It was rallying rather than the roar of the rugby stadium that had the stronger sporting appeal to Borders businessman Douglas Hardie in his younger days and as a competitor he successfully took part in both local and national events.
However, living and working in the Borders, and taking an active part in community life, means that getting caught up in the fervour that surrounds the region’s number one sport becomes almost inevitable.
Serving as Chairman of both the Chamber of Trade and the historic Melrose Festival committees, it wasn’t long before officials at Melrose Rugby Football Club came knocking on Douglas’ door, keen to harness his knowledge and experience of event organisation for the good of the club.
He was invited to join, and 20 years on remains a dedicated volunteer, serving as both vice-president following his term as marketing and sponsorship convener. Now like the rest of the committee, and the majority of the community, he is gearing up for Melrose’s busiest day of the year, the annual Aberdeen Asset Management Melrose Sevens which takes place on Saturday, 8th April.
Not only is it the biggest sporting event of the year in the South of Scotland, but Melrose Sevens is Scotland’s biggest rugby event to take place outwith the national stadium, Murrayfield.
A huge amount of work goes into the planning and organisation of the Sevens and it’s very much a collective effort, explains Douglas. The club has a robust structure in place with able, knowledgeable and committed volunteers in post and first class relationships with external organisations, including police, council, community council and the wider community.
Douglas says: “This is something we have been doing in Melrose since 1883 so most people in the town are well aware that the second Saturday in April will see a rather big sporting event taking place and they plan accordingly.A lot of things are down to communication and making sure people are aware of plans and arrangements and how it may impact on them. People are prepared to work and make things happen. Different individuals in different roles take on responsibilities and we are very fortunate to have good relationship with, for example, Scottish Borders Council who give invaluable assistance and advice for planning strategy and logistics”.
The event sees a global focus on the small Borders town which has a population of 2,500, and welcomes around 10,500 visitors for the one day tournament.
Teams from across the Borders and Scotland will face off against tough competition from Sweden and England in this year’s tournament.
There’s also a Sevens Junior Coaching Clinic with 120 youngsters taking part as guests of the club and training with some of the country’s top coaches.
Teams from as far afield as Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Portugal and Uruguay have attended Melrose during the tournament and live BBC broadcasts means that hundreds of thousands of people can share in the excitement, with many column inches of newspaper space also given over to the event.
The Sevens also brings a generous cash injection for the area.
“The information available to us is that the event is worth in excess of £2 million to the local economy through bed nights and spending,” Douglas explains. “It’s not just Melrose that benefits; it ripples its way out to the wider district. There have been occasions when there has been no accommodation available close by and visitors have ended up staying in Edinburgh.”
Melrose seems to be an area that has maintained community spirit and retained local services and that is a source of pride for the area, not just for the duration of the Melrose Sevens tournament but all year round.
“Melrose Sevens might just be one day in the season but it is months of work. We are lucky to have a nucleus of people prepared to roll their sleeves up and get on with things,” adds Douglas. “We’re not the only club in Melrose to benefit from that. For example, Melrose in Bloom has a group of retired and semi-retired volunteers who look after the floral displays and have won many awards for the town. In addition we still have two bakers, two butchers, a green grocer and fish monger in town, and when you consider there are four major supermarkets a few miles away we consider ourselves very fortunate in Melrose.”