Some players would be thrilled to be well away from the typical tirades and tantrums thrown in football stands. But Jon McLaughlin isn’t one of them.
Which is why the Hearts goalkeeper can’t wait to wrap up this afternoon’s match at Murrayfield, hopefully with a win over Kilmarnock, and then get back to the more intimate and atmospheric surroundings of Tynecastle, where he can hear whatever pelters are being pitched his way.
No-one at Hearts can fault the facilities at their interim base, but passion is diluted when the crowd is less one-sided than would normally be the case for a home crowd.
“We have enjoyed it. It is a fantastic facility and stadium to play in but it is very different,” said the Scot. “There is no getting away from the fact that it does feel more like a neutral venue than a home venue. You saw the other day, there were 14,000 Rangers fans and, against Aberdeen, they didn’t have quite as many but they did have a real good following, and that gave them an extra impetus because their fans, as is usually the case when you have that many away fans travelling, they made a real noise. So it feels more like a cup atmosphere at a neutral ground than a home league fixture.”
Separated from the stands by a warm-up track on one side and huge run-off area behind the goals, the goalkeepers, in particular, can find Murrayfield an isolating experience, given that they are used to the crowd being so close to them and well within shouting distance. “Some people might enjoy that! That keeps everyone out of earshot and it is certainly different. It might be a little different if it was the full 67,000 in there but when you have a fantastic crowd of 30,000-plus and it is not even half full, it means you are missing something and then, when it ends as an almost 50-50 split, in those kind of games, then it can make a difference,” he said.
“It is a little different from Easter Road when they are right there, on the back of your neck. In those kind of games, you maybe need every little extra you can get and if you have got the majority of the crowd on your side and they are creating a real atmosphere for the home team then that usually does help you. We are well used to dealing with that, though, and it is not something we are looking to shy away from. It will just be great to get a good result on Sunday and then we can head back to Tynecastle seeing Murrayfield as a success as an interim home.”
The promise of the new stand and the tales of big games in front of a full house have been exciting McLaughlin, who, like the rest of the squad, has been up to Tynecastle several times to check on the work.
“I have played at a lot of really good grounds. Wembley is one that does slightly have that Murrayfield feel because it is such a huge stadium and you can feel a bit detached from the people in there and you are so far away from them. I have always preferred grounds where the fans are right on top of you, and when you see Tynecastle, for what it will hold, it does feel so much tighter than that. The stands are right in on top of you and that is brilliant. There are some fantastic ones down south, like St James’ for Newcastle. But you can go to some fantastic stadiums and even if it is full, if it’s quiet and there is not a real atmosphere and if you don’t feel the fans there, then that takes away from it. But I am sure that when we get our first taste of Tynecastle, it will be absolutely fantastic and that is what I am looking forward to.
“We have been able to keep close tabs on it and see the progress. When I first signed you could see there was still quite a lot of work to be done on that stand but now it looks like they are really getting there. Fingers crossed because it will be brilliant if, in a couple of weeks, we can be walking out there on a match day.”
First, though, they have to take care of a resurgent Kilmarnock. The arrival of Steve Clarke as manager has given the Ayrshire side a shot in the arm and fostered hope that relegation is not the foregone conclusion it had once seemed. Since his appointment, the club have lost just one of their four league fixtures, beating Partick Thistle and holding both Celtic and Rangers to draws, before losing out in midweek to Hibernian.
But, with Don Cowie the first of the many injured stars back, Hearts want to bow out at Murrayfield with positive memories. With a draw, a win and a defeat there so far, McLaughlin says another victory would give them some momentum to take into their eagerly-anticipated Tynecastle homecoming.