THE famous Hampden Roar might have been capable of making Scottish football greats feel ten feet tall, but yesterday Eilidh Child was able to experience a roughly similar effect with the stadium empty.
The surface has been raised for the Commonwealth Games and just about all it needs is for the track to be laid and – no pressure – Scotland’s poster girl to streak down the home straight to medal glory
Hampden wasn’t quite deserted. Hard-hats were laying the last of the tar and the media were in for the first official nose-round. And there were two Games “faces” – Child and Jessica Ennis-Hill, pregnant and wincing at the thought of being in “a whole world of pain” while giving birth to her first child at the same time as the Glasgow spectacular, but more than happy to pass on golden-girl advice.
One thing for which the 400m hurdler doesn’t lack insight, though, is Hampden itself, having enjoyed heady days as part of the football throng. “I’ve been here a few times for football,” said the Heart of Midlothian supporter, looking out over the reshaped arena. “I unfortunately missed the Scottish Cup final when Hearts beat Hibs 5-1 but I was here when we won that semi-final 4-0 [2006, same opposition]. That was a lovely sunny day, a great result and my favourite Hampden moment.” She refrained from adding “so far”.
“I was unsure how it would feel today but as soon as I stepped onto the grass I felt the football disappearing and it becoming an athletics stadium.
“What I really like is that the crowd will be right on the trackside. It’ll be of real benefit to the home athletes to have the support right there, cheering us on.”
Ennis-Hill, the Olympic heptathlon champion, definitely won’t be at Hampden competing and almost certainly won’t make it as a supporter either. “The baby’s due in July so it will be quite difficult for me,” she said. “The timing is not great but it’s not one of those things I could have foreseen. So I think I’ll be at home, watching on TV, probably very tired and not really aware of what’s going on in the world.”
The girls then moved on to the Games Village in Glasgow’s East End – and the almost overpowering smell of freshly laid carpet – to catch up some more on what Ennis-Hill called “the gossip” after the pair had roomed together in London. A good friendship was obviously formed during that glorious sporting summer and for Child a hopefully instructive one as she prepares for her own figurehead duties.
Child: “It was really nice because you were so nervous…”
Ennis-Hill: “So nervous!”
Child: “What I mean is I was thinking that superstars wouldn’t get nervous but it was actually quite reassuring. Then you just went out there and handled everything so well. Hopefully I can do that and give a good performance.”
The Scot said Ennis-Hill has promised to talk her through the role. “Jess has been lovely and that if I need any help, she’s there.” Ennis-Hill added: “It is a challenge but you have to see it as extra support rather than more pressure. My coach was always telling me: ‘You’re competing with the same girls, it’s the same event, everything’s the same.’ You’ve just got to go out and do what you always do.”
After a quick tour of the Village’s trim avenues Child said she’d been shown her block and was pleased by its close proximity to the dining hall. “I want to nip in and shotgun my own bedroom but I don’t think that’ll be allowed!” she laughed. But what kind of Games will they be without abs-fab Jess? The men among the Scottish press-pack offered good wishes for the birth that were tinged with sadness at her non-appearance. Could the Games still be successful? “Of course, of course,” she said. “There are so many athletes who’re going to be competing here.” In her own event she predicted Katarina Johnson-Thompson would have an “incredible” year.
The mum-to-be said she was enjoying her pregnancy, although her lighter training regime had required some adjustment. “It’s a very strange feeling because normally I’m breaking my body to bits.” With the Rio Olympics in her sights she wants to “come back stronger”.
In this Lee McConnell will be a help, with the Scottish runner hoping to compete at her fourth Commonwealth Games following the birth of her son last October. Ennis-Hill said: “That would be an incredible achievement. To compete at such a high level, go away and give birth, have a child in your life and then come back – it’s the ultimate, really. Lee sent me a message of congratulations when I became pregnant and told me that when I want to get back training she’ll always be around for a chat.”
Post-Glasgow, like Ennis-Hill after London, Child will be getting married. Here too the sporting sisterhood has been in operation. Ennis-Hill said she had “lots of tips” concerning weddings, could talk about them all day, but, surveying the mostly male gathering, added: “I won’t bore you.”
At this the woman from the Daily Mail saw an opportunity to ask the big question. Would Ennis-Hill be finding out the sex of her baby? “Probably,” she said. Did she know when, exactly? “I do,” said the elite athlete, Sheffield steel behind the winning smile, “but I’m not going to be telling you.”