The prospect of Celtic playing a Champions League qualifying clash next season at Murrayfield stadium has been welcomed by the Scottish Rugby Union and the Scottish Professional Football League.
It has emerged that the Parkhead club could be forced to find somewhere else to play due to Celtic Park’s status as a Commonwealth Games venue. As was reported in The Scotsman yesterday, Celtic’s ground is hosting the opening ceremony for the 2014 Commonwealth Games on 23 July, after which the pitch will need to be relaid before it can be used for football again.
It means the Scottish champions will need to find an alternative venue to play the home leg of two qualifying round stages of the Champions League, providing they win the league again this season.
Celtic played their first home game of this season on 23 July, when they met Cliftonville in the second qualifying round of the Champions League. Eight days later they played host to Elfsborg in the third qualifying round.
Celtic are presently weighing up their options for the equivalent matches next year. However, Murrayfield’s capacity of 67,000 has helped make the home of Scottish rugby a strong possibility as a venue for at least one Celtic game next season.
Hampden Park and Ibrox are out of the equation because they are also being used for the Commonwealth Games. Celtic attracted crowds of 30,000 and 40,000 for the home matches against Cliftonville and Elfsborg respectively.
Colin Thomson, the chief development officer at the SRU, would neither confirm nor deny that talks had already taken place yesterday.
However, he stressed that the SRU are always looking for opportunities to host events other than rugby matches at Murrayfield, providing that they fit in with the fixture schedule for both the Scotland and Edinburgh rugby sides.
Speaking at an event organised by the Scottish government to promote safer driving on Scottish country roads, Thomson said: “It is a fantastic stadium, as we can see standing here this morning.
“It is in our interests – we are very keen to bring all sorts of events here, as long as it fits in with the rugby calendar.
“I don’t know the details. I am not in a position to confirm or deny it. But the season is starting for the Edinburgh pro rugby team [against Munster] this weekend, although they have had two warm-up games. We are in the business of bringing events here. It is a fantastic stadium. It is the biggest stadium in Scotland.”
Thomson added that he was more than comfortable to see football being played at a rugby stadium. It has happened on nine previous occasions dating back to when Hearts played there against Braga in a Uefa Cup qualifying round match in 2004 after the Tynecastle pitch was deemed to be too small for European matches. Other football matches have since been staged there, including friendlies featuring Barcelona.
“I sat here and watched Barcelona play Hearts a number of years ago,” recalled Thomson. “It was a fantastic event. This is a place to watch sport and a great place to watch concerts.”
Neil Doncaster, the chief executive of the Scottish Professional Football League, was also open to the possibility of seeing Celtic host a Champions League qualifying tie in Edinburgh, which would entail an 80-mile round trip away for the majority of their supporters.
“Murrayfield is clearly a very impressive venue,” noted Doncaster, who was speaking at the same event. “I understand the issues that the Commonwealth Games will create for grounds in the Glasgow area, so let’s see where it goes. But that is not something that the SPFL will be directly involved in.”