Scotland’s bid, announced on Monday, to be a co-host of Euro 2028 along with England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland must be applauded, since it might be the only way Scottish fans will ever get the national stadium that they deserve.
A previous proposal for a five-way bid to host the World Cup in 2030 seemed a non-starter. Given Fifa’s unpredictability, and the feeling that a South American bid hinged on Uruguay, the World Cup hosts in 1930, would be favoured, putting everything into staging a Euros certainly offers a more realistic chance of success. Questions are already being asked as to why £2.8million was wasted in carrying out a feasibility study for a World Cup project that seemed doomed from the start.
The prestige of hosting such sporting tournaments – the Euros lies third behind the World Cup and Olympics in terms of revenue generation and profile – are all very well, but the kudos won’t mean much unless it leads to longer-lasting improvements.
Ian Maxwell, the SFA chief executive, has confirmed that Hampden will be the flagship Scottish stadium in the bid. “We will be working as hard to make sure Scotland can host as many games as possible here at Hampden,” he said in an interview posted on Youtube.
Ibrox, Celtic Park and others are only expected to come into the equation if – as seems likely – Uefa act to increase the number of teams involved from 24 to 32. Even then the 11 extra games spread out across five countries would not necessarily mean Scotland would require more than a single stadium. Murrayfield, it’s understood, is already a non-starter.
It would therefore be all eyes on Hampden, which, in its current guise, might be a little embarrassing. Many felt that the stadium was looking tired enough in the four games staged during last summer’s 2020 tournament. How will it look six years down the line without serious improvement? Serious improvement does of course require serious funding.
“The stadium piece is an important one for us, there’s no doubt about that, and we need to look at exactly what hosting a Euro in 2028 can bring in terms of the development of Hampden,” said Maxwell.
“We are very much focused on developing Hampden and we need to engage primarily with the Scottish Government primarily to see what hosting a Euro can help with in that regard.”
It’s unlikely the Scottish Government would otherwise be too interested in helping fund improvements to a football stadium that some might consider is already good enough to do the job of housing 50,000 supporters. It’s only football fans after all. Relations between Holyrood and football authorities have become strained since the start of the pandemic.
With SFA finances taking another major hit during Covid-19, the likelihood of the national association being able to fund Hampden improvements without outside help – Glasgow city council is another possibility – was always remote. The governing body needed two of Scotland’s richest businessmen just to help fund the deal to buy back the stadium. Lord Willie Haughey and Sir Tim Hunter between them donated £2.5m of the £5m required.
“The real work begins now to ensure Hampden Park can continue to serve the needs of the game and be an inspirational home for Scottish football in the future,” said SFA president Rod Petrie in a statement announcing the deal after what had proved a protracted process.
That was in June 2019. No one was expecting a pandemic to change everything.
Scotland had yet to qualify for Euro 2020 and by the time they did, in November 2020, the tournament had already been put back a year.
We never did get the full watching-Scotland-playing in-a-major-finals-at-Hampden experience during last summer because of restricted attendances. It ended up being, in truth, rather underwhelming, certainly at Hampden, where Scotland suffered two defeats in front of largely empty stands while scoring only a single goal.
And yet, Hampden still has its moments. The old place can still stir the soul. Few were complaining about the sightlines when Scott McTominay bundled home the late winner against Israel in October that kept Scotland on course for a World Cup play-off place.
Several players from Denmark – whose own Parken stadium is often cast up as being among the best examples of a modern, well-designed arena – even remarked on the impressive atmosphere after Scotland's 2-0 win in November.
However, during Euro 2020, as action flicked between stadiums in Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Budapest, among others, it was hard to deny that Scotland’s HQ looked worn when compared to the national stadiums in other countries. These aforementioned grounds have adopted the look that any football stadium architect, tasked with beginning afresh now, would aim for: steep sided-stands close to the pitch featuring A grade catering facilities in the concourse.
There’s an argument Hampden can currently boast none of these wish-list requirements. Upgrading will take mammoth investment. Maxwell estimated in 2019 that renovations to the extent of those undertaken by German club Stuttgart, whose Mercedes-Benz Arena included the removal of an unpopular running track, could cost at least £50m - and that is before taking into account the inflation in construction prices over the last 12 months.
Stuttgart lowered their pitch to accommodate the building of two steep-sided stands closer to the playing area - an improvement most Scottish football fans are desperate to see behind the goals at the national stadium. It's understood doing something similar to the pitch at Hampden is not an option because an underground river runs beneath the stadium. Other possibilities are being investigated. But they would all appear to hinge on this Euro 2028 bid proving successful.