My reaction to the news surrounding Hampden Park
There was something unexpected about the news that the Scottish Football Association are considering terminating their lease at the national stadium, Hampden Park.
This being Scottish football, naturally things are not particularly simple. Chief Executive Stewart Regan has employed a consultancy firm to consider the practicalities of taking international games to other stadiums round the country. (We can assume the consultancy has been brought in to give the Chief Executive cover. Leadership appears to be an alien concept to some in Scottish football).
There are a number of good reasons for the SFA to quit Hampden. Most importantly, it’s just a not very good stadium. For fans behind the goals, you’d be as well watching the game on telly at home; the sunken bowl doesn’t generate a great atmosphere unless the stadium is packed (which more often than not, it isn’t); the transport links are poor (although it will be interesting to see if the extra funding for Glasgow 2014 has any impact). Visiting Hampden is frankly not an appealing prospect for many fans. You only have to visit the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to see what could have been achieved with roughly the same resources.
If the SFA was to remove itself from Hampden, what would be the impact? Glasgow already has two better stadiums in Ibrox and Celtic Park and there’s another 60,000+ seater stadium lying largely dormant 40 miles away in Edinburgh too. With the creation of a national sports academy centre at Heriot-Watt University, we may see the thawing of relations between the SFA and Scottish Rugby, which could lead to Murrayfield staging some Scottish internationals and/or Scottish Cup games (I acknowledge that Murrayfield is far from being a perfect venue also).
Rotating Scotland’s international fixtures around the country would be a sensible decision. This is what Germany and Spain already do and it was largely successful when England did the same when Wembley was being redeveloped. The last time Hampden came close to selling out was three years ago in the crucial game against the Czech Republic – since then, attendances have varied, so playing world class outfits at Celtic Park or Murrayfield, top-ranking but unfashionable sides at Ibrox, mid-ranked teams at Easter Road and Pittodrie and friendlies against minnows at stadiums unfamiliar to international football (like McDiarmid Park or Caledonian Stadium) makes perfect sense.
The danger of leaving Hampden would be for an annual bun fight like we’ve seen this season about where semi-finals and finals of national competitions take place. But if a transparent system was put in place, then such conflicts could be avoidable. However, this returns to the idea of the SFA leading, which appears to be something they’re not entirely comfortable doing.
But leaving Hampden is, however, not a simple decision. If the SFA does decide to give notice on their contract, where does that put the bid for Euro 2020? Why would UEFA want to stage a game at a stadium that its home association doesn’t think is good enough? There’s also the relocation of the fabulous Scottish Football Museum and administration offices, although these are not insurmountable problems. The two that concern me the most are, firstly, what would become of Queens Park? The amateurs have called Hampden (in its various guises) their home since 1873. Would Hampden and its 52,000 seats be viable for just an amateur football club and a few music concerts during the summer? If the SFA quit Hampden, will it shun it for all future use? I can’t imagine that should the Old Firm make a cup final together either would be happy with playing at each other’s grounds, nor embarking on a trip to Murrayfield (nor would the residents of said area welcome them) when an adequate stadia is lying vacant within the city.
The biggest problem for me about leaving Hampden would be the heritage and history. My first ever game was at Hampden, on the terraces for Hibs’ Skol Cup win in 1991. I was there for the partial re-opening when we played the Netherlands in a friendly. I was there to some of my best days in football (Hibs trouncing Killie in the League Cup Final; coming back from 3-0 down to Falkirk in the Scottish cup semi) and some of the worst (that 6.05pm on a Sunday Scottish cup semi against Aberdeen and erm, well, the 19th May 2012). To a lot of people, Hampden brings cherished memories, where the results were what mattered, not the horrendous queuing or being half a mile away from the goal; they associate Hampden with Scottish football. Would we lose that link? Would Scottish Cup finals be the same if played at Celtic Park or Ibrox or Murrayfield every season? I think the occasion would be ever so slightly diminished, especially in the first few seasons.
That makes the decision to rule out the redevelopment of Hampden by the SFA even more surprising. By pre-empting the consultants, you’re essentially asking them not to explore all the possibilities that face the SFA. It seems a bizarre approach and I don’t expect it to be fully explained.
Hampden, for better or worse, is our national stadium and I’d like to see the fans of Scottish football fully consulted on any changes. If the SFA is going to make a dramatic change, then surely it stands to reason that the lifeblood of the game deserves to have their views heard. But I’m not holding my breath.