Grant Jarvie: Moving football from Hampden to Murrayfield is vandalism

While the costs of Hampden versus Murrayfield as the national football stadium are different, the final judgement should not just be about economics but social, cultural, community and financial assets.
Gordon McQueen and Kenny Burns in action for Scotland against Wales at Hampden in 1978 (Picture: Gordon Rule)Gordon McQueen and Kenny Burns in action for Scotland against Wales at Hampden in 1978 (Picture: Gordon Rule)
Gordon McQueen and Kenny Burns in action for Scotland against Wales at Hampden in 1978 (Picture: Gordon Rule)

At present, the Scottish Football Association (SFA) rent the 115-year-old ground from its Queen’s Park owners under the terms of the current lease which expires in 2020.

In June 2017, the SFA reiterated that the preferred option was for Hampden Park to remain the home of the national game and that a decision would be made within 12 to 18 months.

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Fourteen months later and within the timescale set by the SFA, the conclusion of the next phase of the Hampden story is about to be revealed. The announcement this week may not be definitive but the arguments so far might suggest that, subject to certain assurances, the afore mentioned preferred option is likely to hold.

Gordon McQueen and Kenny Burns in action for Scotland against Wales at Hampden in 1978 (Picture: Gordon Rule)Gordon McQueen and Kenny Burns in action for Scotland against Wales at Hampden in 1978 (Picture: Gordon Rule)
Gordon McQueen and Kenny Burns in action for Scotland against Wales at Hampden in 1978 (Picture: Gordon Rule)

The historic case is no small thing. This is not just about the fact that the origins of the relationship between football and Hampden go back to at least 1873; that the oldest football international in the world is associated with Hampden; or that Hampden is part of the story of Glasgow at play which cannot be simply be relocated.

Scotland has given a lot to the world of sport and the relationship between football and Hampden is an important part of that success story. Glasgow has established itself as an emerging international sporting city and Hampden is also part of that success story. It is the only Scottish city and one of only two UK cities in the top 20 Sportcal Index of international sporting cities. Hampden helps to connect Scotland and Glasgow with other parts of the world.

While Italy does not have a national football stadium, a survey of Fifa members showed that 65 per cent of Uefa members (Europe), 83 per cent of Concacaf (North and Central America and the Caribbean), 81 per cent of Caf (Asia), 80 per cent of Conmebol (South America) and 41 per cent of AFC (Africa) members all have national football stadiums.

The attempt by the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) to shift the central of footballing power from Glasgow to Edinburgh has been ambitious. The competitive advantages of ground ownership and greater stadium capacity have allowed the SRU to offer the SFA financial inducements of up to £2 million a year.

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SRU confident Murrayfield can replace Hampden for football matches

The SRU recognises the pull of football. Global impact studies will show that one in five people around the world connect with football is someway or another. It has an attraction that is unparalleled and Scotland has an internationally recognised foothold in this world that many sports would like to tap into.

The fact that playing members of football’s governing bodies are more than double those of rugby will have not gone unnoticed. Football has grown from 120,000 playing members in 2014 to 137,134 in 2017, compared to rugby’s modest growth from 47,598 in 2014 to 48,654 in 2017. In terms of adult men and women and junior boys and girls, football’s numbers are also far higher than rugby.

This is not the golden age for opinion polls. A 2017 survey of 2,923 Scottish football fans showed that 15 per cent wanted Hampden Park to continue as the national stadium; 34 per cent favoured a move to Murrayfield; playing at grounds across Scotland was the preference of 25 per cent; 24 per cent wanted a “new Hampden” to be built; while 97 per cent believed fans should have an input into the decision.

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But what were the views of the 67,887 Scottish Football Supporters Association members who didn’t take part in the survey? Were the views represented in the survey mainly those of the bigger clubs who would financially benefit from the demise the national football stadium?

The prospect of regular Old Firm football matches being played at Murrayfield has prompted the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) to put a marker down about the additional human and financial costs associated with policing the M8 corridor should the move to Murrafield be sanction by the SFA board. It is one thing for an Edinburgh Tory councillor to suggest that this is just a matter of resources but it is another thing entirely to find such resources on a regular basis.

The SFA would certainly have to contribute to the cost of Murrayfield policing. It is a matter of judgement as to whether scarce SFA resources should be spent on policing or grassroots community developments, given the proven benefits of football in relation to social cohesion and crime reduction.

In a nation that believes in devolved power and that local voices should be listened to, the Mount Florida Community Council have made their views known. The third Hampden Park, located on Mount Florida some 500 yards south of its predecessor opened in 1903. In a letter to Hampden Park Limited, the Mount Florida Community Council put forward the case for the national stadium to remain on the basis of the cost to local heritage, the local economy and local identity.

Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken has warned of a historic stain that would be impossible to erase should Hampden, Queen’s Park, King’s Park and Mount Florida be abandoned. The promise of increased capacities through the introduction of safe standing, improved transport links and a user-friendly council to assist the SFA with any stadium alterations have all been forthcoming.

In someways, Hampden suffers, as does Scottish sport, from not having a unified voice fighting and advocating for it. There is a danger that Hampden and Scottish football do not fully realise what it has until it is too late.

Hampden must remain the national home of Scottish football. Most Fifa member countries have national football stadiums. Hampden can and should be improved but it would be cultural theft and vandalism to move it out of its current location.

Celtic, Rangers, Hibs, Hearts, Aberdeen and the SRU may gain financially in some small way if football moves away from Hampden, but Scotland as a whole would lose nationally and internationally.

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Scotland has a recognised base, role and reputation through football and therefore why would and should it move to a base where in the words of the SRU’s chief operating officer “rugby has to take priority”. This is not mutuality, this is not equality, and it is not good for Scotland or Scottish football.

Professor Grant Jarvie is chair of sport at Edinburgh University