JIM Clydesdale, the architect who built three of Tynecastle’s four stands, said yesterday that refurbishing the ground to make it viable in the short term was relatively cheap and easy. The comments by the vice-chairman of Hearts’ Stadium Working Group (SWG) were an implicit contradiction of many of the arguments put forward over the past year by Chris Robinson, the club’s chief executive.
Robinson’s campaign to sell the ground and make Hearts tenants at Murrayfield made heavy use of the slogan "Tynecastle - not fit for purpose". The assessment of Clydesdale and his colleagues, however, is that it can be made fit for purpose if the political will and the financial clout are there.
How best to deal with the debt of nearly 20million run up under Robinson’s stewardship was not a direct part of the SWG’s remit, but the group were unanimous that a precipitate move to Murrayfield would do serious long-term damage to the club. They also suggested that the pitch could be enlarged with a view to meeting UEFA requirements.
"Our view is that for 100,000 or thereabouts Hearts could safely stay at Tynecastle for a period of, say, five years," Clydesdale said. "Changes to the pitch, if our assumptions are correct, will require minimum work. UEFA regulations show a minimum of 100 x 64 metres and we believe with relatively little adjustment we can lengthen the pitch to 100 metres. You would lift out the front two rows of the stands behind the goal which are not fixed to the ground base and move the goals back.
"A bigger concern would be the removal of the existing roof on the main stand and its subsequent replacement by a metal roof because of the growing concern of the asbestos on the roof. But metal sheeting is not an expensive product.
"The initial upgrade to the stand would give the club some breathing space to see where it wants to go. The club could direct itself to a new stadium after five years or find sufficient funds to redevelop and enhance Tynecastle as a permanent home."
The group, set up in May of this year under the chairmanship of Lord Macaulay of Bragar, examined ten sites in and around Edinburgh, including Tynecastle. While accepting that other hypothetical venues, particularly Sighthill, had their merits, Lord Macaulay insisted that a lot could be done at Tynecastle to raise more revenue.
"We were looking at the feasibility of upgrading the stadium, including creating new executive suites under the stands," the QC said. "There is bags of room to create places for people to come for dinners and parties. The commercial development would mean the place was in use every day of the week, not just for a fleeting run in on a Saturday and go away again - you can’t make money that way. The team wouldn’t have to move while this work was being done - the ground could be upgraded without too much trouble."
If, for whatever reason, the club decides against staying at Tynecastle in the longer term, Macaulay believes that Sighthill, where an athletics and rugby stadium is already planned, could, with council assistance and permission, be turned into a sports village with the addition of a larger football stadium.
"Edinburgh Council have been very supportive and very interested," he went on. "They have done what they can within the constraints of their duty to the rate-payers and the people of Sighthill. They had representatives on the working party, as advisers, and they clarified the situation for us in Sighthill, which they have big plans for."
Continuing in humorous vein, Macaulay accepted there would be a certain amount of local opposition to the arrival of a football stadium in the western suburb. "There have been mutterings. They don’t want the hordes of Genghis Khan coming through their area every other weekend. You can imagine it yourself, the mobs that do come from certain areas, marching by your front door. You wouldn’t be a happy bunny, would you?"
Robinson was definitely one unhappy bunny yesterday. After declaring that he could not comment on the SWG’s report because he had yet to read it, the chief executive proceeded to comment at length on it.
"The club has always wanted to stay at Tynecastle, but we have the financial reality to deal with," Robinson said. "I don’t know if the report deals with the financial reality.
"The report says what we all want to hear. We’d all stay here if Tynecastle was viable. Making Tynecastle viable is what this report does not address."
SHEFFIELD UNITED CHASE DE VRIES
HEARTS striker Mark de Vries is wanted by Sheffield United, according to their manager Neil Warnock. The Dutchman is one of a number of Tynecastle regulars whose contracts expire at the end of the season, and head coach John Robertson has already admitted that English clubs have the financial clout to offer higher wages.
That could mean he walks away for free in the summer but Warnock admitted he was keen to sign the 29-year-old as soon as possible, with Hearts banking a fee. "Mark is one of the lads we’re looking at," said Warnock. "He is available on a Bosman free next summer so Hearts might want to do business in the transfer window," he told the club’s official website.
Warnock has had the Dutchman watched on several occasions. De Vries has scored only three times this season in a campaign blighted by injury. But last season he netted 16 times as the club finished third for the second campaign in succession.