TALK­ING SCOT­LAND WITH HAM­P­DEN ROAR LONG FOR­GOT­TEN, IS IT

Evening Times - - SPORT - By MATTHEW LIND­SAY

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

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