Why Murray went back to his rugby roots

THERE'S a photograph from the late Sixties in Sir David Murray's office of the Edinburgh colts rugby side he played for as a teenager. While Andy Irvine would turn out for that same team on a couple of occasions, Murray never harboured ambitions of scaling the heights as a sportsman which the legendary full-back achieved. His dream was to succeed as a businessman.

By his own estimation, a reasonable stand-off or full-back who could kick a few goals, Murray turned out to be a world-class entrepreneur.

In a sense, his career came full circle yesterday when his company, Murray International, chose to back the sport he played as a young man with a 2.7million sponsorship deal which will see his name emblazoned across all of the Scotland team's jerseys.

A rugby enthusiast since he first picked up the oval ball as an eight-year-old at Doonfoot primary school in Ayrshire, Murray made his first visit to Murrayfield in 1964 when Scotland drew 0-0 with New Zealand. The Scots have only twice avoided defeat in 25 encounters at the hands of the All Blacks and young Murray was fortunate enough as a schoolboy to take a seat in the old stadium for one of those games. To this day, he remembers the journey from Ayrshire to the ground in the capital with his classmates and the thrill of sitting so close to the action on the touchline.

Murray continued to play schools rugby at Fettes and Broughton before spending two years with Edinburgh colts. When he started to build his own steel business, David and his late wife, Louise, made a home in Dalkeith where he duly joined Dalkeith Rugby Club. Even when the couple moved back into a house at Blackhall in Edinburgh, he continued to turn out for Dalkeith. Indeed, it was when he was driving home after a match where he kicked 18 points for the club against North Berwick that Murray lost both his legs in a car accident.

It was a pivotal moment in his life, all of 32 years ago, which both fired his passion to succeed in business and fuelled his involvement as an owner and sponsor in sport. Looking back on his involvement, first with the Murray International Metals basketball team, then with Rangers and now with the Scotland rugby team, Murray agrees he filled the void caused by that accident with a different kind of sporting input. Along with his successes in property and other business, he became arguably the most powerful man in Scottish sport.

"When I couldn't play myself, I suppose it was my way of being involved," Murray recalled in conversation yesterday. "I channelled some of my energy and invested a lot of money in sport in Scotland. It was also good for myself and my boys, David and Keith, because it gave us another shared interest."

Coincidentally, his two sons were both coached by Frank Hadden, the Scotland coach, when he taught at Merchiston Castle school. By a quirk of fate, Murray also discovered yesterday that he played rugby alongside Hadden's brother.

Initially hesitant about getting involved with a football club, the invitation to take control of Rangers was too good for Murray to turn down in 1988. After he'd tried and failed to buy his home town club of Ayr United, it took an exceptional business opportunity to draw Murray into football. "My first passion is for business and I wanted to see if I could make Rangers successful," he acknowledged.

The passion for business turned into a passion for Rangers and nearly 20 years later Murray is still the owner of the Ibrox club, though he's served notice he won't carry on in that role for much longer. The seventh richest man in Scotland with personal wealth valued at about 750 million, Murray continues to make shrewd business decisions which balance the differing demands of head and heart.

A proud Scot who takes an acute interest in the well being of the country he loves, Murray meant every word he said yesterday about the importance of Scottish business improving the health of the nation by investing in sport.

That said, his sponsorship of Scottish rugby was driven by the belief the agreement will benefit his business. Most of his commercial interests now lie outside Scotland and the Murray name on the national team's jerseys will be noticed around the rugby world.

While this is the first time the entrepreneur has invested in the national team, Murray has worked previously with the Scottish Rugby Union. In February 1997 he was co-opted on to the SRU's general committee as business/commercial adviser, with a remit "to raise additional commercial revenue". He predicted he would "double it within two years", but his ideas were not implemented and his involvement diminished.

The experience left him unimpressed by the regime that ran Scottish rugby in the late 1990s and Murray said at the time: "I was asked by Bill Hogg [the then SRU chief executive] and Duncan Paterson [the ex-executive chairman] to join them in an advisory capacity, but I've been very disappointed that I strove to promote various initiatives on strips and retailing, merchandise and property, and none of them was taken any further. "It seems to me that what you've got in Scottish rugby are people happy to pick your brains, but who don't want to give you any credit."

Given this rather sour experience, it would be over-egging the pudding to suggest Murray's return to Murrayfield yesterday felt like coming home for the entrepreneur, but the announcement on the eve of the World Cup was a reminder the former Edinburgh colts player hasn't lost any of his affection for the game.