CELTIC coach Stephen Frail believes the club’s Champions League qualifying campaign could be significantly hampered next season if they play their home fixtures at Murrayfield.
The temporary move to the home of Scottish rugby has been mooted as Celtic Park is hosting the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games and will not be able to stage football matches for several weeks in July and August.
Murrayfield appears the most likely option for Celtic who, if they become Scottish champions for a third successive season as is widely anticipated, will again have to negotiate three qualifying rounds to reach the group stage of the 2014-15 Champions League.
Frail has first-hand experience of football at Murrayfield, having been on the Hearts coaching staff during several of the club’s European fixtures there during a period when Tynecastle was ruled unsuitable for Uefa requirements.
Hearts played six European games at the 67,000 capacity venue, including Champions League qualifiers against Siroki Brijeg of Bosnia and Greek side AEK Athens in 2006.
Frail, who has been a successful youth coach at Celtic since being dismissed as Hearts manager by Vladimir Romanov in June 2008, was also involved in the friendly match against Barcelona at Murrayfield in 2007.
He was largely underwhelmed by the experience of playing football at the rugby venue and fears Celtic could be losing a vital edge over their Champions League qualifying opponents if their games are staged at Murrayfield.
“I was first-team coach at Hearts when we played Barcelona and got a decent crowd,” said Frail. “But it’s still not a football stadium as such. The European games were better, but I’m just not sure about Celtic playing there.
“It is a decent atmosphere, but nothing like you would get at Celtic Park. It was a very strange experience. The facilities are excellent, the dressing rooms and everything surrounding them. The playing surface was also fine. I wouldn’t say it’s like Celtic Park, but not many are. It was decent enough for football. If there are any issues there they will make sure they get it fixed.
“I’m sure the players would get a training session or two on it but it does become more like an away game because it’s not your own surroundings.
“We trained there a few times as well and you could see it was decent. But it was basically just a wee bit detached from the main stand. There is a running track along there and it seemed quite far away.
“There is definitely a sense of losing home advantage, without question. I think that happened to Hearts. People obviously know what the atmosphere at Tynecastle can be like, and there are a lot more people at Celtic Park on a European night. So it would be disappointing if we did have to play there.
“Murrayfield is a good stadium and everything connected to it is nice. But I think they will find the same with the Olympic Stadium in London when it is used for football. I don’t know how they will go about transforming that for West Ham United.
“Manchester City moved into the Commonwealth Stadium and they made that a fantastic stadium so I don’t know if there is something they can do that way with Murrayfield.
“Obviously there are other top stadia like the Aviva in Dublin and great ones in England which might be considered.
“I’m not decrying Murrayfield or the way it was, because it is a fantastic facility. But maybe a move to one of the other options would be better.
“You want to make the game as partisan as possible and it certainly is that at Celtic Park. If Murrayfield is the only option on the table then so be it, but you want to make it as hostile for the opposition as you possibly can.”
Frail was speaking at the launch of Celtic’s participation in the new Uefa Youth League which will run in conjunction with the Champions League this season. The Celtic under-19 side, coached by Frail and John Kennedy, will face their counterparts from Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax in a group which mirrors that of Neil Lennon’s first team.
Celtic will stage their home fixtures in the tournament at Morton’s Cappielow Park and Livingston’s Energy Assets Arena.
“I’m not sure how Barcelona will cope with the dressing rooms at Cappielow,” smiled Frail. “We use it and Livingston for our under-20 league games this season and they are both good facilities.
“It’s a really exciting competition for our young players. They will learn how it is done for away games in terms of travelling the day before and so on.”
Football at the home of rugby
16 September 2004 Hearts 3 Braga 1 Uefa Cup. Att: 18,769
Second-half goals by Andy Webster, Paul Hartley and Patrick Kisnorbo gave Hearts a first-leg lead in this Uefa Cup qualifier in the first competitive football match to be played at Murrayfield after the Tynecastle pitch was deemed too small to stage European games.
4 November 2004 Hearts 0 Schalke 1 Uefa Cup. Att: 27,272
Victory over Braga enabled Hearts to qualify for the new Uefa Cup group stage in which they were paired with Feyenoord, Schalke, Basel and Ferencvaros. They were undone by Lincoln’s winning goal for Schalke. It was John Robertson’s first match as Hearts manager and the game turned on Kisnorbo’s dismissal after a second yellow card for diving at the start of the second half.
16 December 2004 Hearts 0 Ferencvaros 1 Uefa Cup. Att: 26,182
Hearts’ hopes of progressing from the group stage were extinguished by the Hungarians, managed by future Tynecastle manager Csaba Laszlo, who was involved in an infamous touchline spat with Robertson at the final whistle. Denes Rosa scored the only goal of the game.
19 July 2006 Hearts 2 Osasuna 0 Friendly. Att: 18,973
Hearts used the match against the Spanish side as preparation for their Champions League qualifiers. Late goals by Andrius Velicka and Ibrahim Tall won the game.
26 July 2006 Hearts 3 Siroki Brijeg 0 Champions League. Att: 28,486
A week later an own goal and strikes by Tall and Roman Bednar gave Hearts a first-leg cushion against Bosnian opponents in the Champions League second round qualifier.
9 August 2006 Hearts 1 AEK Athens 2 Champions League. Att: 32,459
Hearts led 1-0 with two minutes to go in the first leg of this Champions League final qualifier but were undone by two sucker punches from Pantelis Kapetanos and Nikolaus Liberopoulos. AEK won the second leg in Athens 3-0 and Hearts dropped into the Uefa Cup.
14 September 2006 Hearts 0 Sparta Prague 2 Uefa Cup. Att: 27,451
Hearts were well beaten in a poor performance at a misty Murrayfield. There was little in the way of atmosphere as Hearts went down to goals by Daniel Kolar and Miroslav Matusovic. A goalless draw in the second leg in Prague eliminated Hearts in the first round.
28 July 2007 Hearts 1 Barcelona 3 Friendly. Att: 57,857
A huge crowd turned up to see a Barca side featuring Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Thierry Henry. Hearts’ Juho Makela equalised Ronaldinho’s early penalty but the visitors stepped up a gear and Ronaldinho and Giovanni dos Santos scored further goals. The attendance was a record for a Hearts “home” game.
24 July 2008 Hibs 0 Barcelona 6 Friendly. Att: 23,390
Barcelona returned to Scotland a year later with a new manager, Pep Guardiola. His first game in charge was against Hibs at Murrayfield. The crowd was significantly down on the previous summer but those who went were treated to a Lionel Messi masterclass. The Argentine orchestrated the dismantling of Hibs, scoring once and setting up other goals for Eidur Gudjohnsen and Pedro Rodriguez before going off at half-time. Gudjohnsen scored again and second-half goals by Bojan Krkic and Yaya Toure completed the rout.