football games, soccer games, or any sport in general, you will be amazed by the natural and foremost friendly atmosphere during the game. First, there's the build up to the start of the game, which most probably will be accompanied by fireworks. Outside the stadium, a broad set of crowd activating events will take place, such as cheerleaders to get people loose and have them dancing to pop tunes. Also, the arrival of both teams is accompanied by a drum band and a big crowd anticipation. Before and after the game, you will also find bands playing live music, making the ground and its surroundings feel more like a festival ground than a sports venue.
Just before the game, as the teams are on the field, you will probably get goosebumps when the crowd sings along with 'Flower of Scotland,' the national anthem. This is absolutely an amazing feeling. If you visit, learn the lyrics beforehand to enhance your experience!
During the game, the crowd will get pumped with every score, great move, penalty kick, and most certainly with a Scotland win! But be aware, there almost certainly will be a big away support as well, which will increase a friendly rival atmosphere.
The most notable game to watch is when England comes to town. England and Scotland have been arch rivals forever and this will absolutely get the crowd riled up.
The direct neighborhood of the stadium is a laid back area, with a couple of pubs where you can enjoy a good afternoon. On the other side of the railway track, you can head into Tynecastle Stadium, home of the famous Heart of Midlothian football club (better known as 'Hearts'). Tynecastle is only a couple of hundred meters away from Murrayfield.
If you're in for a pre-match drink, think about stopping at the Roseburn Bar or the Murrayfield Bar, which are a stone's throw from the ground. Also, if you're walking down Coates road, you'll see multiple hotels and other outlets having pre and post game festivities, most only with pre-booked tickets/reservations.
If you're still considering eating in the city centre or planning your pre-match drinking there, you might want to try the BrewDog Pub, which offers great food and one of the best craft beer breweries anywhere in the world. They have their own brews on tap, combined with some friendly competitors! If you're looking for a sports bar type of place, consider one of the traditional pubs on Grassmarket.
Another fun and good eating/drinking option is Newsroom Bar and Eatery on Leith Street, close to Edinburgh Waverley station.
After a game of rugby union (not to be mixed up with the differently regulated Rugby League), you will be given several things: A desperate need for coming back and multiple new friends, being the fans you encounter in and around the stadium. The fans are the big reason you want to come back. During the game, people will be intensely following the game and cheer their team on, home and away support sitting side by side as if they are brothers.
There's no aggressiveness towards each other. During our recent visit in 2016, Scotland played France and fans were cordially chatting about the game in general and about players or certain situations in particular. Before and after the game, you can mingle with the locals, have a great chat about the upcoming game, the city or just where you as a visitor are coming from. Don't be surprised if people are buying you drinks, as it is a common habit in Scotland. Do as the locals do and take turns!
Access is perfect. There's a train station next to the stadium, servicing from downtown (Edinburgh Waverley station) or from other parts of Edinburgh (Park station et al). Trains run frequently and if you're downtown you can also consider taking the tramway as T50 will take you to Murrayfield.
Parking is available, be sure to buy a parking ticket in advance, which will cost you 15 quid. But if you want to really soak up the atmosphere and have an awesome experience, think about walking to and from the stadium. It's only a 2.2 km walk from the city centre and just before and after the match people will walk at least towards Haymarket station and even further on into the city. Bonus: the streets are closed off after the game, so it's a walking Valhalla.
It must be said, visiting a Six Nations game of rugby is not for the poor. Game tickets will sell from £30 for the cheapest seats, well into the 100s for the better ones. If you're on time and you can get a hand on one of the cheaper seats, don't even hesitate to buy tickets. Your ROI will be far better than most of the sports events you will ever visit. A personal note for this review: your Stadium Journey Correspondent has visited over a hundred different venues in all types of sports, one of them being the London Olympics. Only the Olympics were on the same level as this stadium experience. Think about that.
You can indulge in the rich history and grandeur of BT Murrayfield on non-matchdays. Be aware that the tour's route is changed during matchdays, due to non-availability of certain areas. Be advised to enjoy the best experience on non-matchdays. Tours are £10 each, with juniors getting in for a fiver. Fans over 60 and students get a discount as well, they gain entrance for £7. You will be able to sit in the hospitality boxes, step into the BBC Sport Set in the TV Studio, keep up with the famous voice of Rugby in 'The Bill McLaren Press Gallery,' see the trophy cabinets, view the pitch from the coaches' perspective and experience for yourself a walk through the tunnel.
Also, if you're interested in the history of rugby and want to do some research, going to the Scotland Rugby library might be interesting. You can contact them via e-mail. They hold over 100 books containing articles, photos and so on.
Around the stadium, you can find many interesting statues, plaques, and arches, most notably the Memorial War Arch. Also notable, and hard to miss is the clock tower, which is relocated to the back of the East stand. The clock tower was a gift back in 1929 from sir David McGowan, a past president of the SRU.
There's also a huge Scottish Rugby store, open daily from 9am-5pm except Sundays. They have all kinds of official match shirts, mugs, balls and other memorabilia.
If you have the chance to get your hands on Scotland national team tickets, don't hesitate to buy them. The best option is to visit one of the few Six Nations home games, but even the autumn test matches will please you very much. Scots, in general, are very friendly and you won't leave without making new friends. What stands out is a number of different food options, the almost festival like set up and atmosphere, plus the grandiosity of Murrayfield itself. Combine it with the easy access and the fact that it's located in the beautiful city of Edinburgh, make this a must visit for every stadium travel enthusiast.
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1 Roseburn Terrace
Edinburgh, Scotland EH12 5NG
+44 131 337 1067
57-59 Roseburn Terrace
Edinburgh, Scotland EH12 5NQ
+44 131 337 1574
Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 1JS
+44 131 220 6517
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