WHEN a bear bellows, people usually pay attention and that is the hope of Heriot’s RFC this weekend.
One of their greatest players, Iain Milne, is now the club’s vice-president and the former tighthead prop, who anchored the Scotland scrum during the 1984 Grand Slam success has joined club president Donald Gray in calling on supporters far and wide, and Edinburgh residents, to come along to a unique afternoon of rugby at Goldenacre tomorrow.
With the Scotland-Ireland RBS Six Nations match on Sunday, there will be a lot of Irish supporters in the city for a weekend away from the Emerald Isle and Heriot’s have emailed all Irish clubs and placed adverts in the Irish media to persuade rugby supporters to head for Goldenacre.
But the former British and Irish Lion, nicknamed “The Bear” during his playing days due to his sheer size, is calling on Scots to join some legends of Scottish rugby and fill the club’s main stand with 2,000 supporters.
“Heriot’s have an important RBS Premiership league match against Boroughmuir,” he explained, “and with it being an international weekend our president Donald Gray came up with this idea of ‘Fill the Stand Day’.
“The last time the main stand was completely full was in 1981, when Heriot’s played against a great Cardiff side. We also had a big crowd the following year for the championship match between Heriot’s and Gala, but that was with the ground packed all around as opposed to the stand.
“I may be an eternal optimist, but I don’t believe that these days are necessarily past. It is just that the clubs have to work so much harder now to give people a reason to come down. I’ve seen it happening at our club and other clubs such as Ayr and, if you give them a good environment, people come back to rugby.
“In my playing days we didn’t have to work at it, and now we do have to which is the difference. But why can’t we do it again? I remember when I played how clubrooms would be full of people on the weekends of internationals, and you’d have former internationalists mixing with current club players and supporters, and there was always a great atmosphere, and we’ll have that again this weekend.”
Among Milne’s guests will be 1984 Grand Slam captain Jim Aitken and team-mates Roger Baird, David Leslie, Alan Tomes and David Johnson as well as 1990 Grand Slam stars Kenny Milne, Fin Calder and Iwan Tukalo, among many others.
The lunch at 1pm is sold out with 270 tickets having shifted quickly but, from 1.30pm, the entertainment in the ground kicks off with everything from opera singers to a pipe band and face-painting to beer tents and burger stalls. There will be supervised kids’ activities running throughout the day on the school’s artificial pitch.
The central attraction is Heriot’s RBS Premier match against Boroughmuir at 3pm, a capital derby which could see Heriot’s escape relegation – the club remains the only one in Scotland never to have dropped out of the top flight – and claim a British & Irish Cup spot, and resign their city rivals to the drop.
But there is also a P7s match between the club’s stars of the future at 2pm and a big screen has been installed in the clubrooms for England’s Six Nations match with France at Twickenham, which kicks off at 5pm.
“I’m hopeful that people will come along with their families and enjoy a great day out at the rugby,” said Milne, “and, if this is a success, I can see us replicating it each year, and encourage games again with clubs from Ireland, Wales, England and even France and Italy.
“It takes a lot of work these days, and myself and Donald have to thank everyone at the club and school who has supported this idea, but it’s vital that we move with the times.”
The Heriot’s effort is indicative of a new drive in club rugby to reverse the trend of dwindling crowds and it seems likely that the attraction of this particular Bear will be persuasive.