Return of Murrayfield museum remains beyond SRU's pocket

A LONG-RUNNING campaign to restore Murrayfield's rugby museum has prompted the SRU to begin work this month on erecting new glass cases to show more of the stunning array of memorabilia and artifacts languishing in a store room.

A permanent site for a new museum is still to be found, however, and a leading campaigner for its restoration fears he may not be around to see it re-open. George Russell, a volunteer at the stadium's popular old library and a former steward at the royal box, became quite emotional at the SRU annual general meeting last month as he recollected how he had assured now-deceased colleagues that he would continue to push the union for a museum.

Russell is a real stalwart of the game who, now 80, only stopped playing for his club Moray House RFC seven years ago - reluctantly ending a 57-year career - "because the doctor told me I had to on account of my new hip".

"I don't have much time left but I will keep fighting," he told The Scotsman. "A museum encourages youngsters and attracts people to the sport. It also provides a history lesson that educates people in what Scottish rugby has contributed, and who has contributed which I think is a valuable part of our game.

"When I worked in the old museum we used to have regular groups of children come with their teachers or parents, and they were fascinated and went away with a deeper interest in rugby. It was a history lesson that wasn't forced on them; one they wanted to experience, and felt better for having done so.

"We had lots of great volunteers like John Orr, John Law, George Reid and Charlie Scott who would sit there and take people round. I understand that there is not a lot of money around, but there is more now than the SRU had a few years back and the longer they put it off the more expensive it will be."

The SRU are not against the idea, but do not view it as a priority. When the union completed the redevelopment of Murrayfield in 1993 by replacing the old West Stand, which housed the old museum, there were plans for a state-of-the-art visitors centre. However, professionalism arrived before work got under way and as Murrayfield chiefs tried to work out how much it would cost to pay players, and where that money would come from, the whole idea was put on hold.The plans have since been left to gather dust on shelves as the SRU scramble each year to deal with the same issue.

Russell has won support at the top level from Allan Munro, the SRU executive board chairman, but he admitted that while the union is about to create more show space within Murrayfield, as part of the refurbishment of hospitality suites, there was still no money available to build a permanent museum.

There are currently glass cases within the President's Suite at Murrayfield, the main hospitality venue in the stadium, and refurbishment of this and the adjoining Thistle Suite will result in more imaginative displays that will bring more of the museum collection out of its boxes.

Peter Brown, the former Scotland captain, has a number of his jerseys and the boots he wore to kick the winning points at Twickenham in 1970 within the collection. His boots are on display in the SRU's Presidents Suite, alongside a pair from the 19th century and Simon Webster's silver 21st century footwear.

However, Brown asked for the return of a jersey given to him by legendary All Blacks skipper Colin Meads, which was possibly the last the lock forward wore that sported a number 10 on the back by virtue of the old numbering system that Scotland changed to before New Zealand, leaving Brown wearing No 4 and his opposite 'number' in the 10 jersey in the 1964 0-0 draw.

"There are many great things like that in there," said Brown, "and I just felt if the jersey wasn't going to be shown then there was no point in having it stuffed away in a box somewhere."

The SRU recently contracted a team of museum archivists to conduct a full audit of the stock, and the process of logging and photographing items, wrapping of material in museum-grade acid-free paper and boxing took four months. The SRU did not replace its full-time historian, Fiona White, when she married Conan Sharman, the former Scotland winger, and left for South Africa, so the person responsible for the vast collection is administrative executive Mike O'Reilly, who oversees the library alongside his other Murrayfield duties.

"There is undoubtedly a lot of interest in what we have in here and we get enquiries from all over the world," he said. "The three caps we received recently from Reginald Morrison, who played for Scotland in 1886, came through a phone call from Australia . One is his Scotland cap and one an Edinburgh University cap, but the third remains unidentified so we're hoping with them on show maybe someone could help us identify it.

"We have quite a collection, from balls and programmes going back to early 20th century, photographs of almost every team that has played for Scotland since first international in 1871 right up to the many trophies and presentations made by touring countries."It is fascinating and of course it would be great to have it out on show in a museum."

While finding the space for the museum remains an issue, it is understood the minimum price quoted, of around 500,000, was the main stumbling block in the way of the SRU restoring a museum at Murrayfield.

While the RFU have a popular museum at Twickenham and most leading unions also have some form of museum within their national stadium, the only realistic solution at Murrayfield would appear to lie with the emergence of a benefactor or sponsor with sufficient interest in a museum project to back it financially.