As Scottish football waited anxiously for news of Hampden’s fate on Tuesday, archive footage did the rounds to remind us of what we might be giving away. But this wasn’t Joe Jordan in his pomp, rather Peter Purves in his.
Back in 1972 the Blue Peter presenter was taking time out from constructing the Empire State Building out of cereal boxes and collecting the silver foil from milk bottles for Biafra to lead a camera crew round the stadium. That was a year, by the way, when the Scotland-England international drew a crowd of 119,325 and the Scottish Cup final between Celtic and Hibernian was watched by 106,102.
The ground was deserted so Purves in his parka had the run of it, free from jibes from that unreconstructed era about looking like a girl with so much wavy hair. He was particularly impressed by the changing-rooms: “The footballers have all the comforts,” he said in the clip, which flew around social media. “Giant lockers, baths, showers… every luxury.” There was no mention of soap but we must assume it was provided.
“And here’s the ‘Quiet Area’,” he continued, “where the nervous players can sit and try not to think about the game to come.”
Quiet Area? In all my time interviewing old stagers from the days of six-figure crowds, no one has ever mentioned this facility. I guess that when Billy Bremner was your captain, braveheart rather than faintheart was the required demeanour. But we might all want to pile into the Quiet Area now. A place where nervous devotees of the Scottish game can sit and try not to think about the redevelopment to come.
In the end Hampden wasn’t given away. A good thing, and hopefully a great thing. Hopefully there will be a substantially revamped stadium before too long, for none of us who advocated remaining at Mount Florida wanted the ground to stay as it was.
Money has been found to buy Hampden, but where will we get the funds to make it better? Where will we get the vision? These are the big questions. We think we know what we want to do to the old bowl. We think we want Stuttgart. Bundesliga club VfB Stuttgart have a handsome stadium, although presumably we are not interested in adopting its original name – the Adolf Hitler Kampfbahn.
Now on its fifth name, the Mercedes-Benz Arena used to have a running track, just like Hampden, although at least it was there for a reason and staged regular athletics events, including the 1986 European and 1993 World Championships. The last time anyone ran round the track was 2008; after that the ground became football-only.
New stands were built at each end, the half-moon areas behind the goals disappeared and the fans moved closer to the action. This is what’s urgently required at Hampden; it is the first thing anyone mentions when challenged to suggest improvements.
Even those who don’t sit in these faraway, too-shallow sections of Hampden – the blazers and the journalists – agree. Now, I usually chortle when I hear the self-important cry of “Show us your medals” so feel free to laugh when I say that over the past 14 years I’ve been to Hampden 15 times with my team and on all but three occasions I was behind one of the goals. When the play is the length of the pitch away and then some, it seems to slow right down. I’ve been in the very back row and two from the front and they’re both lousy vantage points.
So, we demolish these stands and put up new ones, right? Okay, but if the new stands are raked at a sharper angle (the desired option) they will be taller than the remaining stands – does that matter? Do we tie the new stands into the remaining ones with the roof or separate the latter? I’m no sports stadia whizz as you can tell but hopefully someone will be. We’re not going to create a better Hampden with Blue Peter’s sticky-back plastic and bent coat-hangers.
It’s fun imagining what the stadium could look like, should look like, as the home of Scottish football, but also daunting because we have just taken possession of this precious cowp and don’t really know what to do with it.
Transport links must be improved? Well, Murrayfield can boast all it likes about being a quick hop from Edinburgh’s city centre, but the overwhelming majority know it’s futile trying to queue for a tram and, besides, the walk to the ground is traditional. The new Hampden must keep everyone dry? Yes, but Hearts for their new main stand presumably availed themselves of the latest roof design know-how and yet the structure can’t quite keep out horizontal rain.
One last thing: Scott Brown says atmosphere-wise Hampden is one of the worst. Implicit in this is a boast about Celtic Park but there’s no time for such club-centred parochialism now; we should all be getting behind the big idea. Maybe now and again Hampden has been a bit flat for Broony because his team win so much there. He played for my team once upon a time – in six of those 15 finals and semi-finals – and when victories were much rarer, the joy poured down from the rubbish stands and I clearly remember him revelling in it.