Bribery and corruption were rife at Murrayfield yesterday. In the manner of property developers schmoozing politicians, in the manner of Hollywood studios wining and dining members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – though Harvey Weinstein in a barely-tied dressing-gown was mercifully nowhere to be seen – the rugby ground had invited the gentlemen of the Scottish football press to lunch.
I jest. Nothing nefarious happened. I’ve enjoyed lunch, gratis, at Murrayfield many times and indeed was eating there myself before the Autumn Test against Samoa. I was working at the match while the fitba hack-pack were having a sporting Saturday afternoon away from Fir Park and Firhill, pies and deadlines – and cloudsplitter clearances and insane bounces. Actually, the former are an important part of rugby while the latter happen because of the shape of the ball. In football, there’s really no excuse for either.
The round-ball enthusiasts were under no obligation to write pieces in praise of the marvels of Murrayfield but the SRU will have hoped they left with a good impression.
Rugby wants football to believe Murrayfield could host internationals and cup finals in the association code, should Scottish football suddenly find itself homeless.
We’re right back into the “Whither Hampden?” debate. Do we renew the lease or sever ties with Mount Florida and so much heritage? No less a legend than Kenny Dalglish insists that would be sacrilege. “Hampden is the home of football in Scotland. You don’t want to be moving away from that,” he said last week.
Nothing against Murrayfield, he stressed, but football should be played in football stadiums. Shuttle the boys in dark blue around the country by all means for less important matches and friendlies, but for big nights – those World Cup qualifiers which surely have to start going our way eventually – it has to be Hampden.
Dalglish mentioned Easter Road, Tynecastle and Pittodrie for occasional alternatives. I wasn’t at Pittodrie on Thursday, but the place hardly covered itself in glory with those detumescent balls and fans who boo their own. I was at Easter Road for its most recent international, against Canada in March, and what a deathless affair that was. Perversely, I ended up disappointed not to have been a part of history and the lowest-ever crowd for a Scotland game with the attendance eventually creeping up to 9,158, all of them lunatics.
Tynecastle? We all know this could be great for lower-grade internationals, assuming Scotland don’t go all the way and become a lower-grade international team. It’s got that seething bearpit aesthetic. Half shut your eyes and you can imagine that the amphitheatres of Ancient Rome, hosting mock sea battles and animal hunts, didn’t look too much different. We must hope the redesign hasn’t reduced its USP in any way.
After picking up my Murrayfield accreditation on Friday I wandered past the new Tynecastle stand to check on its progress. Cheeky Hibs fans have been poking fun: “S***e buildings that look better than Tynie” was one Twitter thread which didn’t seem to get much further than a photo of a 1970s Dundee office block. Well, on first impressions I like the frontage.
Clubs don’t have much money to spend on the outward aspects of their homes – it’s amazing new stands are being built at all and we should be grateful for that. Yes, Tynie now looks quite officey but I’m reminded of Elland Road as it was depicted on the Leeds United match programme, an unchanging front cover and a favourite image from my youth when such pamphlets were my heart’s desire (kind of similar to now).
The best photograph of Tynecastle will always be the aerial shot showing it surrounded by houses and life. The best thing that can happen to Hampden is that it’s knocked down and rebuilt, resuming its place next to its neighbours, but with the stands hugging the pitch, Tynie-style, and there’s a bullet train like they have in Japan to whoosh fans to and from Glasgow’s city centre. Oh and some decent food outlets would be nice, especially at what it’s almost arcane to still be calling the “Rangers End”. At least at the Celtic End there’s an Asda with a caff.
Will any of this happen? In an ideal world, yes, but Scottish football is unaccustomed to having a fair wind behind it; more like a screeching gale blowing right in its face. It should happen because Hampden is the cradle of the game, not just the Scottish version but, you could argue, the world’s version.
So what’s our Turin Shroud? Look no further than dear old Archie MacPherson’s sheepskin coat, inset, resplendently displayed in the museum under the pitch.
The cost of such a refurb, and the fact it would only benefit one sport in this age of inclusivity, will be a problem – which brings us back to Murrayfield. Could it do a job for fitba? It might have to.
Murrayfield is by no means perfect. Some of Hampden’s snags can also be found in EH12. But it is a 67,000-seater arena, not to be sniffed at, and those of us who’ve seen it stage friendly football matches and half-full-at-best European ties and more recently serve as Hearts’ home-from-home are intrigued: what would it be like as a sold-out, pulsating venue for the most momentous game since we last qualified for the World Cup?
Pretty good, I reckon, although I’m not just saying that as someone who’d simply have to walk over the hill at Ravelston to get there, as opposed to traipse through to Glasgow. I’ve never minded that traipse, actually. Glasgow is a big, proper football city which has staged European finals with effortless swagger. But there’s a bit of snobbery about that role, and doubtless some municipal anxiety that it could be lost.
There’s also nostalgia. Dalglish in his memories is talking about the ground he graced and not the current Hampden which has to be pulled down so we can start again with all we’ve learned about stadium design. Until then – “Oh I say, jolly well played, Scotland!” – why not Murrayfield?