Lord Haughey is an unlikely-sounding Hampden hero. He hasn’t just scored a goal against Albania to lift a nation. There was no crowd here yesterday to acclaim him. But his equivalent of a late run into the box was timed to perfection.
Ian Maxwell, the Scottish Football Association chief executive, revealed Haughey, a Glasgow businessman, only came on board to help fund the governing body’s purchase of Hampden in the “last two to three weeks”. The SFA were struggling to locate the required cash to prevent what many would have regarded as a doomsday scenario: Scotland playing football internationals in a rugby stadium. In Edinburgh.
Were it not for Haughey, reporters might well have been composing Hampden obituaries from the Up & Under Bar at BT Murrayfield yesterday. This is the ground where Scottish Rugby had hoped to hold a press conference welcoming their new tenants.
It seemed appropriate Maxwell should be the one to deliver news of Hampden’s survival. Unlike Stewart Regan, his predecessor, he has real history with the stadium. He played here for Queen’s Park – as did Haughey, who turned out for the boys’ club.
Maxwell was also in with the bricks – literally. He helped install the seating in the main stand during the last renovation of the ground, just over 20 years ago. He was playing part-time for Ross County at the time and working for a construction company.
Surprisingly, however, he seemed genuinely unmoved by the ground’s place in Scottish football history. Had the figures stacked up he was more than ready to initiate a move to Edinburgh. Romance cannot survive a move into football administration it seems.
“I know there was an assumption that ‘ach, it was always going to be Hampden’ but in my head it was never going to be Hampden and this is somebody who played for Queen’s Park,” he said. “I [also] installed the seat units in the main stand. I have a lot of history with this place but my job now is what’s best for Scottish football, what’s best for Alloa as much as it’s best for Queen’s Park and for the rest of the wider membership.”
Jock Stein, Billy Bremner and other luminaries looked on approvingly from above the spruced-up Hampden entrance. Their legacy felt like something worth saving.
In the week one cultural landmark opens in Dundee, another has been preserved. How embarrassing to be celebrating the opening of the V&A museum while, on another coast, Hampden, once the envy of the world, sat quietly condemned.
It was business as usual yesterday. Large banners in the foyer advertised function rooms for Christmas dos. The SFA, soon-to-be new owners of the stadium once all the legal documents are signed, are going to have to start making sure the place begins generating serious income.
But this is for another day. They have already received the greatest early Christmas gift of all: over a couple of million quid. Maxwell was quick to confirm the SFA are not now in hock to Haughey. He did not want anything in return. Not even a rotting pair of old square Hampden goalposts or some other treasure stuffed into one of the storage rooms at the much-admired Hampden museum.
Gratifyingly, the stadium itself is not destined to become a relic. After four years during which the possibility of moving Scotland games to Edinburgh grew to become a realistic proposition, Hampden Park is saved. The Legend lives on.
As Maxwell acknowledged, it’s now about what happens next. He spoke for surely nearly every Scottish football fan when he cut to the chase of why Hampden has become so unloved: those ends. Shallow, and too far back, they offer possibly the worst viewing experience in the country.
“It is one of those things where you go out into the stand and think: why don’t they just bring it in and put some seats in?” he said. “They are different ways to do things. It is up to us to speak to the right people and see the best way to do it.”
He cited VfB Stuttgart’s renovation of their Mercedes-Benz stadium, part of which involved rebuilding the two ends and bringing them closer to the pitch.
“Listen technology is changing all the time,” he said. “Whether it is in the seating deck, the hospitality, the kiosks, the wi-fi or the floodlights – there are a lot of different things
“This gives us a real opportunity to step back, look at the whole Hampden experience and come up with a plan to say there are areas of this we need to attack. We can’t do it all tomorrow. Some will be picked up for Euro 2020 and we can come up with a longer-term plan to address the rest.”
He described the SFA now owning the stadium and much of the surrounding land as a game-changer. It will certainly impact on one curious arrangement.
Confirmation Hampden is now in the hands of the SFA is not in itself thrilling news since many might have assumed this was the case anyway. Not everyone will be familiar with the quirky detail of a national stadium being owned by an amateur football team.
Queen’s Park will now move next door to a new home at Lesser Hampden.
No longer can part-time footballers savour playing at the national stadium. Away fixtures against Queen’s Park have long been ones to savour for the tribe of mediocre players who will never pull on a Scotland shirt or play in a cup final.
The eventual elimination of these opportunities is a regret, of course. But not one as profound as watching a wrecking ball smash up well over 100 years of Scottish football history.