Heart in hand!” bellowed the throng, scarves ties round wrists, the breeks known as Oxford Bags flapping in a breeze so localised, so unique, that it had its own name. “And sword and shield!” roared the Rangers End, even louder, which caused me to slip my hand inside that of my father for the first time in a while, having thought I was done with that sort of thing.
This was my first visit to Hampden, home of the Hampden Swirl, home-from-home for the team in blue, and we’d wandered into the wrong section. The place was never scarier than that April afternoon in 1972. It was never grottier – the red ash from the steps kicked up by so many pairs of Stead & Simpson stackheels having formed a choking dust cloud like something out of a sci-fi B-movie through which it was impossible to make out one of Scottish football’s most recognisable shapes: John Greig’s gluteus maximus. But it was never more exciting and it was never lovelier.
Your introduction will be just as valid and cherishable, I’m sure of that. Even if this was reduced Hampden, the stadium having lost its top half in the redevelopment. Even if your seat was lousy. Even if it was just this year. Hampden cannot be dulled or denuded by the long walk, the groaning train platform, the too-screechy music played before kick-off. They’re going to have to try a whole lot harder to persuade us that internationals and cup finals should no longer happen there.
I love that the goal which won Inverness Caley-Thistle the Scottish Cup was scored at the same end as Real Madrid’s Champions League clincher – no matter that the former was one of the scruffiest to have ever decided a big game and the latter was one of the most strip cartoon-whoosh sensational.
That was the end of the ground, incidentally, where Big Jim Holton shut his eyes of blue, headed and hoped. Where Kenny Dalglish nutmegged Ray Clemence and bent a lovely one up and over the Spain goalie. Where Stevie Kirk gave Motherwell their greatest day. Where Partick Thistle, eccentric as ever, didn’t need to score to ensure their greatest day because four had already counted at the other end. Where Dixie Deans netted the second and third of his most famous hat-trick and reduced me to tears. Think about all of those moments and more – only 50 percent of Hampden’s history – and you’ll be greetin’, I’m sure of that, too.
I’m always impressed – and envious – when Real Madrid 7, Eintracht Frankfurt 3 is recalled by those who were there, or who claim to have been. Bobby Clark was doing it the other day, the Aberdeen great having only been allowed by his mother to attend if he promised to swot for the following day’s science exam on the bus journey to the ground. I wasn’t there, nor for Zinedine Zidane’s thundercrack, but I was at Hampden’s other European Cup final, Bayern Munich vs St Etienne, which was a poorer game but a greater advert for Glasgow’s swaggering expertise for staging big football shows after 1,000 pubs had been granted 3am licences. In its leader the following day The Scotsman lamented the end of the “extraordinary Glasgow Festival of 1976”, with the city reclaiming the title of “the original home of soccer madness”.
My Hampden story, perhaps like yours, contains plenty of near misses, ifs, buts and maybes, shots cannoning off the crossbar, minor tragedies, glory not quite achieved. I didn’t bear witness to Pele’s Brazil in 1966, rather the team of 1973 who won with a Derek Johnstone own goal, a year before they’d kick lumps out of us at the World Cup. Instead of all-conquering, brilliant Spain it was Gibraltar for me. I didn’t see Bruce Springsteen rock Hampden but who could forget Middle of the Road performing Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep from the back of a coal lorry?
Hampden has often been about endurance: being there for all 330 minutes of a Scottish Cup final only to be beaten at the death by yet another bloody OG. Perversely, I still wish I could have been among the 7,483 for Scotland vs Northern Ireland in 1969, a notorious game killed by the novelty of live TV, with photos of the empty terraces in the next day’s papers making the stadium look almost post-apocalyptic.
Hampden has broken my heart and – David Gray, pictured, down at the Jim Holton end, the Zinedine Zidane end – mended it again. The old place cannot close. Somehow, some way, it must be saved and re-built – properly this time. We don’t want Armageddon Utd anywhere near it.