Some of my best Scotland memories are in the old Hampden stadium pre-redevelopment; different times, open air and all the mud or dust, depending on the weather conditions, that you could ask for. I was in at least a few 100,000+ crowds – no health and safety in those days – and always made a point of standing in front of the barriers. If a sway started you did not want to be pushed onto the barrier by the weight of the crowd, did that once and once was quite enough, thank you.
Hampden was just brilliant, and it helped that we had a reasonable team who, in those days, went forward, and if we went out at least you knew Scotland had had a go.
But do we need to be in a different stadium for our national team and later stages of national cup competitions?
First up, Murrayfield. A great rugby stadium, and that is the point, it is a rugby stadium. Watching Scotland play the Autumn internationals, whenever an aerial view was shown, it was amazing how far away the crowd were at one end (this is also a minus redeveloped Hampden point) and remarkably far away down the side where the teams come out. Hearts have been playing there and it’s great, apparently, for atmosphere, although the match highlights don’t quite seem to agree.
So, suitability is one issue, but the main question for me is why do we want to take money out of Scottish football, to give it to Scottish Rugby? They are doing fine. Let them get on with it without football cash.
So, where do we go for the big matches? The only stadiums big enough are Parkhead and Ibrox but how neutral is either venue?
The last time I was at Ibrox, the ground looked tired, weary. It just looked like it needed some TLC. And don’t forget that Celtic Park has seats with restricted view, usually where the away support is seated, and some say that the dressing rooms are too small.
Step forward Hampden.
Absolutely, the best thing about Hampden is that it is a long established neutral venue. (It is a sad indictment on the needs of Scottish football that a neutral venue is a must because our two biggest supported teams are at each other’s throat so much of the time.)
Traditionally, cup semi-finals and finals are played at a neutral venue. What happens if the Old Firm play in a semi-final or final? No matter what the SFA do in this situation, allocate the game to either Ibrox or Parkhead, they will be wrong according to one or other side.
And the Old Firm would not be helping out by supplying their grounds for the greater good of Scottish football. Simply put, they want the ground rent.
According to press reports, Celtic made more from the 2014 Scottish Cup Final than either of the finalists! Hampden was not available as it was being set up for the Commonwealth Games that year.
Do the big two not already have every advantage? So, we want to give them even more of the cash? Really? When is enough advantage enough? From time to time Old Firm supporters tell the rest of us that they want a better challenge, more competition in Scotland – aye right! The next time Rangers and/or Celtic start to talk about evening out the resource flow within Scottish football, it will either be the first time or it will be April 1st.
Spread out football cash across Scotland. Smaller international matches and cup semi-finals should be played round the country, that makes sense. Going back to the 2014 Scottish cup, the St Johnstone v Aberdeen semi-final was played in Ibrox. So, Aberdeen drove past two serviceable grounds in Dundee, and then drove on with St Johnstone to Glasgow. The match should have been played in Dundee to give supporters less of a trip. 19,057 supporters attended Ibrox, how many more would have shown up in Dundee? (To add to the inconvenience, kick off time was 12.45 on a Sunday, you would think making things easier for the supporters (customers) might be a plan.)
Stewart Regan, the Chief Executive of the Scottish Football Association, might like to defend those 2014 cup decisions.
You have to ask if this move by the SFA to investigate alternatives to Hampden is just a cynical attempt by the SFA to get the costs down for a future Hampden lease, after an unseemly public auction.
Mr Regan has many questions to answer, including those, quite rightly, put by Queens Park, the owners of Hampden. It seems the club has been kept in the dark. They want evidence to justify the statement that Hampden will cost many, many millions of pounds if the lease were to be renewed. Under the lease it is the responsibility of the SFA to maintain the stadium. The SFA should not be complaining about the stadium, after all, it is their job to keep it up to scratch.
