Hampden is a bit of a crap stadium.
Not exactly a great start to an argument designed to back up keeping it in use, is it?
But it’s true. For fans, the stand is too far away from the pitch. At concerts, the sound never quite seems to be right. Given the money spent and the experience and knowledge of what a good stadium looks like, the relatively recent refurbishment was a botched job.
It also suffers by comparison. Ibrox and Parkhead are better in terms of atmosphere, and certainly, Ibrox looks better. With both of them being in the same city, there’s an obvious question raised as to the need for a National Stadium that isn’t even that great. Why not just play the Scotland games throughout the country, as most nations do, and use the bigger stadiums for semi-finals and finals?
On the face of it, this all sounds fine. However, I’m going to argue that it’s a mistake for Scotland to let the lease run out and use other stadiums for the National games. It’s an argument based more upon emotion than anything else, but that’s often the case when it comes to football. At a time when Scottish football needs all the help it can get, decisions which seem simple need a bit more discussion.
The first reason is pretty much based on nostalgia. A lot of the noise around this debate comes from fans of Rangers and Celtic, who have been to Hampden so often it’s nigh-on a second home. The very fact sides of the stadium are described as Rangers or Celtic ends sums that up. It’s easy for us to be dismissive of the place. It’s also somewhat self-serving to suggest that international games should be played at Ibrox or Parkhead.
But there’s no doubt that some amazing memories have been formed there. Be it club or country, Hampden has been the setting for last-minute winners, great goals and shock results. In true Scotland fashion, it’s also a place of heartbreak and disappointment. As much as other stadiums have a better atmosphere, Hampden can still be excellent in that regard. Just ask anyone at the recent Scotland-England game when Griffiths scored that second free kick. Like anywhere in football, results and performances dictate just how much noise is made. The atmosphere at Hampden is more than good enough when Scotland are playing well. Smaller stadiums may suit some of the less exciting matches, but that’s still an option.
Linked to the nostalgia element is a second reason to renew the lease on Hampden. If the SFA decide not to use the stadium, Queen’s Park will be liable for a huge bill to fans who bought debenture seats. The oldest club in Scottish football would face extinction whilst other clubs benefit from the decision. Games being played at Ibrox or Parkhead would only anger most Scottish football fans who would see it as favouring the big clubs. Not only is it useful to have the neutral venue for cup games, it represents something that belongs to all of Scottish football. At a time when Scottish football is more fractured than ever, a symbol may be required. Putting Queen’s Park out of business would certainly not be that.
I’ve heard suggestions that the stadium isn’t modern enough. Looking at some of the places Scotland play in on their travels, I’d suggest it’s not so bad. Also, there’s really no way Scottish football can complain about anything not being modern, given how far behind the times our football is in general. Let’s see a good, exciting team in the Scotland blue before we complain about a seemingly sub-standard stadium.
And the final reason is aspiration. Moving Scotland games to other grounds on a permanent basis would still see kids want to play for their country, but would take away a special element of it. In the shadow of Hampden is Toryglen Football Centre. Used by the SFA for coaching of various levels, it will be the place where many prospective players learn their craft. Being able to simply point across the road and tell a kid they’ll play there one day if they keep working hard has the potential to be motivating. A National Stadium gives players and clubs alike a chance to aim for something a little bit different from the norm.
Hampden could be a better stadium. It could be refurbished yet again to improve many elements. Public transport links need to be more accessible. But there’s not a stadium in Scotland that doesn’t have flaws in some way in comparison to others. Hampden represents so much about Scottish football that is good, and that is a rare thing. There’s an immeasurable amount of memories and nostalgia attached to the place. It represents aspiration and unity, in a way only a neutral stadium can in football. It might not be perfect, but doesn’t that just describe Scottish football anyway?