Hampden oh Hampden, what have they done to you? The first impressions were good ones and the pleasant, uncrowded, bampot-free train ride over to Mount Florida was a definite first.
No-one was thinking it would be a spiffing idea to climb into the overhead luggage racks, although come the Games 44,000 ker-azy athletic fans may have perverse rituals of their own.
You hang a left off Cathcart Road into Somerville Street, like you’ve been doing since the Scottish Cup semi-finals of 1972, and you gawp into the moon crater where Lesser Hampden used to be. Soon there will be a warm-up track here and a sweet thought you hope is not mere fantasy flits through the mind: Usain Bolt has made it to Glasgow. He’s practising his moon strides. He glances up at the rickety pavilion and asks his trainer: “So what d’you suppose ‘QPFC’ stands for?” Yes, the oldest football building in the world survives in all its beautiful, broken-tooth glory.
Inside the stadium and this Hampden is lesser too. The first eight rows have been removed by the pitch being raised. Except it’s not a pitch any more. The grassed area is smaller because the running track is wider. Maybe you could play seven-a-sides out there but of course there are no goalposts. And very soon the turf will be scudded by shot-putters (feel free at this point to suggest this will be no different from some of the football you’ve witnessed down the years, inserting the name of your favourite unreconstructed hoof-ball folk-hero).
Ah, the running track. What was its purpose anyway? Yes, it must have been fantastic to see Ian McCafferty chase Lachie Stewart round it when those stars from the 1970 Commonwealth Games were the half-time entertainment during big matches. But there seemed no good reason for it surviving the ground’s redevelopment (until now). The track put unnecessary distance between the crowd and the field of play. Come these Games, if you’re lucky enough to have a ticket, you’ll be closer to the athletes than in many stadia purpose-built for running.
The nuts and bolts of this refit are that 6,000 stilts have elevated the pitch by 1.9 metres. If you’re appalled by it you may like to imagine the ghosts of our more diminutive heroes keeping Hampden football-sacred down below. The ghost of Jimmy Johnstone could dribble round 6,000 stilts no bother. The ghost of Billy Bremner would be perfectly prepared to start an argument with any inanimate object. When these two were in their pomp overground you needed Stead & Simpson stack-heels to see over the heads in the swaying mass. Either that or you stood on beer cans featuring a Partick Thistle goalie’s model-girlfriend in a come-hither pose. That was Old Hampden, thought to be unshakable. It wasn’t. In New, Adaptable Hampden you may well feel like echoing the cry of Dumbarton fan David Byrne of Talking Heads: “This is not my beautiful house!” But it should be great for the Games.