Kenny Mathieson considers the biennial Welsh conversion of Edinburgh.
Should you chance to encounter a modestly-sized dragon in Princes Street (possibly singing lustin in what sounds like a mysterious. ancient tongue) anytime around the weekend of 21 March.or find yourselfconfronted by an anything but modestly-sized leek in Rose Street. don‘t sign the Pledge just yet. It only means that the biennial invasion of Edinburgh by that dedicated breed. the Welsh rugby fan. is here again.
Rather like the Scots with the round-ball game. although perhaps with more justification. the Welsh consider themselves to be the chosen race when it comes to rugby. An occasional defeat at the hands of France or the All-Blacks is looked upon as an inevitable inconvenience. but such a reversal is considered sacrilege ifadministered by one of the home countries. If England remain the prime enemy to be humbled. the trip north to Murrayfield holds a unique place in Welsh hearts.
‘I know of Welsh rugby fans who have never been to Twickenham. Lansdowne Road or Parc des Princes. but religiously scrimp and save 50p pieces so that they can embark upon one of rugby‘s great journeys — the Murrayfield Pilgrimage. There is no obvious answer as to why the Murrayfield match is held in such high esteem by the Welsh. or why they throng the Scottish capital in their thousands every two years. What is certain is that the Scottish welcome and generosity play an important part in
Robert Dawson Scott questions a questionable questionaire.
Well. do you need to change your life? A cerain Sunday newspaper. in case you missed the hype. has come up with the startling conclusion that. as a nation. we are worried. We‘re worried about our health. our mental attitude. our financial security. our stress levels. our lifestyle. our sex-lives. our family relationships and our appearance. Well. there‘s a turn-up for the books. one to restore your faith in market research. Change you life? Change your Sunday newspaper. more like.
making it unarguably the favourite outing for the Welsh rugby supporter.‘
The words are those of a man who played in. or presided over. some of the legendary teams of Welsh rugby. but the current side are falling short of the heights those l970s‘ sides achieved. and a buoyant Scotland must fancy their chances of disappointing those travelling hordes. Travel they will. though. regardless. and in expectation not only ofa victory. but ofa thoroughly good weekend. possibly enlivened
by the occasional refreshment.
Rather like the Scots‘ exodus to Wembley in the old days. the campaign is planned more or less from the end of the previous trip. with supporters returning regularly to the same hotels and guest houses. renewing old acquaintances and rivalries (although. as in football. more casual travel is now common. notably on the infamous ‘Suicide Special‘ overnight train from Wales. arriving sleepless in Edinburgh on Saturday morning with a full day‘s activities ahead. then back on the Saturday night).
One Edinburgh haven for the Welsh is the Iona Hotel in Strathearn Place. run by rugby fanatic Ronnie Pugh. who regularly makes his own pilgrimages to Scotland‘s away internationals. Ronnie. a former club player with North Berwick. and
I‘d have expected people to be worried about the message on their answering machine. the design of their filofax. the size of their plonker (both sexes). the quality of the office coffee. who they‘re going out with tonight and whether they should be buying a nasty Murdoch rag anyway. No one admits to those kind of
things. do they? Oh dear me. no. They might not sound like the caring. cuddly. warm-hearted. wet-nosed people they would like us to think they are. I mean. lwant to know how to walk along the street without treading in dog-shit. but I‘m not telling a market researcher that because that‘ll go down as a tick in the ‘Hates animals‘ box and before I can say Sergeant Jenkins. the SSPCA will be round with their
a well-known face in Scottish rugby circles. confirms the literal truth of the two-year plans. but feels that the growth in more casual travel is in large part due to the scale of unemployment in Wales; the overnight train (with a carry-out for both legs) presents the cheapest way for hard-pressed fans to be part of the occasion.