Moving elsewhere will not be cost free. Hampden Park Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of the SFA, has access to revenue sponsorship opportunities through the use of Hampden. Are Celtic, Rangers and Murrayfield going to hand that over? I doubt it.
Queens Park also dispute reports of the stadium rental, they do not recognise the £800,000 quoted, and they say some of the rental is retained by the SFA to maintain the stadium.
Hampden has an international name, an iconic name and reputation across the world as the home of Scottish football, everyone has heard of the Hampden roar, and the ground has all the history that you would want. From a marketing point of view, you do not throw away this major asset, it is established and known.
A few personal memories…
In 1973, I was bus convenor for the Albion Rovers supporters club on the night of the Czech match, Scotland needed to beat the Czechs, which they did 2-1, to qualify for the 1974 World Cup. At one point, the driver shouted on me. I was not a car driver at that time, and he said the gear stick had come away in his hand, and I said “is that important?” If looks could kill…
We coasted into a parking space at Shawfield and then had to walk hurriedly to Hampden, agreeing that the replacement bus would meet us on Aitkenhead Road afterwards. I am sure I counted three short on the way back but no one has ever got back to me about it.
I was privileged to watch 18-year-old Diego Maradona in one of his early Argentina international matches, in 1979, at Hampden and he scored his first international goal in a 1-3 away win. I watched him and thought too small, he will never make it. He scored 34 goals in 91 appearances for his nation, won a World Cup and is regarded as one of the greatest players of all time. So I might have been wrong on that one. Argentina were a joy to watch. It is the only time I ever heard a Scottish crowd chanting for the visitors!
Hampden is not perfect. It is difficult to get to and the redevelopment was a disaster.
If you have ever travelled from the north on Scotland match day, as I have once on a Saturday morning and once for a mid-week match, there is a crazy amount of traffic going south but the real issue is with the A9 and the Aberdeen road converging at the Broxden roundabout on the south side of Perth. But it does highlight how many Scotland supporters travel huge distances from the north to watch the team. Give them an Aberdeen, Dundee or Perth game now and again.
Travelling to any stadium in Glasgow is going to be a problem, especially for an evening match but while that applies to Hampden, it applies equally well to Parkhead and Ibrox as Hampden.
Time to throw in a few celebrities. Kenny Dalglish, Joe Jordan and Malky MacKay all say Hampden is the home of Scottish football. Craig Levein, of 4-6-0 fame, believes Murrayfield is the place. That clinches it for me. Hampden, it is.
We all know what is wrong with the redeveloped stadium: pitch too far away from the nearest supporters; low, flat stands sweeping away from the action; low level seats, you will be lucky to see the players’ ankles; at the back of the stands, you feel as if you are a mile away, and at times the atmosphere can be quite tame.
My understanding of modern football stadium design is to ‘crowd’ the pitch; the first supporters are tight to the action, slightly above the level of the pitch, so that fans are looking down rather than up or along. Stands should be steeper and there should be tiers or levels, ala San Siro or to a lesser extent Celtic Park.
But not too steep, in 1990, I was in the Studio delle Alpi in Turin, home then to both Juventus and Torino, the name means the “Stadium of the Alps”, a reference to the nearby Alps mountain range, but equally could have been named after how steep the top tier was. I have a real fear of heights (acrophobia), I crawled up to my seat on the second last top row and at the finish, I bummed my way down to the exit. Fortunately, Brazil and Scotland played out a dire, unexciting game, just as well from my point of view, Scotland gave us no reason to get up and cheer or jump about, Scotland lost 1-0.
So, move over Murrayfield, Parkhead, Ibrox, stand aside for Hampden the neutral national football stadium, just a wee bit of work required.
So, SFA get on and get Hampden fixed! Hampden forever!
Written by Brian Nugent
*An original copy of this article was printed in the Albion Rovers match programme for their December 9th match with Arbroath, which was subsequently postponed. Thanks to Brian and Rovers for letting us publish the article.