Rugby club grilled over its sevens plans

Melrose Rugby Club faced a grilling from the town’s community councillors last week as officials revealed their plans for next year’s sevens.

Wednesday, 27th November 2019, 9:38 am
Updated Wednesday, 27th November 2019, 10:34 am
Melrose Sevens is a four-day event in 2020, a move which has not pleased everyone.

The Greenyards is the spiritual home of the abbreviated game and the annual tournament attracts more than 10,000 rugby fans to the town every year.

However, it has not always been completely welcomed by residents, who have to put up with closed roads and crowds on the streets, often worse for wear after drinking all day.

And while the town’s hotels do well from the increased footfall, other traders feel they don’t neccessarily benefit.

After last year’s event, residents attended the community council, saying the town was like a “war zone”, as the tournament attracts “groups of undesirables” who were not even interested in the rugby.

Following this, the club agreed to improve its communication with residents through increased warnings and signage ahead of the event.

And last week, Alan Wilkinson, the club’s operations manager and sevens manager Abbi Grant attended the November meeting of the community council to relay its plans for the 2020 tournament – which is expected to be even bigger than normal.

Mr Wilkinson explained: “It has been a busy six months at the Greenyards, with a new board, a new 3G pitch and a new semi-pro team in the Southern Knights.

“We are now concentrating on the sevens event next year, and my role is to give a bit of coherence regarding everything at the club.

“The sevens in 2020 is to be a four-day event ... we are trying to promote Melrose as the home of sevens and to try to attract World Sevens to Melrose by 2023.”

He said the club had been in conversations with Scottish Borders Council and the local police about the plans, which include marquees in Gibson Park across the road, and the area opposite the main stand, known as the Triangle.

For the sevens, the club usually erects a temporary stand opposite the main one, but due to the new layout, it is going to have to be placed across St Mary’s Road, which will have to be closed for two whole weeks for health and safety reasons.

Mr Wilkinson took the members through the outline of events, which include a Question of Rugby show in the marquee on the Thursday; an under-18 competition on the Friday, followed by a nightclub in the marquee, the main Ladies’ Cup competition on the Saturday, in which ties would be interspersed with games for a new Ned Haig semi-pro tournament, the semis and finals of which would take place on the Sunday.

He added: “On Saturday night, to avoid the congestion of everyone leaving at once for public transport, the bar in the Triangle marquee will be kept open into the evening, so that the crowds will gradually drift away as the evening progresses.

“On the Sunday night, we have Big Country playing in the Gibson Park marquee.

“On the Saturday, we are expecting no more than around 12,000 people, with perhaps 6-8,000 people on the Sunday, and we think no more than 2,500 people for the concert on Sunday.”

In addition to the lengthy St Mary’s Road closure, the High Street will also be closed up to High Cross Avenue, on the Saturday and Sunday.

Mr Wilkinson said: “While the road is closed, we are not going to stop residents getting to where they need to go.”

Community council chairman William Windram said there had been problems in the past with security at the road closures not letting residents through, adding that family members were not allowed to go through to his house.

He invited members of the community council to raise any questions they had about the event.

Robin Chisholm asked: “What plans are in place for ensuring elderly residents are able to be driven to church on Easter Sunday morning, one of the busiest days of the year?”

Mr Wilkinson said: “We have not considered their parking yet, but we are due to speak to the church.”

Graham Barker brought up the road closures.

He said: “I understand there has to be road closures, but that is a lengthy closure to St Mary’s Road, and it effectively cuts the town off from one end to the other for the two days.”

Mr Wilkinson replied: “We don’t want to disrupt the local community, but safety is paramount.”

Tom Douglas said: “This is a very small area for such a large event. What do you plan to do for the fallout in the wider area? Will you organise security people around the town?”

Mr Wilkinson replied: “We would have to be advised by the police on this, as I’m not sure our security would have any authority outside our event area.”

Community police officer Callum Wilson, who was also at the meeting, said: “There is always a large policing presence in town, particularly on the Saturday.”

Martin Baird, who runs a butcher business in the town, said: “I am in favour of the event, but it’s a pity it has to be on the Easter weekend, which is our second busiest of the year.”

Mr Wilkinson assured the committee the club would keep it, and town centre residents, informed of the plans as they progress.