Who has the vision to see an alternative to Hampden, wonders Brian Ferguson
You would have to have been living under the proverbial rock not to have been aware of one of the big dilemmas at the heart of Scottish public life.
The issue of whether the Scottish Football Association should jump into bed with Scottish Rugby has almost as many layers of complexity and intrigue as the minor matter of whether there will be another independence referendum.
Debate has been raging for months over the prospect of Murrayfield hosting the Scottish national football team, as well as semi-finals and finals of major tournaments, if the game turns its back on Hampden Park for good.
So it is maybe not too helpful to throw a spanner in the works by wondering whether some kind of middle ground – a third way, perhaps – could be found. Murrayfield seemed to be in the hot seat, thanks to an extended charm offensive, assisted by the recent revival of the national rugby side, including big wins against France and England.
But the prospect of Scottish football turning its back on Hampden seemed to belatedly tug on the heartstrings of many of those involved in the game, horrified that its historic home for 115 years could be demolished and the sport relegated to sideshow status at Murrayfield.
Indeed, much has focused on the negatives in the debate. We hear repeated gripes that Hampden is largely unloved, inaccessible to major transport networks, saddled with outdated facilities and offers terrible views from most seats. There are also doubts over the ability of the SFA to deliver a better stadium with any potential redevelopment.
But many of those opposed to Hampden being consigned to the history books are fearful of major games being played at a half-empty Murrayfield, where most of the crowds are also seated well away from the pitch. There are also concerns about the ability of ScotRail and Haymarket station to cope with the vast influx of fans from Glasgow if and when the Old Firm inevitably meet, never mind how much opposition Scottish Rugby may face from residents if Murrayfield is suddenly hosting 10 major events a year, including concerts currently staged at Hampden. It is this last dimension that led me to wonder whether a big trick is being missed.
What if the SFA, which only needs a major stadium half a dozen times a year, was able to use a brand new facility BETWEEN Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Such a scenario was painted less than three years ago by Paul Bush, VisitScotland’s director of events, to help Scotland compete with rival bidders for major events around the UK and overseas. Next to nothing has been heard of his idea since then – but it was a compelling one.
With plenty of vacant land by the M8 and M9 motorways, it is a surprise that a new state-of-the-art arena, with a capacity up to 50,000 (almost the equivalent of Hampden), retractable roof, with a dedicated railway station and direct link to the motorway network, has never got to the starting blocks. Yet a new arena capable of housing major indoor and outdoor sporting events could also accommodate rock concerts, award ceremonies, catwalk fashion shows, live TV broadcasts and even comedy nights. It is surely worth asking whether Scotland’s ambitions should be limited to making do with Murrayfield or a half-baked revamp of Hampden.
But does anyone have the vision to produce a compelling alternative to Hampden? If so, they are yet to emerge.