By Far The Greatest Team

The football blog for fans of all clubs


Hampden: Time for change

Yesterday we looked at the case for keeping Hampden Park in its current form as Scotland’s national stadium. Today we look at the arguments in support for a fresh rebuild and why the team should be taken ‘on tour’ in the process.

In three years’ time, the SFA’s existing 20-year lease on Hampden lapses, and a nation will asks itself ‘where is home?’ for its most cherished pastime.

If truth be told the question has reared its head more often than the national team’s kit designer has dared to in recent years, but by 2020 Scotland could be 22 years into a major-tournament drought.

Scotland recorded back-to-back victories on Monday night with a 2-0 win at home to Malta, putting the possibility of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup back in their own hands, yet the national stadium was more akin to a morgue than a cauldron of revelry and optimism.

The stadium was marginally over half capacity and, whilst the SFA’s extortionate ticket pricing didn’t help matters, there is little appetite for droves of fans to commute to a stadium that bygone generations once eulogised about.

It’s time for Scotland to bite the bullet and admit that the redevelopment in the 1990s was a colossal fudge, before another two decades are consigned to drab evenings of apathy.

The annual fee of £1.1m paid to Queen’s Park over the past 20 years makes the investment of over £50m in infrastructure costs seem even less cost-efficient. It’s as if the Spiders’ devout commitment to amateur status has been treated as the benchmark for the governance of the Scottish game.

For a country that produced a visionary in prolific Glaswegian football stadium architect, Archibald Leitch, the man responsible for imagining the timeless brick façade of the Main Stand at Ibrox Park, Aston Villa’s Trinity Road Stand featuring the majestic staircase entrance and the marble staircase at Highbury, the prolonged and expensive adaptation of Hampden into an all-seater stadium falls well short of those standards, even decades later.

Opened in its current form in 1999, it was not a good couple of years for architecture in the country as the Scottish Parliament was presented a year later, taking the shape of Ian Cathro’s favourite formation.

Awful transport links, painstaking congestion around the concourse and no fan-zone or entertainment around the stadium, Hampden is outdated and rigid.

Inside the arena, the standard only descends as the desolate atmosphere is augmented by the running track which puts 140m of non-grass surface (not what the punters paid to see) between the supporters and the pitch (what the punters did pay to see).

If you are, however, lucky enough to be in a vantage point where viewing a game of football is indeed possible, then there are still no guarantees as the surface problems have plagued the land for years, which make for a rather unappealing ninety minutes of attritional football.

Combine that with advertising boards that obscure the view in the front few rows, not to mention stewards who block the line of sight of disabled fans, and you get a cocktail of poor match day experience.

That neglects to mention the actual players who are being deprived of an electric atmosphere that is festering, waiting to be ignited. Some may scoff at the notion that decibels can have a discernible effect on players, but Tottenham and West Ham’s woes in a stadium similar in both its design and purpose suggests a deterioration in the fortunes of the starting XI when ‘home’ is deemed to be out of kilter with the wishes of supporters.

The emotional appeal of a designated national stadium is one that strikes a chord with most Scottish football fans. The rich history of Hampden Park makes the moniker sacrosanct in the hearts of supporters, but a new version is badly in need of construction.

The sheer scale of adjustments needed to the current layout would surely deem any feasibility study redundant as the cost-benefit ration of building a bespoke replacement would offer a longevity and adaptability that the current constraints don’t allow for.

Hampden has had many a big night in its lifespan but for those under the age of thirty the stadium hasn’t created a memory that etches its date and ingrains the individual frames of a moving picture into the Tartan Army cerebrum.

That’s what a national stadium should be: a host for a country’s football lovers to congregate and grow memories that seep their way into the country’s bank of cultural references.

Hampden can only offer nostalgia in that regard, back to times in the post-war attendance boom when the slopes were swaying with teeming sets of fans on the terraces. Since its most recent transformation its name is not synonymous with the one navy blue moment of magic or historic result that defines its legacy. Club football, while usurping international footballing in the rankings of allegiance, has dominated on that front.

Think of modern Hampden and you see a pirouetting Zidane as he corkscrews a volley into Leverkusen’s goal; think of modern Hampden and you see Peter Lovenkrands hurdling the advertising boards in the CIS Cup Final; think of modern Hampden and you see Hibs lifting the Scottish cup for the first time in a century.

When I think of modern-day Hampden Park in Scotland terms I see the colour drain from the face of hundreds of grown men’s faces.

Men who had, ten seconds earlier, been celebrating uncontrollably in a bar in Centre Parcs, Cumbria, before realising that Chris Iwelumo, hands on head, had indeed contrived to put the ball wide of the vacant Norwegian goal from 14 inches out.

Now, some would argue that this incident alone is enough to reduce the stadium to rubble and start anew, but there is a plethora of reason why this is the only course of action available if Scotland wishes to salvage a modicum of excitement around international football.

You fleetingly see Gary Caldwell sprinting to the corner flag, his face beaming with emotion after he has netted the winning goal versus France, before realising it was ultimately another glorious failure.

You are brought crashing back to the reality that the overriding scene is of an inept referee and the loss to Italy in the last moments of the game to crush the dream once more. There’s nothing even sentimental worth holding onto.

There is a tipping point when a place exudes such emotions of despair and defeatism that it becomes toxic.

Building it from scratch would allow for a consultation period where the in vogue return to terracing could be considered as an option and the design tailored to retain some of the historic characterises of the original. However, building it on the plot where Third Lanark hope to return to prominence from, whilst romantic, is even less pragmatic.

It would also give room to a period where the national team could embark on somewhat of a reconnection with fans outside of the Glasgow bubble.

England took their national team ‘on tour’ between 2001 and 2007 where they played games in fourteen different stadiums stretching from Newcastle to Southampton in a move that was seen as an attempt to defeat the concept of a London elite.

Glasgow isn’t quite the same metropolis as the UK’s capital but it is undoubtedly where the soul of Scottish football belongs and any diversion from there would be a fatal mistake.

Yes, fans from up north may be at a disadvantage, but if it were to be placed in a fair location then it would be on a hillside near Loch Garry.

Naturally, Scotland doesn’t have the depth of elite stadia as England does, but there is potential in taking the current approach of awarding an occasional friendly game to a and extrapolating it over a European Championship and World Cup qualifying campaign each.

The logistics of accommodating 30,000 travel club members is difficult but it could be designed in a way that major games were assigned to Glasgow, with the others tiered on the stature of the opponents.

Scotland played nine home games, including friendless, from the start of the last qualifying campaign up to the beginning of the current one, while they played eight, seven and seven the ones previous.

The amphitheatres of Ibrox and Parkhead have displayed their raucous nature before, with the Shaun Maloney corner-kick routine against Republic of Ireland promoting the prospect of Celtic Park being the new home, while Rangers boast a perfect record when hosting international games.

Balance is always key with the Old Firm though so the games there would have to be evenly split, which would leave Tynecastle, Easter Road and Pittodrie as second tier options, with Rugby Park, Tannadice and Fir Park as reserves for games against minnow nations.

There is no silver bullet to improving the results of the national side but playing in a stadium built for football and not athletics would be a start. One where the acoustics reverberate Flower of Scotland and offers a layout that appeals to modern football fans.

When they come to naming the new stadium perhaps they can take inspiration from the current stadium’s supposedly inferior sister, Lesser Hampden. Only this time, Greater is surely the only outcome?

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