Hampden USED to be a magical place, that creaky old stand above the enclosure, the massive steep terraces behind the goals, but that was in the same way that the Odeon currently being demolished in Glasgow city centre used to be a great cinema – before modern and better facilities showed us the way forward. I recall Not The View joking when news came out that the old board at Celtic were planning to seat the terraces that ticket holders in Celtic and Rangers ends would get free opera glasses to see the action – that was a joke, unfortunately for Hampden it has some merit and as for the front few rows; sort of periscope is needed. And don’t even get me started on the tannoy system or transport infrastructure…
As the multiplex revolution in cinema illustrated, sometimes the facilities and surroundings can be more important in driving customers than the product, certainly they are very important in attracting the less committed customer because failing to attract the casual fan means that the only way to deal with the European wide massive upward spiral in player wages is to charge the hard core supporters more and more for the same diminishing product. My argument however is not that football underspent on Hampden, but that we could have re-energised our game by spending the same money elsewhere.
Much of the money spent on Hampden was from the Millennium Fund, designed to leave a lasting legacy, but the legacy we have been left is a stadium that is neither one thing nor another. One beautiful new stand, but the rest is basically seated terracing, to far from the pitch with a slope too gradual. Those in favour of the refurb argued the need for a prestigious neutral venue to deal with the volume of Celtic v Rangers Cup finals. If that’s the case it’s simply too small and despite perceived wisdom, those events are too few and far between.
The argument FOR Hampden is that it provides a neutral location, a national focal point where NO sets of fans feel alienated at a final or Scotland game. I USED to believe that too, until it was closed for the FIRST refurb (sticking a roof on the Celtic end). But when that was closed we realized what many other countries have known for years – we can cope quite well without it.
The Celtic v Rangers Thing
IF you’re going to build a neutral venue to cope with finals between these two sides the obviously it should be big enough to cope. Hampden is smaller than BOTH Celtic Park and Ibrox. PLUS as was illustrated with the famous Joe Jordan “lost the first one – oh best out of 3 then” coin toss, the first time there is a neutral event between these two teams a coin toss would suffice on whose ground was the “neutral venue” with equal fan split. Thereafter it alternates, for time immemorial (or until one goes bust).
I grew up with most Scotland fans living in and around Glasgow, indeed I recall a survey from 20 years ago where approximately 75% of Scotland fans supported Rangers, but that is no longer yet Hampden is not that well placed to be reached for the non Glaswegian. And again when Hampden was closed, spreading the games around the country allowed the football fans of Scotland a better chance to see their national side. It also meant that appropriate opponents were played in appropriately sized stadia;
v Sweden – 46,738 at Ibrox
v Estonia – 17,996 at Rugby Park
v Austria – 43,295 at Celtic Park
v Belarus – 20,160 at Pittodrie
v Estonia – 16,930 at Tyncastle
v Faeroes – 18,517 at Pittodrie
v Latvia – 47,613 at Celtic Park (won qualification)
v Czech Rep – 44,513 at Celtic Park
Better Spent and Better Shared
I outlined that the £60m capital expenditure on Hampden was largely from the Millennium fund, designed to offer a lasting legacy to mark the turn of a new century. Surely a lasting legacy would have been for a series of Millennium funded facilities across Scotland? Instead of wasting £60m on Hampden what about if we had spent the money on a series of centres;
1 x 40,000 seater stadium, shared in Edinburgh
1 x 35,000 seater stadium in Aberdeen
1 x 30,000 stadium, shared in Dundee
1 x 20,000 seater stadium in Ayrshire (Kilmarnock or Ayr)
Just imagine if both Edinburgh clubs had been asked to sell their grounds and contribute £5m each towards an SFA owned facility, two maroon stands, two green ones? Similar in Dundee.
As outlined above, modern facilities help market to the more casual supporters plus monies gained after the £5m has been contributed from the sale of existing grounds could have been used to wipe our debt. Scotland games could be played in front of appropriate supporter numbers and fixtures for the national team would be played nationally. Also cup finals and semi finals could also be played in suitably sized and suitably located grounds. If it’s good enough for Spain, Germany, Holland, Italy….
But what about Hampden? It is the home of Scottish football, but it also occupies a lot of ground in the south side of Glasgow. There is considerable land that could achieve a good price from house builders. Lesser Hampden is still there and a lasting memorial to the old lady to include a football museum could still have been constructed.
None of this happened and we wasted another in a long line of wasted opportunities. The decision taken back then to upgrade Hampden to an inferior version of a modern football stadium lives with us today. That, along with the Murray inspired speculate to accumulate fiasco and the lack of any positive innovative marketing of our game, is just one of the contributing factors in where Scottish football is today.