TALKING SCOTLAND WITH HAMPDEN ROAR LONG FORGOTTEN, IS IT
STAGING a cup semi-final or final between Celtic and Rangers at Hampden has long presented serious security issues for Police Scotland, the Parkhead and Ibrox clubs, stewards and tournament organisers.
What would happen, then, if the crowd for the Old Firm game was increased by almost 20,000 and moved nearly 50 miles away to BT Murrayfield in Edinburgh?
The 67,144-capacity stadium – the largest in Scotland – has certainly proved it can host major football games in the past decade with Barcelona, Hearts, Hibernian and Celtic all playing there during that time.
But would the Old Firm match, one of the most intense and notorious derbies in world football, really pass off without major incident if it was played on the other side of the country for the first time in over a century?
These are questions which senior Scottish Football Association officials, who are currently deliberating whether to stay at or leave Hampden when their current l ease expires in 2020, will have to consider in the coming weeks.
The SFA are concerned at the high cost of maintaining and running a ground which is owned by amateur club Queen’s Park – particularly with business rates poised to increase by £350,000 due to a government revaluation.
They are discussing following the lead of major footballing nations like Germany, Italy and Spain and taking Scotland internationals and cup semi-finals and finals to various stadiums around the country – including Murrayfield.
Dominic McKay, the Scottish Rugby Union chief operating officer, is confident the capital venue would be able to deal with a Betfred Cup or William Hill Scottish Cup clash between the Glasgow clubs Celtic and Rangers.
“It would create a very special atmosphere,” he said before the Scotland rugby team took on Samoa in front of a sell-out crowd at Murrayfield on Saturday. “I think it would create an atmosphere which could, in a neutral city, be quite interesting, quite positive.
“From our point of view, we believe we’ve got a very special stadium. We’ve hosted European Cup finals here, we’ve hosted outstanding rugby matches, but we’ve also hosted football games here regularly.
“So we know we can do it, we know we can put on a great show. The city is an outstanding backdrop, the transport is pretty good. We’re always in the market for major events and the conversation with the guys at the SFA has led us to put our best foot forward.” Hearts are currently playing their home games at Murrayfield while Tynecastle is being redeveloped and they have had crowds of 24,248 and 32,852 for t heir meetings with Aberdeen and Rangers respectively in recent weeks.
McKay, whose organisation has pitched to their SFA counterparts for the right to hold showpiece matches in future, believes it proves they can deal with whatever demands arise.
“We had the largest travelling Rangers support since Manchester just a couple of weeks ago when Hearts played,” he said. “There were 15,000 Rangers supporters in here.
“We’ve got an outstanding relationship with Edinburgh City Council and with the police in Scotland. But, of course, we’d learn from the experience at Hampden, we’d learn from the experience at Celtic Park or Ibrox and we we’d make sure we put on the world-class event we always put on.”
SEGREGATION both before and during rugby matches is not something that has ever been required at Murrayfield – fans are allowed to mix freely in the build-up to games and sit next to each other in the stands during them.
That, of course, would not be the case if Celtic were to take on their city rivals Rangers, or any other of Scottish football’s leading clubs were to meet for that matter, in a cup semi-final or final, but McKay has no concerns.
“We’ve cer tainly spent a lot of time as part of our bid preparation highlighting how we would manage those big football internationals, but also those big football cup finals that might or might not come out of Hampden,” he said.
“We wo uld absolutely work hand in glove with our friends at the SFA and various stakeholders. It’s an outstanding stadium that lends itself in many respects to managing large volumes of crowds that require to be segregated. We would leave no stone unturned to ensure the spectators from both sides have a great experience.
“We’re unique in some respects in world rugby to have this space for us to play with. I’m not sure about all the football grounds, but we’ve got a lot of space at the back here and front and outstanding transport links. There are not many games that you can jump off a tram and wander down the steps straight into a fan village.”
McKay reckons having the National Performance Centre at Oriam so nearby also increases the attractiveness of using Murrayfield to the national team.
“We’ve been really pleased with Oriam,” he said. “Finally Scotland has a world-class facility that both national teams can enjoy. That fact that site’s in Edinburgh is helpful.
“We enjoy it, our team has been there all week and I know the guys in football enjoy coming through here for it. We think we’ve got a pretty good backdrop, both in terms of stadium but also the wider city facilities.”
Murrayfield will be full for all three of the Autumn Test matches against Samoa, New Zealand and Australia this month – and McKay feels that underlines the benefits of taking Scotland games around the country in recent years.
He maintains that football, whose showpiece matches have traditionally been held at Hampden in Glasgow, could benefit enormously by moving further afield and may generate larger crowds and greater increased income by doing so.
“That’s one of the things our
Dominic McKay (left) reckons Murrayfield could be just the ticket to breathe fresh life into the national team