I have been pretending to myself that I don’t care whether the SFA choose Hampden or Murrayfield as a future national stadium, where, presumably, Scottish and League Cup semi-finals and finals will be played.
Our trips to Murrayfield for Champions League qualifiers in 2014 were an eye-opener. The stadium had great vantage points and plenty of facilities. But it’s in Edinburgh, so for me, getting into the city along the M8 for an evening game was a traffic nightmare.
You do not need me to tell you Hampden is a dreadful spectator experience for most – apart from those in the South Stand. At ground level behind the goals you would scarcely know what the score was, were it not for the screens and reaction of others.
Jock Stein’s comment, that we need “one neutral acre in Glasgow” had validity when he said it in the 70s, but I’m not so sure now. Most European nations flourish without a neutral acre and Scotland would be no different. The national team would benefit by moving games to venues that better reflect the expected attendance, instead of playing before vacuously empty stands. And if they had a game which required a huge stadium, Murrayfield, Celtic Park or Ibrox would be available.
I get the historical pull of Hampden. It was a theatre to many of football’s greatest achievements – and to the top dozen-or-so of Europe’s highest attendances, but that stadium is long gone. What you will not often hear about the old Hampden, is that it was also a truly terrible place to watch football for anything up to 70,000 people who were huddled behind the goals.
For the most part, in the old ‘Celtic end’, you were further away from play than the modern equivalent, and when it rained, you left covered in muddy ash from the knee down. The ‘terrace’ was latterly just a slope, with wooden uprights which long since gave up the pretence that they supported a flat step.
We complain about modern Hampden and eulogise about the objectively inferior old Hampden because our expectations and standards have changed.
So what’s that got to do with the SFA’s decision on where the national stadium should be, which they will announce this afternoon? The SFA should be considering the next 30-50 years. What will fans in future decades expect from a stadium? It sure will not be Hampden Park. For what it’s worth, the same conclusion could be reached about Celtic Park. But whereas Celtic can afford a continuous programme of improvements, the SFA do not have this kind of budget.