Following reports the Scottish Football Association is far into talks to buy Hampden Park from Queen’s Park it was tempting to wonder whether that was that. The uncertainty over where Scotland will play future international matches was over.
The SFA had already reduced the options to two: Hampden or BT Murrayfield. Ibrox and Celtic Park were ruled out in January. More recently it appeared as if Murrayfield’s hopes were also at end, following reports that an agreement to purchase Hampden had been struck “in principle” between the SFA and Queen’s Park.
But it seems Scottish Rugby is not giving up. Neither does the SFA seem to want it to give up. According to Dominic McKay, Scottish Rugby’s chief operating officer, the dialogue with the SFA is “even deeper” than it was late last year. “We are super excited at the prospect of Scottish football having a tough decision to make as a result of our bid,” he said. “We will give them every reason to consider BT Murrayfield. Not only is it the largest stadium, we believe it is the best stadium.”
Scottish football’s governing body would rather not be left high and dry with no place to play at all once its Hampden lease expires in 2020. There’s no guarantee the move to buy Hampden will succeed given the myriad complications.
So Scottish Rugby truly believes it has a chance to add international football to a list of alternative uses at a stadium getting ready to host the Rolling Stones in a few weeks’ time. Given the recent lack of any comment from the sixth floor at Hampden, anything still seems possible.
Scottish Rugby put on a “day of action” on Thursday in a latest bid to showcase the stadium. Football fans were invited for a tour, while a team of football writers took on an SRU select in an 11 a-side football match. Spartans FC were also invited to have a training session on the pristine grass hybrid surface. There were no concerns about overuse: they recently held five rugby matches there in one day.
McKay later expressed his confidence that BT Murrayfield remains very much in the equation. According to him, Stewart Regan’s departure as SFA chief executive, to be replaced by Ian Maxwell, has not derailed matters. The SRU hosted members of the SFA board at the Six Nations clash against France in February, after Regan stepped down.
“I think they [the SFA] have committed publicly about making a decision in the summer,” revealed McKay, with regards to a timescale. “We will keep working our way through the process with them so I would imagine by the end of the summer they will have reached a decision.
“It is right for everybody to take as long as they like to make the right decision. We are just pleased to be part of the process. When you look at the fans surveys that have been done by various publications and online groups there is a real warmth towards coming to BT Murrayfield.”
Players such as Kilmarnock’s Kris Boyd, who played against Hearts while they were temporary tenants at BT Murrayfield earlier this season, have extolled the stadium’s virtues. Hearts skipper Christophe Berra is the latest footballer to do so. While he accepted results were “a mixed-bag” during Hearts’ residency – they won only one out of four matches – he enjoyed the experience.
“Don’t get me wrong, when we have played [at Hampden] with a full house it’s great,” he said. “There’s no better support than the Tartan Army. I don’t see why that would be different moving to Murrayfield.
“The facilities in and around the stadium are better. You have the pitches outside, you could train on the pitch itself, you can have fan tents before matches. There is so much space all around for parking. The trams are there, the airport is a stone’s throw away…”
Berra would say that, perhaps, since he’s an Edinburgh boy. That’s one of the problems when considering the options – bias and vested interest. But one thing is for sure: Scotland playing football at BT Murrayfield cannot be discounted yet. And nor, given its top-class facilities, should it be.