The Scottish Mail on Sunday
The Old Lady has sung ... and now her time is over
SHE looked nice last night. It was an occasion, all right, and there’s no denying we share a lot of good memories. But the thrill is gone and it is not coming back. Cost, according to chief executive Stewart Regan, will be the primary factor when the decision over the Scottish FA’s lease on Hampden Park, which expires in 2020, is made within a year or so.
Given their track record, though, no one can trust those in charge of the national association to make such a momentous call on their own. That is why the will of the people must also be taken into account.
In addition to the review into the ongoing worth of the national stadium, there must be widespread dialogue to establish just what the customer seeks from the future. Not just the Tartan Army but fans thinking of their clubs, what they desire from cup finals, where they would prefer semi-finals to be played.
And whilst the political elections and referendums of the last 12 months should warn us all that predicting the way the wind is blowing with the general public is a precarious business, everything does point towards pulling down the curtains on the Old Lady after 114 years.
Hampden holds a special place within pretty much all of us. My first game with my father was there.
It is impossible to forget that exhilarating, addictively scary feeling of being lifted from my feet by the swell of the crowd and moved 15 yards down the terracing the night Ally McCoist got in behind the Norway defence to send Scotland to the 1990 World Cup.
We live in a different days, though. Football operates on different frameworks. The revamp of the stadium into an all-seated arena, completed at the end of the 1990s, was a physical manifestation of that. It also changed the feelings many had for the old ground.
The project was mired in scandal. There was a fraud squad inquiry and, in the end, a bail-out involving public funds was required.
What we were left with has been terribly underwhelming, too. Politicking has continued to bring big events to Hampden, but not even its most fervent backer can argue that it is a world-class venue when compared to the likes of Wembley, the Millennium Stadium or even Murrayfield.
Three sides of the ground are onetier. Spectators regularly complain that the view from a large number of the seats is poor. The atmosphere disappears into the air given the shallow nature of the stands.
In an ideal world, we would raise money to upgrade Hampden again. What happened at the turn of the century makes that difficult.
Current pressures on public resources render it impossible.
The SFA is hardly rolling in it either, which is what 20 years of unrelenting failure brings you.
When there is no cash to make it any better, can we then afford to persevere with a ground — still owned and used by an amateur club, remember — which outgoing SFA and SPFL board member Ralph Topping even described recently as an ‘anachronism’ and ‘not fit for purpose’?
The warning has already been issued that rising business rates are likely to lead to an increase in ticket prices, something sure to create anger amongst Tartan Army members already being ripped off by the Scotland Supporters Club. Club fans have already made it clear in surveys that they believe they are being overcharged as is.
Some fundamental issues have been raised this season, too. The League Cup semi-final between Aberdeen and Morton — played at lunchtime to suit TV — attracted just over 16,000 people.
Traffic jams on the way off the M74 for the Dons’ Scottish Cup semi-final with Hibernian, far from a sell-out, were also ridiculous.
Hampden is simply not as easy to get to as it should be and the insistence of staging games at midday in Glasgow for people from the north or east irritates.
The national team is hardly shifting tickets hand over fist either.
Moving games around the country depending on demand, then, seems a straightforward answer. Parkhead, Ibrox and Murrayfield are available for the major matches and all generate a far superior atmosphere to Hampden.
Tynecastle, a thunderous arena, will soon boast a new main stand and a capacity of over 20,000. Easter Road holds 20,000 plus and is impressive with similarly steep stands, good views and a real buzz.
Even Pittodrie, although ugly and dilapidated, holds over 22,000 and can host fixtures until Aberdeen and the local council finally get their act together and sort a new ground out.
One remaining question is whether fans trust the SFA to spread games around the country fairly. Such is the chronic lack of faith in them from followers of Rangers, for example, that many believe current discussions over Hampden’s future are a precursor to Celtic Park being given all the games that really matter.
Whilst you would put little past the SFA, they could not possibly contemplate such a thing, could they?
Supporters provide such a large percentage of Scottish football’s revenue that they deserve some kind of say on what will happen to Hampden.
Gut feeling suggests that the love affair is well and truly over but there is only one way to find out. We need to talk.