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Absence of opposition to Murrayfield rebranding represents sea-change in attitudes

Well that's that then.

Millions of pounds, actually, as the SRU prepare to sell naming rights for the national stadium, with BT as frontrunners. Picture: SNS
Millions of pounds, actually, as the SRU prepare to sell naming rights for the national stadium, with BT as frontrunners. Picture: SNS

As The Proclaimers never quite said, it's Murrayfield no more. If reports are to be believed - and on the basis of the Scottish Rugby Union's refusal to "comment on speculation" then they probably are - the dear old stadium will soon have a brand new name. Before long, Scotland and Edinburgh will be playing their home matches in the BT somethingorother.

The communications giant has a lot of money to spend, much of it extracted from me, and they clearly believe that handing over a sum reckoned to be somewhere between £10m and £20m is a clever piece of work. Good news, too, for us laptop monkeys, as given BT's line of business they will almost certainly be obliged to sort out the wi-fi in the press box, a system that generally operates at the breakneck speed of two yoghurt cartons joined by a length of string and which usually gives up the ghost completely on big match days.

That bonus aside, I must confess to a degree of disappointment when it emerged that BT were the front-runners to attach their moniker to the home of Scottish rugby. Eighteen months ago, when the SRU chief executive Mark Dodson confirmed the naming rights were up for sale, I secretly hoped for something couthy and local rather than a bland multinational. I quite liked the idea of filing copy from the Tunnock's Teacakes Thunderdome or the Lees Macaroon Megabowl. Seems we'll just have to call it the Phone Box now.

Dodson indicated at the time that it was "more than likely" 'Murrayfield' would be part of the ground's new name. You have to hope so, for it can be devilishly confusing for those of us who suffer from nominal aphasia (look it up) and struggle to cope when a ground changes its name. When I first covered a rugby match in Durban, South Africa, it was at something called King's Park. In the 20-odd years since, I have been back to the ABSA Stadium, the Mr Price Kings Park Stadium and Growthpoint Park, and it was the same place every time.

Other South African grounds have spun their nameplates round at an equally dizzying rate. Fortunately, arrangements in the northern hemisphere tend to be more lasting. The Irish Rugby Union struck a 10-year deal with Aviva when they redeveloped Lansdowne Road a few years ago. Arsenal have signed a contract (as you would with £150m on the table) that will keep them playing in the Emirates Stadium until 2028. Bolton's Reebok Stadium will soon be known as the Macron Stadium, but the Reebok connection had lasted since 1997.

The logic is simple. A naming rights deal is all about brand reinforcement, and that takes time. There is also, of course, the issue of supporters' sensitivities, and here-today, gone-tomorrow types find little favour with fans who think the name of their ground has an almost sacred status.

Dodson acknowledged that point, too. "There will be people who would find that a step too far," he said when the proposal was originally unveiled. Dodson is a relative newcomer to the world of Scottish rugby, but he was clearly aware of its backdrop of conservatism. This, after all, is a sport in which one influential administrator famously opposed numbered shirts on the basis that spectators were attending "a rugby match, not a cattle sale".

Goodness only knows what the old boy - the crusty administrator of yore, not the chief exec of today - would make of the mobile billboards who run about pitches nowadays.

When the International Rugby Board oh-so-graciously permitted the introduction of kit advertising around 25 years ago, they set strict limits on logo sizes, etc. Presumably, the rules have long been ripped up, for a top team today has barely a square-inch of strip not flogged off to some business or other.

My all-time favourite piece of kit sponsorship was the sum, understood to be close to six figures, that a group of Heriot's alumni handed over to the club back in the '90s to ensure that the cherished old shirt would not be sullied by corporate branding.

"We really don't want that kind of thing," one of them told me at the time. Heriot's pocketed the dosh and went no-logo for a season, bare-chested bastions of a world that was dying fast around them.

So the most intriguing reaction to the news that Murrayfield will become Edinburgh's biggest telephone exchange was that opposition among Scottish rugby fans was almost non-existent. Now I don't doubt that some Barbour-clad bufty might have spluttered into his hipflask somewhere, but the overwhelming view was positive. On social media, most supporters were more concerned with how the money should be spent than with taking it in the first place. That alone represents a massive change. From the off, Scotland's rugby culture was desperately slow to come to terms with the reality of professionalism, but the widespread acceptance of commercial realities, and the ebbing away of blind sentiment, means the sport as a whole is finally learning to live in the changed world.

That was obvious, too, during Glasgow's magnificent RaboDirect PRO12 victory over Ulster at Scotstoun on Friday evening. Many in the 10,000 capacity crowd had deep roots in rugby, but they had long since buried the antipathy they might once have had towards the city's pro team. Many more, I suspect, were new to the game, drawn in by the excitement and momentum the Warriors have created over the past few seasons.

It's a different rugby world now - and all the better for it.

AND ANOTHER THING . . .

Ian McGeechan was the coach who gave Gordon Ross his first Scotland cap, against Tonga in 2001. Ross thanked him with a haul of 23 points, but was then famously dropped. Astonishingly, the fly-half was on the winning side in his first four Tests, but McGeechan never really trusted him as his first-choice playmaker.

If Ross was bitter about it, he kept his feelings well hidden. But what goes around has a nasty habit of coming around, as McGeechan, now chairman of Leeds, found out on Sunday. Leeds held a seven-point lead going into the second leg of their Greene King Championship semi-final play-off against London Welsh at the Kassam Stadium.

The Exiles led 26-20 with a minute left, but Leeds were still in the frame to go on to meet Bristol in the final with a place in the Aviva Premiership at stake. However, London Welsh won a penalty as the clock counted down and who should step up to take it but Ross, now 36 and still doing sterling service. He hammered the ball between the sticks to take his side through and demolish Leeds' dreams.

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