News of secret meetings suggest a new rescue plan for the fading sports arena could be on the cards, David McCann looks at what it might mean for elite and amateur competitors
IT twice played host to the finest athletes in the Commonwealth – but it’s now clear that it has seen better days.
Creaking Meadowbank Stadium could, however, be on the comeback trail following reports of a secret deal which could see a renaissance for the 1960s-built arena.
Despite a history of redevelopment plans failing to get off their marks, a bid has emerged to replace the ageing stadium – but with the possible loss of some existing facilities.
Council officials have confirmed “preliminary discussions” for a deal have taken place, which could mean the loss of the velodrome and sports pitches, and may spur the return of Edinburgh Rugby several years after the team relocated to Murrayfield.
But through the chipped paint and fatigue, Meadowbank remains a hub for community sport in the Capital – welcoming five-a-side battlers, keep-fit enthusiasts and sporting try-hards of all abilities.
It’s feted as a breeding ground for sporting prodigies – Scotland’s greatest Olympian Sir Chris Hoy honed his powerful sprints through countless gruelling circuits of the velodrome – but as a multi-purpose arena it also caters to the recreational sportsman.
So arguably a coup for the city’s sporting elite, the price of stadium enhancement could be a loss of facilities for community users and, possibly, the sport stars of the future.
Speaking about the role Meadowbank played in Scotland’s recent dominance in track cycling, Sir Chris Hoy’s father David – a member of the East of Scotland Cycling Association – described it as “invaluable”.
“Without that facility there would have been none of the success for Scottish cycling we have seen in the last 20 years,” he said.
“The sport would be at a huge disadvantage and I would call on councillors to stand by their commitment to our sport, whatever their plans are for Meadowbank.
“They must stand by our sport and the facility they were brave enough to build in the 1970s, which has proved to be a massive success.”
The velodrome, built before the 1970 Commonwealth Games and re-mastered in 1986, would be forgiven for fraying at the edges by now, but Brian Annable, founder of the City of Edinburgh Racing Club, which trained Sir Chris Hoy among others, said its quality would endure.
“The track will last for ages,” he said. “It’s quite old now but it’s in good condition, there was an inspection this year and there’s surprisingly little to be done.
“Edinburgh Leisure are making sure that the velodrome will be fit for use by April 17 when the National League starts.”
Mr Annable, a former architect with the city council, said he was confident the velodrome would not be lost because it remained “the best track in terms of design in Britain”.
He said: “We are now at the top of the world in cycling and that is recognised when people like Sir Chris Hoy win Olympic medals.”
He declined to comment on other aspects of Meadowbank Stadium, but said: “It was brilliantly designed by my predecessor in the city architects office. As a multi-purpose sports centre it was thought to be among the best in the world for its time. Most public bodies don’t maintain things as well as they should and it’s only when something goes wrong something gets done, and it costs more to put right.”
The future of Meadowbank has long been subject to speculation. In 2004, plans to sell off the whole site for housing to help pay for a new stadium in Sighthill failed after a public outcry. Four years later, a doomed bid to replace the existing stadium with a scaled-back arena – funded by selling off a third of the site – fell victim to a crashing property market.
The stadium has been home turf to Edinburgh City Football Club for several years and a spokesman said while it could use “a lick of paint” it was “one of the best non-league stadiums in the country”.
He said: “We have heard this so many times in the past and one of these days it will come to fruition and the council has made pretty clear its goals.
“We were able to co-exist with Edinburgh Rugby when they were there previously. We got some benefit from that arrangement in terms of more attention for the facility. That’s an arrangement we would be happy to do.”
But he warned of the loss of sports provision for the local community would be a sticking point for many.
“The last time there was a deal like this on the cards there was a lot of people upset locally because it’s a very well-used facility,” he said. “Any time I’m there it’s very busy and the car park always shows that.”