Borders fan instrumental in defying New Zealand piping ban

Galashiels piper Andrew Aitken in New Zealand
Galashiels piper Andrew Aitken in New Zealand

A GALASHIELS rugby fan has beaten a World Cup bagpipe ban – and has vowed to do the same for Saturday’s crunch game against England.

Having learned the New Zealand national anthem in the lead-up to his once-in-a-lifetime holiday, piper Andrew Aitken was shocked to learn from TheSouthern that tournament officials have outlawed the pipes from stadiums, saying they could distract Scotland’s opponents.

Galashiels trio Craig White, Andrew Aitken and Malky Wilson inside the Wellington Regional Stadium for Scotland WC match with Argentina.

Galashiels trio Craig White, Andrew Aitken and Malky Wilson inside the Wellington Regional Stadium for Scotland WC match with Argentina.

But the 40-year-old was not to be outplayed.

And with the help of friends, he smuggled his pipes into Wellington Regional Stadium and entertained 27,000 supporters during Sunday’s heartbreaking 13-12 defeat by Argentina.

Speaking from Down Under, Andrew said: “Having planned the trip to celebrate my recent 40th birthday for over two years, my mates Craig White and Malky Wilson and I landed in Hong Kong to embark on a three-week tour which would involve attending Scotland’s games against Argentina and England, as well as sampling the local culture and sights along the way – which surprisingly included every Irish bar at each location.

“I am not in any of the local bands and to be honest, I play mostly for the free drink my friends and I seem to get when away at Six Nation games – although I’m not sure whether they buy the drink as a sign of appreciation or to stop me playing.”

The pipe-playing rugby fan lamented: “Imagine my disappointment to be told I would not be able to play at the games. I may not be the best player, but it’s a great feeling to play Flower of Scotland and have 50,000 fans sing along to raise the spirits of our boys on the pitch.

“Having practised for weeks before we left I had even memorised the New Zealand national anthem.”

The former Gala Star man was invited to play in many bars in the lead-up to last Sunday’s match, and locals were shocked to hear about the ban.

He went on: “The All Blacks have the tradition of the Haka so why should we be different? Imagine the furore if the Haka was banned.”

But Andrew – whose bagpipes previously provoked alarm when Chinese officials at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 mistook them for a weapon – was instrumental in breaching the ban.

He told us: “I managed to dismantle the pipes into several parts and smuggle them in, with the help of two friends Colin Purves and Peter Easson.

“In the stadium, the atmosphere was building with both sets of supporters in great spirits.

“During the game I assembled the pipes and began Scotland the Brave with both sets of fans joining in and enjoying the spectacle. Even at the end, a couple of security guards applauded my efforts.

“When leading 12-6 I began a rousing rendition of Flower of Scotland which turned out to be a bad omen as Argentina quickly crossed our line for the match-winning try.

“But on the way out of the ground, I piped the boys out and passed security guards who were wearing a wry smile.”

With the England game in Auckland just two days away – Scotland must win to stand any chance of progressing to the quarter-finals – Andrew has pleaded with World Cup officials to drop the pipe prohibition.

However, it won’t stop the Braw Lad trying again to smuggle in Scotland’s national instrument to inspire the team and supporters.

The proud piper told us: “The World Cup officials have made a mistake and hopefully they will realise this before the English game.

“OK, we lost but Saturday is another day and who knows what will happen in Auckland. I still intend to take the pipes.”