‘The Welsh party is the one we always look forward to. and the one we try to lay on something special for. We have had a party coming up for eight or ten years now. and have reached the point where we exchange presents. some ofwhich now decorate the Hotel. They come much earlier than any other fans. and they are always keen to get involved and to renew old friendships. whereas the English and Irish tend to keep to themselves a lot more. They have a system whereby they sleep in shifts. and basically try to keep us up 24 hours a day!
‘I would think the weekend ofthe Welsh match is one the licensed trade in Edinburgh look forward to more than any other occasion. the Welsh being a great beer-drinking nation. They travel in such numbers that they pretty well saturate the city centre pubs. and they are always welcomed back. There is a lot of high spirits. but any serious trouble is extremely rare — most of them would rather sing than cause bother. They come here to enjoy themselves. and that‘s what they do.‘
As anyone who has casually tried to acquire one will know. tickets for these occasions are very hard to come by. and many fans simply travel to Edinburgh to be here for the occasion rather than the match — Ronnie has another group of regulars who don‘t stay at the Hotel. but encamp in the Bar (usually from Thursday morning). one ofwhom has been coming for twelve or fourteen years and couldn‘t tell you where Murrayfield is: he always watches the game in the Iona. Others
pooper-scooper. I want to know how to get a drink out of those surly barmen and women in the ﬂash cocktail bars. (‘Lager? We don‘t have lager. You can have Red Stripe. Beck‘s. Grolsch (Grolsch?). Furstenberg. Holsten. Schlitz. Lamot. Budweiser or you can stop wasting my time‘) without having to dress like a hairdresser or a hairdresser‘s model.
They‘re clever bastards. though. this lot. They aren‘t asking you what you want. are they? Do you want less stress. more cash. a better sex-life. more leisure time. less ﬂab? Of course you do. But do you need it? See? On goes the pressure. Not much danger of reducing the stress level there. It‘s a paranoid‘s charter. But don‘t panic; help is at hand. Just
travel only as far as the Borders, where links are renewed with clubs there. further evidence that the Welsh treat this match as an event which goes beyond the game itself.
‘I think the SRU system of distributing tickets through the clubs is a fair one.‘ Ronnie argues (he holds a debenture seat in the new stand). ‘That way. the people who support rugby every Saturday get first option on the big games. North Berwick used to link up with Barry for the internationals in Cardiff and up here; we would knock hell out of each other on the field in the morning. but both clubs always ensured that the visitors got their tickets before they took their own. and we always had a good night afterwards. I think that sums up the spirit of the occasion as well as anything.‘
The game is assured ofa tremendous atmosphere. although reconstruction at both grounds has meant a slight diminishing ofthat. and the Welsh will be here in numbers again this year. Murrayfield now holds 61.000 people. but the world-record attendance for a rugby match was set there in 1975 for the Welsh match. with an official 104.000 (some say it was more like 1 13.000) crowd crammed onto the slopes. It will be filled to capacity with two sets of ' fervent fans looking for victory. but. as Ronnie says. hostilities cease with the final victory.
'Basically. I don‘t really mind who wins (but then. I‘m part Welsh!) as long as we see a good game. and I think a lot ofthe Welsh would say the same. Both parties are going to enjoy their weekend away. regardless ofwhat happens. I daresay we‘ll probably manage a light refreshment or two on Saturday night . . .‘
And the lona Hotel won‘t be the only Edinburgh hostelry enjoying partv-time either.
answer this six-page questionnaire. thirteen issues of Cosmopolitan all rolled in to one. a bit like being trapped in a dentist‘s waiting room for a week. and all will be revealed. It doesn‘t matter how much ofa wally you are — all you have to do is make sure you buy the Sunday Times every week. It won‘t change your life but it will sure as hell help the marketing whizz-kid who dreamed up all this nonsense. Frankly ifyou haven‘t got anything better to do than sit around wondering whether or not you agree strongly or just agree with the statement ‘I like these new automatic checkout systems in supermarkets because they reduce the risk of human error‘ you don‘t need to change your life; you need to end it.
2 The List 20 March — 2 April