Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson can easily recall how special it felt to play in front of a packed Tynecastle crowd and, as the man in charge, he knows the advantage it afforded his squad as he guided them to Championship success and the edge it gives them as they try to build on that in the Premiership this season.
That is why he is delighted that the club’s hierarchy has decided against abandoning the current site and plan to simply replace the century-old main stand instead and increase the capacity to around 20,000.
“For the players and the fans, it’s intense,” said Neilson. “The fans are right on top of everything and I think the new stand will take it to a new level. The three stands on the other side are great, but the main stand has served its purpose and is becoming difficult to maintain.
“It’s probably exactly the same as when it was built and is probably the worst away dressing room in Scottish football for players to come to. It’s been a great stand and has served us well for more than 100 years – but it’s time to move on.”
The buy-up of surrounding land is well underway and plans are expected to be unveiled early in the new year. The idea is then to have the major work carried out during the 2017 close season, with the possibility of striking a deal with the football authorities to play the last few games of the 2016-17 season and the first couple of the 2017-18 season away from home to offer a little more leeway. That would negate any need to move away from the spiritual home, even on a temporary basis.
“The club, the staff, the players and even opposition fans will be delighted, because it is one of the best stadiums to visit,” said Neilson. “If it’s a choice between getting a new stand and playing a few games away from home, a new stand wins every time.” Even if by that time they are chasing bigger aspirations or even the title, he said.
“That period could be difficult with five or six away games in a row. But it needs to be done if we want to stay at Tynecastle through the season. Going to Murrayfield is not something we want to do.”
There had been fears that the Tynecastle footprint would rule out redevelopment and necessitate a rebuild elsewhere, with even the prospect of a season-long stadium share elsewhere causing concern for the football staff. But the news that they will remain in Gorgie has thrilled Neilson.
“We’ve all been to these stadiums which are miles outside the city and don’t have any soul, it’s just not the same environment.
“As a young kid coming through the ground staff, you watch a lot of games and it’s a great atmosphere, but I remember the Stuttgart game [in the Uefa Cup in 2000]. It was one of the first I played in; a full house under the floodlights, which was incredible. I also played at Murrayfield when it was moved there for the Champions League and it was night and day, there were 25,000 at that game but it felt like 3,000 because of the size of the stadium. So to stay at Tynecastle and redevelop it is fantastic.”
Midfielder Prince Buaben echoes the positive comments about the atmospheric ground as well as the damning indictment of the visitors’ dressing room but hopes the new stand won’t upgrade the guest players’ facilities too much.
“They are talking about making [the away dressing room] a bit bigger – which I don’t want, because you have to keep the opposition uncomfortable!
“I first played there years ago and we all know how tight [the stadium] is. You know, as an away player, it was a bit hard because the fans were so close – but it was also really enjoyable. It gives every player a buzz.
“Every game this season, just about, we’ve had a full house. That’s what players want. Especially because our fans are so amazing in their support.”
Getting the capacity right will be key to that, said Neilson. “You want a stadium which is full, so you strike a balance between the size and making sure you fill it. The market we are looking at is correct. If we keep progressing, we will fill it.”
If Tynecastle passes a 7:30am pitch inspection today, they will have another big crowd backing them as they face Inverness Caledonian Thistle, who are one of only three teams to have inflicted defeat on Neilson’s side in the league this season.
That was back in September and since then Hearts have become serious contenders for a top-two place and are unbeaten in their last eight Premiership fixtures, with moves taken to bolster the mood further by signing up both Igor Rossi and Arnaud Djoum on longer-term contracts. The hope is that the likes of Osman Sow and Miguel Pallardo will follow suit, while there is a chance that new faces could join the squad in January.
“Arnaud was probably the priority because his deal was up in January,” said Neilson. “Igor as well, he has brought his wife over here and wanted to get settled. Now we’ll start looking at other guys as well and we will try to get things moving.
“I think every coach will tell you that when the January window comes you’re either looking for a centre-half or a striker. Your team is either scoring goals or losing goals. I’m happy with what we have got defensively and Alim Ozturk coming back in will strengthen us. I’d like to get a striker if we could but it depends on who’s available and whether they bring value for money.”