Tuesday, 20th February 2018
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Michael Garland,

bizBoost Chair,

Waterford Business Group

"God’s Golden Acre"

I try to get to at least one "Six Nations" rugby match each year. It’s an excuse to catch up with old friends, have a few beers, sample one or two new malts, enjoy some great rugby and reminisce about the old times, when we all lived in London.

This year, I was lucky enough to get tickets for the Scotland v France match, which was of course played at Murrayfield, a ground which my Father referred to as "God’s Golden Acre".

A visit to the home of Scottish rugby is in fact much more than a sporting occasion for me. My father’s ashes were spread on the try line, under the goal post, at the "Old clock" terrace end of the ground, a spot where my father introduced me to the hard men in blue. They would quite literally, put their bodies on the line, for the honour of representing their beloved "Bonnie Scotland".

When I was running the Royal Highland Centre in Edinburgh, I met and subsequently worked with, Murrayfield’s Head Groundsman Bill Elwood, a hard rugby man of Ulster. Because I use my middle name and not my first name David, Bill hadn’t realised that I might just be related to a good rugby pal of his, my father, David Garland.

Bill Elwood first met my father, at the newly built Glenrothes High School, in the 1960’s. My father had been appointed Head of PE there. Bill laid the rugby and football pitches used by my father, to teach hundreds of Scottish school children the joys of physical activity. He was an inclusive teacher and no matter your physical abilities, my father always found a place for you in an appropriate team. He didn’t like pretty boys or prima donnas and wasn’t shy in telling them so!

I happened to be chatting to Bill, at an exhibition, when the penny dropped. Dave, David, DEB Garland, was Michael Garland’s father. We spoke about my father’s fight with Motor Neurone Disease and his huge funeral turnout. I cheekily asked Bill if we could spread the dad’s ashes on the pitch. Bill immediately replied "It would be an honour!"

A date duly arranged, our family met with Bill at

Murrayfield. Carrying the container and knowing how protective a Head Groundsman was of their hallowed turf, I asked if we might use an unobtrusive corner.

Amazingly we were offered the "Freedom of the pitch". My father’s ashes, were spread under the very goal posts, that had been part of my first ever memories of Murrayfield.

I would later find out, that Bill had shut down the whole stadium, removing all staff members, temporarily closing the corporate boxes and he even turned away the full Scottish rugby squad! They’d turned up for a training session, for their next Five Nations rugby match.

The annual rugby trip throws up all manner of laughs. Last year, at the Wales v Ireland game, in Cardiff, I was surrounded by Welsh and strangely enough lots of French rugby fans. During the anthems I, in true Billy Connolly style, hummed and muttered some very, very poor words of Irish. When I had finished butchering the anthem, a Welsh lady next to me, who I would later discover was in her seventies, said "You’ve a beautiful voice and it’s great that a Scotsman knows all the words to the Irish anthem." To which I replied "Wait till you hear me singing the Welsh anthem!"

I attended my last French game, with a large group of friends, who oddly enough, all had surnames, beginning with the letter "G". After the match, we were celebrating this infrequent victory, with far too many alcoholic beverages. The elder statesman of the group was being frog-marched out of this night-club by several bouncers. Taking exception to this, we confronted said bouncers and were ourselves thrown out! Strangely, two simultaneous, anonymous phone calls later – resulted in two Black Marias, three squad cars arriving at the club doors and it was temporarily shut down!!!!!

I was even asked at a Scotland v Ireland match, whilst wearing a certain logo beanie hat, if I was "Mr X", who was top of that year’s tax evasion list!

The result – yet more wonderful memories.

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