The Scottish Mail on Sunday

The Old Lady has sung ... and now her time is over

- Gary Keown

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.

 ??  ?? GROUNDS FOR CON­CERN: Ham­p­den was lively yes­ter­day but re­mains a shadow of its old self
GROUNDS FOR CON­CERN: Ham­p­den was lively yes­ter­day but re­mains a shadow of its old self

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