The SRU are pushing for Scottish football to adopt Murrayfield as its new home stadium, while purists are keen to stay at Hampden. Joel Sked reckons it makes no difference
The history of Hampden or the might of Murrayfield?
It is the question which has prompted much discussion. Scottish legends, current stars, managers, pundits and fans have all had their say. It has been shaped as a divisive topic. Everyone has an opinion, either Hampden or BT Murrayfield, or, laughably, a new stadium in Stirling.
It can be seen as both an endearing facet or a millstone around the neck of Scottish football, but such is the passion for the sport in the country decisions like this will provoke disputes, disagreements and battle lines being drawn.
Convincing arguments have been put forward for staying at Hampden and moving to Murrayfield (for clarification, no good point has been put forward for a move to Stirling).
Hampden Park is the home of Scottish football. It has been the home of the national team since 1906, Queen’s Park taking residence three years earlier. The ground has held numerous European finals and provided the backdrop to many a domestic cup final.
Famous and infamous moments of Scottish and European football have taken place in Mount Florida. From victory over France to a packed Hampden seeing off Ally MacLeod’s 1978 World Cup winners. From running battles at the 1980 Scottish Cup final to the captivating 2002 final. From the Real Madrid side of Ferenc Puskás and Alfredo Di Stéfano to Zinedine Zidane’s volley.
Hampden Park is soaked in history.
However, history can’t make up for a largely unwelcoming bowl of a stadium. When you wake up with a hangover, nothing in the fridge and only a stale slice of bread to eat, Hampden is that stale piece of bread. It isn’t enjoyable but you simply have to make-do.
The sight-lines in numerous areas of the stadium aren’t great and if you are sat behind the goals you may as well watch the game on your phone.
Murrayfield on the other hand is much bigger, around 17,000 more seats, more spacious and more modern. A crowd of 67,000 Scots must be an appealing prospect for the Scottish FA, although it would require a half-decent Scotland team and half-decent pricing.
The stadium itself isn’t a massive improvement on Hampden. There are still issues over the view from certain areas of the ground, just ask fans of Aberdeen and Rangers, with the pitch situated far away from the Main Stand and the stands behind each goal.
Another concern expressed in some quarters is the fact the Scottish FA would be funding Scottish Rugby.
Dominic McKay, Scottish Rugby’s chief operating officer, said: “I understand people have anxiety around that but what I would suggest is that the bid we have put together would see significant revenue going back into the Scottish FA without the burden of owning and operating an enormous stadium. Ultimately what that will mean is that there is more money for the Scottish FA to reinvest back into football.”
It is hard to assess this angle without being presented with figures which, understandably, haven’t been forthcoming.
The ground, however, excels in two areas. The hybrid pitch is an excellent surface which recently hosted five games on it during Silver Saturday, culminating in the clash between Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors. It doesn’t cut up like normal grass pitches, while there is no clue that part of the pitch is artificial.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Murrayfield offers so much potential in terms of match-day experience - a key phrase among the marketing department at Murrayfield.
McKay said: “Eighty minutes is how long it takes for a game of rugby but we have them coming for hours, up to eight hours a day, spending their hard earned cash but also having a great experience win, lose or draw and we want to translate that into football. Because we have 30 acres around the stadium we can create incredible fan experiences perhaps in a way other stadiums in the country can’t quite do.”
What Scottish Rugby do to engage with fans is impressive and should be used as inspiration among Scottish football. The space around the ground allows Scottish Rugby to offer a wide range of entertainment.
They have understood their audience by segmenting their database, according to Toni Blackhurst, Scottish Rugby’s head of marketing and sponsorship, “driven through the content we are putting out to the right audience, at the right time” via social media platforms.
It is an aspect Scottish football as a whole has struggled with, engaging with fans before and after games, making games more than 90 minutes. Yet, at the same time, what was said by Scottish Rugby felt very corporate.
McKay said: “We see ourselves as a rugby business but really we are an entertainment business and we want to sweat our asset which is Scotland’s largest stadium as much as we possibly can.”
Such a view can jar with football fans. There is certainly an element who want a more authentic football experience rather than a corporate one. Blackhurst even admitted that for Scotland games the organisation’s impressive marketing efforts have attracted “not necessarily your typical rugby fan but people that just want to come and have a brilliant experience and enjoy live sport”.
That is something else which won’t sit well with Scottish football fans. They want to be surrounded by fellow football fans, those that share the same passion and angst as them. Not day-trippers and those who attend to take a few pictures to put on social media as if to say “look at the life I lead” but have little interest in the actual sport.
As for those that actually play the sports, Edinburgh and Scotland rugby players have waxed lyrical about the Murrayfield pitch, certainly in comparison to that one at Myreside. Football players have also talked positively about the Murrayfield experience.
On the other hand there is the opinion that as a kid growing up in Scotland the dream is to run out at Hampden in Scottish Cup final and for the Scotland team. It is an opinion which carries very little weight. Ask fans of Heart of Midlothian and St Johnstone about not winning the Scottish Cup at Hampden. And surely playing in a cup final or for Scotland is more important than the stadium that it is in.
And that, in essence, is the point. When it comes down to it, as a player and fan does it really matter which stadium Scotland games or cup semi-finals and finals are played?
An enjoyable match-day experience is a cosmetic bonus, but be it Hampden or Murrayfield or even Stirling, fans in the main couldn’t care where they are watching a game, what their view is like, whether they can have a jump on a bouncy castle and get their face painted, they just simply want to watch their team win.