Rugby will always have first dibs on Murrayfield, says SRU boss
For Scottish football traditionalists, those are six words which will send a chill down the spine.
They were uttered by Dominic McKay, the man spearheading Murrayfield’s bid to usurp Hampden as the country’s host venue for international football.
Scottish Rugby’s chief operating officer is undoubtedly a smooth operator and he believes he has made a persuasive and compelling case to the Scottish FA board ahead of their potentially momentous decision next week.
McKay and his colleagues have presented a bullish and ambitious financial argument for Murrayfield, which they hope can outweigh the clear emotional and historical advantages Hampden has as the home of Scottish football.
But there is also a practical element to the process as the Scottish FA consider the prospect of upping sticks when their current lease with the old lady of Mount Florida expires in the summer of 2020.
The international match calendars of both World Rugby and Fifa are set in stone which means there is an extremely high likelihood, if not inevitability, that there will be times when the Scotland rugby and football national teams find themselves scheduled to play on the same day.
As an example, that scenario could involve a crucial and high-profile football World Cup qualifier in November 2020 or March 2021 having to cede precedence to a Scottish Rugby autumn Test or Six Nations match.
While the Scottish FA could find temporary alternative venues in the event of such clashes, many in the football community would regard it as a slight on their game’s status as Scotland’s national sport. It’s a perception McKay insists Murrayfield would work hard to avoid.
“Rugby naturally has to take priority as we already have the 20-year fixture calendar,” he acknowledged. “But it’s all about co-operation and partnership.
“We are respectful to the heritage [of football] and it has to feel like home. It can’t feel simply like a tenancy arrangement. We have to make sure BT Murrayfield feels like a home for football.
“We’re about the future. Where do we want to be over the next 20 years as sport in Scotland? Where do we want to be as football and rugby? We must be in a venue that respects its fans and invests effectively.
“We’re a small nation but that can be an advantage if you collaborate. For many years it has been almost tribal between football and rugby and these discussions [with the Scottish FA] have given us the confidence to work together.
“It’s got the potential to be great for sport in Scotland and great for the young people who will be the beneficiaries of the investment whether it’s trickled back through rugby or football.”
McKay and his bid team have been encouraged by the positive response he says they have received from football clubs and supporters who have experienced fixtures at Murrayfield in recent years.
“We’ve been blown away by the warmth and there’s no doubt it’s helped having Celtic, Rangers, Hearts, Aberdeen and Hibs in town to play games,” he added.
“We’re pleased with that but we respect everyone’s views. It’s about making a bold and brave decision that is great for sport.
“I’m a regular attender at Hampden and love my football, so I completely get the other feedback from certain elements. But we want to make the country proud by putting a really good bid together and believe we’ve done that.
“A lot of Scotland football fans are also Scotland rugby supporters and, for a Scotland international football game, Murrayfield would be an unbelievable backdrop that would create an atmosphere that is second to none. We are probably slightly over capacitated in terms of the number of stadiums in central Scotland but it’s important that, if Scotland came to play those international games or cup finals at Murrayfield, that it feels like a home.
“The rivalry, the tradition and the respect is part of that experience. Of course we can’t replicate 100 years of history at Hampden but we can make sure the experience going forward is the best it can be for fans.”
Former Scotland and Glasgow Warriors captain Alastair Kellock, now Scottish Rugby’s business development manager, is also a member of the Murrayfield bid team and is confident they can strike a balance by which Scottish international football would thrive in the west end of Edinburgh.
“There is the financial element and the emotional element but for me it’s not one or the other,” said Kellock. “We’ll get the emotional element and the passion right.
“I can’t comment on what it’s like to play at Hampden but the atmosphere at BT Murrayfield is second to none and that’s partly down to the numbers.
“But, having stepped away from the playing side, one of the things I’ve realised is that it’s very much about the whole day and that creates an atmosphere in itself.
“To win hearts and minds for me fans should come and see any one of our games, especially over the last few years. It obviously comes from what’s happening on the pitch but there’s so much more to it. I can see any football team making BT Murrayfield their home.
“It’s a phenomenal stadium to play in but stepping back from the game I can see the bigger picture as well.
“I’ve been at Hampden many times as a punter and BT Murrayfield. Having played on it, it’s a special place but you don’t need to have played on it for it to be a special place to go and watch sport.
“I genuinely believe we can take an awful lot of what we’ve done with rugby and bring it to football and I believe the crowds will grow on the back of it. We’ve done it with rugby. People will come. Hopefully the product on the park gets better all the time but we can create an atmosphere that inspires the next generation – we’ve got a history of doing it.”